The Art Deco Period, the Roaring Twenties, the Golden Age Twenties, the Jazz age – the period between the two World Wars goes by many names, and rightly so. A time of extreme forward thinking and rapid innovation were the result of a global outlook and economic freedom -- a sigh of relief that produced a distinctive design style that still dazzles today. ‘The Jazz Age’ and its complementary ‘Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era: The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection’, two exhibitions on view at the Cooper Hewitt, display an impressive collection of the design motifs of the time -- think the curved lines of the Chrysler building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Japanesque geometries, van der Rohe and Reich’s Barcelona chair. Design of the Jazz Age looked forward without abandon, and is responsible for many of our ideas of futuristic aesthetics.
Within the storied walls of Andrew Carnegie’s 1902 Upper East Side home, now the Cooper Hewitt, the collections seem perfectly at home. Among the smooth, curved and sometimes bulky lines of furniture and architecture on display, the jewelry and clothing of this age became clean and geometric with an impressive attention to detail that exuded opulence. The Jazz Age exhibition highlights American Art Deco style, which was inspired by the already popular and important European houses, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, and Mauboussin. Jewelry was worn in new ways, not only rings and bracelets, but long pendant-necklaces, sautoir, tiaras, bandeaus, double-clips, oversized brooches, belt buckles, and even handbags, compacts, and table accessories.
American jewelry manufacturers began to produce their own signature pieces, such as this Tiffany & Co. bandeau (1909-1919) – made to be worn around the crown. The sides would be hidden by an intricate up do hairstyle.
This pocket watch (1922-1925), by Longines, perfectly depicts the detail so admired by this time. The hand-painted dial and calibré-cut emeralds circling the dial of similar motif would be a common accessory at a dinner party of the elite.
This Boucheron bow brooch (1920) displays delicate leaves harkening back to the open floral motifs of the Belle Époque period, but its symmetry and large size are characteristic of the time.
This Japonesque ring by LaCloche Frères utilizes bright colors in a delicate pattern. Japanese motifs and clean lines were very popular during the early 1920s.
The bright colors in this piece extended to the well-known “Tutti Frutti” style that Cartier made so popular during this time. Carved sapphires, emeralds and rubies were delicate, yet whimsical additions reminiscent of Persian and Indian jewelry. Other design houses produced their own en masse.
Carved geometry and color begin to become the focal point of many Art Deco designs, as evident in this oversized Boucheron carved hardstone, black onyx, coral and diamond brooch (1925).
The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 inspired jewelry with Egyptian motifs that worked well with the geometries of the time.
Cartier carved bone and gem-set vanity, owned by American Florence Blumenthal (1925).
Cartier vanity case composed of hardstones and diamonds. Purchased by French scent maker François Coty (1924).
Another common element during this time was rock crystal, such as this sautoir (1920s) made for the flat-fronted dresses of the time.
Rock crystal continued in popular use to the 1930s when design became less detailed and more sculptural, such as this bracelet worn by Gloria Swanson.
A bracelet belonging to Alice Appleton Hay, the daughter-in-law of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary John Hay, which was sold at Doyle in 2011, is also on display. Dated 1926-1930, this bracelet displays the symmetry of the 20s, while inching toward the heavier and more metallic style of the 30s.
This ‘escalier’ style bracelet by Boucheron gives interesting dimension, evoking patters from both the French and American flags.
Doyle sold a similar example, designed by Cartier. This bracelet is slightly later in design, circa 1938, when gold was more popular to use.
During this time, it became very popular to display beautiful objets de vertu. The elite valued opulence in their bejeweled compacts, vanities, cigarette cases, card holders, clocks and any other way their affluence could be displayed. The grand collection of Prince Sadruddin showcases an extraordinary assortment of these objects amassed for his wife over a period of thirty years. This is the first time this collection is being displayed. Below are just a few examples of their over one hundred items of splendor.
Box. Cartier, 1927
Vanity and Cigarette Case. Cartier, 1920
Mystery Clock. Maurice Coüet, Cartier, 1929
In 2013, Doyle sold a Cartier Art Deco 'Model A' Mystery clock from the Estate of Consuelo Vanderbilt Earl.
Within the atmospheric rooms of the Cooper Hewitt, 'The Jazz Age’ and ’Jeweled Splendor’ exhibitions manage to create a sense of intimacy with an interactive technology. Amid the cases of jewelry, clothing and objects, several large touchscreen tables allow the curious visitor to engage with the exhibition, allowing closer access to these objects than ever thought possible. The Cooper Hewitt’s addition of technology blends perfectly with the spirit of the Jazz Age.
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s / On view through August 20, 2017
Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era: The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection / On view through August 27, 2017
2 East 91st Street
New York City