Flower Basket Brooch ca. 1940s

Floral Motifs in 19th and 20th Century Jewelry

Nature and floral motifs have been a design inspiration throughout the history of modern jewelry, ebbing and flowing with fashions and societal views and influences.

Stylized floral motifs were common in the late 18th century Georgian Period, but became more realistic looking during the early Early Victorian Period between 1835 and 1861. Flowers for example were designed three dimensionally, many mounted en tremblant.

The use of flora in jewelry design reflected society's interest in nature--and flowers in particular. This slowly changed and by the end of the Late Victorian Period botanical and floral motifs in jewelry were replaced by the stars, moon, and a variety of animal, bird, and insect motifs spurred by a greater interest and participation in outdoor activities.

Nature motifs were an integral part of the Art Nouveau movement, which lasted from 1895 to 1905. Floral motifs were once again stylized but in a whimsical fashion. Curvilinear forms were modeled after trailing vines and many pieces of jewelry featured flowers never used before in jewelry design such as water lilies, fuchsias, poppies and various leaves.

The Arts and Crafts Period followed closely on the heels of the Art Nouveau Period, and in fact nearly paralleled it in some European countries. Arts and Crafts jewelry focused on hand crafted designs with floral and foliate motifs that were less whimsical and more abstract.

During the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts period there was another jewelry style referred to as Edwardian or Belle Epoque. Belle Epoque jewelry is characterized by pierced openwork platinum plaques and set throughout with millgrained collet-set diamonds. Floral and foliate motifs took the form of garlands and swags. Jewelry designs soon took a new turn as naturalistic motifs were abandoned for the predominantly geometric, Oriental, and Egyptian motifs of the Art Deco style of the 1920s and early 1930s.

The decade between the mid-1930s and the mid-1940s is known as the Retro Period known for its distinct chunky geometric styles that continued into the early 1940s encompassing flower designs featuring a central gemstone with large scrolling leaves, as well as ornate floral sprays resembling bouquets. Naturalism returned in full force by the 1950s. Cornucopia, baskets of flowers, and gem-set flowers designed as earrings, bracelets, and necklaces continued to be popular into the 1950s.

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