The Roaring Twenties are thought of as a fun-loving time; when flappers and gangsters frequented speakeasies to drink bathtub gin and dance the Charleston. This period of decadence came to the forefront as a strong reaction to the strict Victorian morals which still prevailed more than twenty years after the Queen’s death. Prohibition was passed in 1919 in an effort to prevent the sale and consumption of alcohol, but the outcome was much different - it became fashionable to break the law. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and "modern art" replaced the more organic, sensuous forms of the Victorian era with Cubism. Fortunes were made in the stock market, only to be lost again in the crash of 1929, ushering in the Great Depression. In the midst of this cultural explosion a new American art form was born, named ironically after the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris.

The important difference between Art Deco and other art periods is that the design aspects of Art Deco were applied to everything from jewelry to ocean liners to household appliances. Its central theme of geometry and symmetry was combined with the use of bold design and color.

Jewelry regained its opulence with post-war prosperity; the market once again open to costly platinum, diamonds and other precious stones. The new Art Deco style borrowed from two previous periods, the aforementioned use of platinum and diamonds from the Edwardian period, employing new techniques which allowed for more precise and intricate shapes than had been previously seen. The white-on-white motif so popular during that time was now accented with rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Art Deco replaced the organic, flowing shapes of the Art Nouveau period with severe geometric forms. A wealth of motifs were also drawn from rapidly changing cultural influences. Cubism can be quite easily seen in the geometric, streamlined designs of Art Deco jewelry. Geometric gem cuts such as the baguette, marquis and emerald cuts, triangle, shield and calibre cuts were developed and became widely used during this time, beautifully accenting the symmetrical design of the jewelry. As the automobile became more common, so did the depiction of speed in design and iconography, motifs such as planes, autos, arrows and animals gained favor.

Women gained confidence in their new equality, which was evident in the radical changes occurring in fashion. They freed their long hair from the pins which held it demurely in place, cutting and bobbing it, painted their faces and bound their chests to wear the short-hemmed, drop-waisted dresses of the flapper style. The boyish figure which resulted was complemented by long strands of pearls or beads, dangling earrings, cocktail rings and diamond watches, double clip brooches and numerous bracelets accentuating their now bared arms. The look was accessorized with Cloche hats and elaborate pieces such as cigarette cases and heavily jeweled compacts.

The new found emphasis on freedom of expression created a complete break with traditional styles. The pastel colors of the Art Nouveau period were replaced by bold combinations of rich colors, inspired in part by the rich colors of the scenery of the Ballet Russe. Designers now mixed precious gems with more inexpensive stones; for example, ruby with crystal, coral with diamonds and turquoise with sapphire. Black and white themes were very common, and accents of black enamel could be found in any color scheme. An apparently random mix of carved colored gemstones known as the "fruit salad" look also became very popular.

Despite its many differences, the Art Deco movement did have one thing in common with the Victorian period. Archeology still played an important role, and the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1923 instilled a new craze for Egyptian motifs in the public, such as the scarab, sphinx and falcon. Stones which had been used in King Tut's jewelry, like lapis lazuli and carnelian began to be used.

The onset of the Depression and the outbreak of World War II brought an abrupt end to the Art Deco movement. An attempt to revive the unique attributes of the style was made at the end of World War II, but failed, though the many remaining pieces of the era are enjoying a revival of their own.
 
 
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