Art Deco in the 1920s

The mood during the 1920s was optimistic and the future seemed bright. World War I was over and the economy was booming throughout the world. Jazz music was all the rage, women had won the right to vote and the flapper further liberated women. The Machine Age was in full swing and technology was rapidly improving the quality of life. This was the age that introduced the radio, the printing press, the skyscraper and modernized transportation. There was a sense of excitement and expectancy in the air, a time of anticipating a future filled with promise.

Paris 1925

It was during this time that Art Deco movement began to emerge. An exhibition was held in Paris in 1925, called Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. It attracted all of the prominent French artists, architects, craftsmen and designers of the period and featured their works. Although the various works did not all have a common aesthetic - the Art Deco style is in fact quite eclectic, with influences of Art Nouveau, Cubism, Futurism, Modernism, Neo-Classicism and Bauhaus (Benton, 2003) - the themes of the works did have a commonality...

Art Deco Themes

The themes that emerged from the Exhibition were 'Modernity, 'Technology' and 'Luxury & Leisure'. Although the Exhibition in Paris featured the works of French artists, the Art Deco movement was a global one, with deep roots in other European countries, Egypt, India, East Asia, Latin America, South Africa, Australia, United States, Mexico and Cuba. The 'look' of Art Deco is often difficult to describe, as it is an eclectic mix of styles, however it has the "you know it when you see it" quality about it. (Fulford, 2003).

The Classic Art Deco Look

Art Deco is associated with a sleek aesthetic, symmetrical geometric shapes and bold bright colours like yellow, purple, ruby and turquoise. Skyscrapers, furniture, and everyday objects were embellished with angular patterns like zigzags, sunburst and chevrons.

Automobiles, trains and other means of transport began to take on a more futuristic, aerodynamic look. Steel, glass and lacquered wood were used to achieve that sleek, modern look. The booming economy allowed for the liberal use of expensive materials, such as diamonds and emeralds in jewelry, and mahogany and ivory in furniture.

As leisurely travel came into vogue, a need for marketing exotic destinations to the young and affluent became increasingly important. Major advances in Graphic Design were happening during this time and in turn there was a mass producing of advertising paraphernalia that came out of the Art Deco era, most notably the travel poster.

Art Deco in the 1930s

With the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression began to spread throughout the globe. Although it would be a couple more years before the average family began to experience the effect of this economic downturn, the optimism of the 20s was beginning to be replaced with a bleak somberness.

By the mid 1930s however, the world had been badly bruised and beaten by the Depression and Art Deco was an obscene, glittering reminder of a future than never came. It came to be associated with an opulence and extravagance that had no place in the stark reality of the day. Moreover, as the threat of a second world war loomed closer and closer, Art Deco was looked upon ever more vehemently. And with the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Art Deco was dead.

The fad died in the 40's, but was reborn again in the 80's and 90's. Known as Style Moderne in the 20's, it received its more popular name of Art Deco in the late 60's. Spawned by a healthy economy at the end of WWI, it represents positive outlook, collective good spirit, and futuristic color and imagination. Fighting to end the austere and stuffy designs of the Victorian and Revivalist eras, it combined luxury, versatility,  and function in a cacaphony of color in art deco jewelry such as art deco engagement rings with ruby, emerald, sapphire and diamond.