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Today, it’s clear to see a new modernist mood emerging in jewellery design, defining the new millennium; the time feels right for a fresh, forward-looking, contemporary approach, for abstract compositions of pure line, form, colour and texture.

At the same time, there’s a massive resurgence in popularity of vintage Art Deco jewels, the sought-after 20th-century cultivated classics by illustrious Maisons, particularly Cartier, creations that always look modern, always chic, always sophisticated, and carry with them the verve and spirit of their moment in time.  

"…creations that always look modern, always chic, always sophisticated, and carry with them the verve and spirit of their moment in time"

As I see it, it’s part of a general more modernist vibe – the trend for mid-century modern furniture and décor, for instance, for Scandi-style, or 1960s architecture – and without doubt, Art Deco is the jewel in the crown of modernist jewellery. As confirmation, this season brings a new monochrome craze in both fashion and jewellery, a return to cool crisp white gold and platinum, to the sleek, architectural rigour of black and white, and for lovers of vintage jewellery, diamonds and onyx, or the all-white combo of diamonds and rock crystal.

The use of monochrome schemes is a defining feature of 1920s and particularly 1930s jewellery, after an all-white jewellery craze was introduced in 1929. But it also points to the more avant-garde Modernism that evolved as a second, or alternative phase of Art Deco.

The term Art Deco has come to be an overarching name for the decorative style of the ’20s and ’30s, a style that took root as early as 1910, and that reached its fullest expression with the milestone Paris Exhibition of 1925 – Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the exhibition that gave the style its name, much later, in the 1960s, at a time when Art Nouveau and Art Deco were being rediscovered as rich collecting areas.

In jewellery, there are really two different phases or expressions of Art Deco: the first, still figurative, often developing from Belle Epoque 18th-century-revival motifs, baskets of flowers, jardinières, ribbon bows, but highly stylised, geometricized, or rich in cultural references, including Persian and Indian influences, as well as Japonisme, Chinoiserie and Egyptian revival (after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922), rich too in the use of vibrant colour and unexpected materials, such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral and jade, and the little carved coloured gems of Cartier’s madly sought-after Tutti Frutti jewels. Perhaps most of all, these classic Art Deco jewels absorbed and translated the Orientalist exoticism, stylisation and colour of the Ballets Russes, the cultural phenomenon that took Paris by storm in 1910. This richness was countered and complemented by streamlined, rigorous silhouettes and dynamic lines, made possible by new geometric cuts of diamonds, such as the baguette, set in crisp platinum mounts. The spirit was ultra-luxurious reflecting the fabulous wealth and hedonism of the roaring ’20s.

“This richness was countered and complemented by streamlined, rigorous silhouettes and dynamic lines, made possible by new geometric cuts of diamonds, such as the baguette, set in crisp platinum mounts. The spirit was ultra-luxurious reflecting the fabulous wealth and hedonism of the roaring ’20s”

Then from 1924, a more conceptual, avant-garde style emerged alongside these sumptuous jewels, led by a new generation of artist-jewellers who were searching for an entirely new expression for the art of the jewel, one free of nostalgia or heritage, that captured the futuristic modernity of the machine-age, of speed and travel, cars, planes, trains. A style connected to fine art, inspired by Cubism, by African art and artefacts, stimulated by the manifestos of Le Corbusier and the Futurists. It was the domain of individual designers, notably Jean Fouquet, Jean Després, Raymond Templier and Gérard Sandoz, who all challenged the dominance of precious materials, and traditions of sparkling brilliance, often mixing gold with silver, using “grey” or matt-white gold instead of yellow, preferring less valuable stones, such as aquamarines and citrines, or subdued mixtures of lapis and onyx, and introducing pure, rigorously geometric and architectural shapes and forms, powerfully mechanistic in theme. While today, these Modernist jewels tend to have a more serious, esoteric appeal, their influence was huge, leading to more geometric, abstract, less figurative jewels in the 1930s, and paving the way for the next style movement of the late 1930s, with its voluminous futuristic, machine-age “cocktail” look. And generating our perennial passion for jewels that capture and reflect each new modernist mood.

How Tutti Frutti Captured Our Imaginations

 Although Tutti Frutti is associated with Cartier, the Parisian jeweller Mauboussin also excelled in the form as can be seen in these rare Mauboussin tutti frutti-style clips

The explosion of colour synonymous with Cartier’s Tutti Frutti creations began life after Jacques Cartier made his first foray to India in 1911. He returned with a vast collection of coloured gemstones, and as Cartier records: “In the following decade, the Maison created their own carved gemstones with plant-inspired designs. Initially described in Cartier’s registers as ‘foliage’, this creative genre adopted the name Tutti Frutti in the 1970s and was registered as a trademark by the Maison in 1989. Today it is one of Cartier’s signature styles.”

The style had its own devotees in those heady between-war days, including Daisy Fellowes, Mrs. Cole Porter (Linda), and Lady Mountbatten.

Jewellers such Mauboussin also excelled in setting carved coloured stones onto diamond backgrounds, with a strong geometric design. See Mauboussin's double clips here. 

The style retains its fans today, too. In April 2020, Sotheby’s in New York sold a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet for $1,340,000, far above its $600,000-800,000 estimate.

The catalogue entry read: “Designed as meandering vines, set with old European and single-cut diamonds, featuring carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires, accented by emerald beads, cabochon sapphires and emeralds, highlighted with calibré-cut onyx and black enamel, length 7 inches, signed Cartier.”

Tutti Frutti was, and is, the perfect marriage of East and West, where French style was imbued with a certain exotic je ne sais quoi.

PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS: Campaign by Bitton by a Foxe; Photography: Damian Foxe; Styling: Elad Bitton; Model: Nadja Giramata; Makeup: Marco Antonio; Hair: Davide Barbieri; Casting: Paul Isaac; Nail artist: Heygoodlooking

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