By Danielle Olivia Tefft
If you are one of the lucky ones who has inherited her grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s jewelry box, you might just be the owner of a few rings from the 1920s. This time period was called the Art Deco period and rings from this era have always been hot commodities in the jewelry market.
The popularity of Art Deco rings shows no signs of slowing down or going away. If you love yellow gold, however, the majority of rings from this period will disappoint you. White metals, especially white gold, were all the rage during the Art Deco time period.
Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves: sellers labeling old rings as “Art Deco” when they are not! I will venture to say that at least 30% (and I’m being really kind here) of the genuine “Art Deco” rings available online aren’t really “Art Deco” at all. Many are transitional at best (either from the 1910s or 1930s). And many aren’t even in the ballpark. As my great jewelry mentor, Joyce Jonas, once said, “Art Deco was dead by 1925.” I’m not as hard as her. I’ll let you call most geometric style rings made any time in the 1920s “Art Deco.” But I digress!
The hallmarks of Art Deco period design are geometric symmetry and ornate filigree decoration. Art Deco rings are exquisite examples of this unique design. They were made with a variety of simulated and genuine gemstones, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, chrysoprase (a natural green stone often mistaken for jade) and pearls. Most of these gemstones were purposely set in white metals during the Art Deco period to emulate platinum.
Platinum had been known to the Europeans since the 17th century. However, it was not until the turn of the 20th century that European jewelers figured out a safe way to obtain the high temperatures required to meld platinum into a workable form. Once they discovered the process, they were able to create extremely fine, ultra-feminine, lacey-looking pieces of jewelry that were much stronger than their gold or silver counterparts.
An ongoing love affair began in the United States with platinum jewelry, a trend first set by the prestigious French jewelry houses in the early 1900s. However, during the 1920s only the very rich could afford platinum jewelry. Still, jewelry lovers from all walks of life wanted the platinum look. Therefore, most rings from the Art Deco period were made of white metals. They included white gold, sterling silver and chromium plated base metals.
White gold was brand new on the American market during the Art Deco period. It became the first choice of white metals for rings and other fine jewelry in the 1920s. The middle class loved it because it looked like platinum but was priced affordably - nowhere near the price tag of platinum. Therefore, Art Deco jewelers stocked their cases with predominantly white gold rings.
So if you have your heart set on a yellow gold ring from the Art Deco period, you might have to improvise. You could have an existing white gold or sterling silver ring plated with yellow gold. Or, you could purchase a modern rendition of an Art Deco ring in yellow gold.
You will be hard pressed to find many examples of authentic yellow gold Art Deco rings. After all, the rage at the time was to imitate platinum, a white precious metal that Americans had been in love with since the turn of the 20th century. And if you do find an actual yellow gold ring from the Art Deco period? Will it be worth more than a white gold ring from the same time period? Curiously, the answer is, “Probably Not.” And that is because collectors of historic jewelry like to purchase signature pieces from the time periods they collect. Signature pieces exhibit elements of the popular styles of a time period. You guessed it: White gold Art Deco rings are the signature pieces they seek.
(Dear readers: Please do not ask me to tell you how old your vintage or antique rings are unless they are from Uncas. And please only do so by emailing me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Danielle Olivia Tefft is a professional writer with a lifelong passion for gems and jewelry. She is a GIA accredited jewelry professional and is the owner of online antique and vintage jewelry shop, Treasure Box Antiques, for many years at Ruby Lane and now at Etsy. Current projects include writing jewelry related web copy and blogs for clients worldwide. When she is not writing, she spends time in the garden, spoiling her cats and traveling with her significant other. Would you like to hire her? Would you like to advertise on her website or blog? Visit danielleoliviatefftwrites.com for clips, terms, her media kit and more information.
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The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!