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What Is Arts And Crafts Jewellery?

The Arts & Crafts jewellery movement in Europe noted a distinctive departure from industrialisation. Artists and consumers alike felt uneasy with the mechanisation and standardisation that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, and this movement marked a return to unique pieces, often hand-crafted.

The Arts & Crafts movement evolved through a series of historical events throughout the 19th century.

The history of Arts & Crafts jewellery

The Arts & Crafts movement emerged as a rejection of the industrialisation process and signified a return to the past – but simultaneously, a turn toward the far-East and the art produced there.

Inspired by high-quality pieces, artisans and designers began to redefine what true beauty meant to them and began to create a future for jewellery that was handmade as opposed to mass produced. Many of the ideals expressed by the Arts & Crafts movement are similar to the later Art Nouveau movement, and both spread like wildfire across Britain, Europe and the US.

For the Arts & Crafts movement, there was one significant turning point: the Great Exhibition of 1851.

This showcased largely machine-made jewellery items. During this era, the Industrial Revolution was at its peak and the innovation of the machine was celebrated. However, two leading British cultural figures – philosopher and designer William Morris, and art critic John Ruskin – were not happy.

They wrote extensively on the dissatisfaction of many craftsmen and artists with industrialisation and the resulting low-quality goods produced.

Morris and Ruskin romanticised medieval handicraft organisations, believing these goods maintained the standards of good workmanship, as well as encouraging full creativity from their members. They called for a return to basics, to hand-crafted jewellery and unique designs: one-of-a-kind pieces that couldn’t be replicated by machinery.

What is the difference between Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts?

Whilst many pieces of Art Nouveau jewellery are almost indistinguishable from that of the Arts & Crafts movement, there were a few differences.

The biggest difference is that Arts & Crafts jewellery had to be created by hand, whereas Art Nouveau didn’t have this criterion. Additionally, where Art Nouveau focused on intricately representing the natural world, Arts & Crafts wanted to show nature in all its simplicity.

Arts & Crafts jewellery was lighter and plainer, lacking the sensuous and sophisticated quality of Art Nouveau design.

The Arts & Crafts movement also originated in the middle of the 19th century, whereas Art Nouveau began to emerge toward the end.

Hand-crafted jewellery

To emphasise the need for jewellery to be hand-crafted, Arts & Crafts designers would deliberately leave hammer marks on silver surfaces to make It clear that it was produced by hand and not a machine.

Another signifier of Arts & Crafts jewellery was producing grainy images on matte-finished enamel to display the honesty and integrity of their work.

Characteristics and inspiration of Arts & Crafts jewellery

In an era defined by mourning jewellery and shades of grey, the jewellery produced by the Arts & Crafts movement emerged in a riot of enamelled colour, glimmering cabochons and sinuous design.

Regarding materials, silver was the favoured choice of metal. Simple, cabochon-cut stones (typically moonstones, amethysts and opals) in plain settings were used, as well as irregularly shaped pearls.

Inspiration was drawn from Northern Europe, Asia and Celtic countries. From the latter, the distinct knotted patterns of silversmiths were highly inspirational and can be seen in many designs.

Jewellery from the Middle Ages was also heavily inspirational, particularly figurative enamel necklaces and pendants.

Who wore Arts & Crafts jewellery?

Despite the focus on hand-made pieces and inexpensive materials, jewellery from the Arts & Crafts movement was still out of reach for most people.

This was because the workmanship and skill involved in creating the work were valued and sought after, meaning that even these pieces weren’t available to the masses. However, various leading retailers and silver manufacturers during this era realised the simplicity of the designs had a popular appeal, so they attempted to bring this to the masses.

Murrle Bennett & Co.

This was a London-based business that took note of the style of the movement. The owner, German jeweller Ernst Murrle, had items made to his requirements – somewhat ironically – by industrial manufacturers, who could be relied upon for quality.

Typical pieces from this store feature pendants and pins made from silver or gold, set with turquoise and blister pearls.

Liberty & Co.

Another retailer who capitalised on the popularity of the Arts & Crafts movement was the London department store, Liberty & Co.

This store was well-known for importing exotic goods from Asia, but toward the end of the 19th century, they began to commission particular products from British manufacturers and designers. Various leading designers of the movement created products for Liberty & Co, including Jessie M. King and Arthur & Georgina Gaskin.

Again, these items were produced using industrial technology, but this made them affordable.

Archibald Knox was probably the most famous of all the silversmiths and jewellery designers working for Liberty. He produced pendants, pins and buckles with a strong Celtic flavour. His designers often feature muted enamels and a whiplash motif.