How Opal Was Used In Art Deco Jewellery
Opals were used widely in jewellery from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, and well-preserved antique pieces of opal jewellery – brooches, rings, and necklaces – from those eras are now widely desired. The unique play of colour in each opal stone means that opal jewellery is incredibly versatile, and extremely popular amongst lovers of antique jewellery.
Art Deco jewellery is currently in a renaissance, fuelled by general interest in the 1920s and early 30s – an era symbolising wealth and excess. Authentic antique Art Deco pieces that were made almost 100 years ago still look contemporary to this day, with frequent use of metals like white gold and platinum and modern geometric designs putting them ahead of their time.
Cabochons – a type of gem cut that features a flat side and a highly polished, rounded top – were also popular in Art Deco era opal jewellery. Cabochon shaping is one of the reasons that opals are known for their majestic flashes of colour, as the cut reflects light well.
How was opal involved in the Art Deco aesthetic?
In the Post-war period of the 1920s and early 30s, technology, prosperity, and artistic rebellion were rife. The Art Deco period also coincided with an obsession with Egyptian culture and aesthetics, as King Tutankhamun’s excavation took place in 1922. This obsession helped to shape the trends in jewellery, influencing colour and geometry.
Coloured gemstones became hugely popular as a result of these factors, with jade and lapis coming into their prime and opal becoming a cultural signifier. White metals like platinum and white gold were also favoured over yellow gold for the first time, contrasting with the colourful stones that were in vogue.
Clean lines and juxtaposing shapes were also iconic elements of the Art Deco aesthetic, as exemplified in this opal and baguette-cut diamond necklace.
Advances in jewellery cutting technology meant that geometric gemstones could also be achieved with greater precision, resulting in the popularity of cuts such as the emerald, baguette, Asscher, and cabochon.
Jewellery that epitomised the Art Deco period
Rings reached new levels of popularity in the Art Deco era, as cigarettes and cocktails became popular and jewellery worn on the hands and wrists became more important.
Women expressed their identity through jewellery, with classic gems like diamonds and pearls becoming a way of displaying social status while more playful and colourful gems like opal represented the rebellious nature of the time.
Unorthodox combinations of gemstones were used, with mixes of colourful stones like opals and other materials like glass and coloured enamel creating a new style of jewellery.
Accessories like cigarette holders, cigarette cases, lighters, watches, and evening bags also often featured jewels.
Antique opal jewellery
Because opals are so defined by their colour, iridescence, and uniqueness, they’re the perfect fit for the Art Deco aesthetic. The geometry and structure of Art Deco jewellery is beautifully contrasted by opals, with their colours and cabochon shaping making them alluring and glamorous.
This black Art Deco opal ring, circa 1925, shows off the drama that opals can add to a piece of jewellery while maintaining its sophistication.
In contrast, a white opal like the one featured in this Art Deco opal and pearl pendant creates a soft and graceful appearance which plays well with the harder geometry of the piece.