The Arts and Crafts movement started in England around 1880, and was quickly adopted and promoted by artists and writers like William Morris and John Ruskin. At its heart, the movement was a rejection of the industrialisation and mass production that had transformed Britain in the 19th century. The movement is generally judged to have ended with the outbreak of the First World War.
The movement’s principles of design struck a chord with many architects, artists and craftsmen, and soon took hold around the world. Arts and crafts adherents promoted the idea of traditional craftsmanship and design, often coupled with elements from romantic and folk art. They rejected what they saw as the over-ornate artificiality of industrially created design.
In jewellery, Arts and Design makers eschewed modern techniques like fly pressing, plating and casting, preferring to make jewellery by hand using methods from an earlier era. In terms of style, Arts and Crafts proponents valued simple, individual design. They disliked intricate work, large gemstones and ostentatious, mass-produced pieces.
One of the best known jewellery designers was Charles Robert Ashbee who in 1888 launched the Guild and School of Handicraft in London where his designs were made. Like many Arts and Crafts designers, Ashbee used stylised motifs from nature based on foliage, birds and flowers. He avoided gold, preferring to work in silver, brass and copper. Ashbee used cabochon cut diamonds rather than facetted ones, a common choice for Arts and Crafts jewellers, and when he did use precious stones they were an integral part of the design rather than a focal point. Enamelling was also popular.
Other notable designers included Arthur and Georgie Gaskins, Nelson and Edith Dawson, and Arthur Fisher. The problem for collectors of Arts and Crafts jewellery is that designers often did not make the jewellery themselves, and did not sign it. However, careful study of examples of the jewellery makes identification of this distinctive style easier. Museums like the Victoria and Albert, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the British Museum all have Arts and Crafts jewellery collections.