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Return to Handmade: The Arts & Crafts Revival Jewelry Period's Modern Influence on Artisan Jewels

Tanzy Ward

  Although the first Arts and Crafts revival jewelry period was short-lived (c.1890-c.1910), the era left an impressive mark that is still celebrated today. The Arts and Crafts period emphasized the return to hand-crafted jewelry without machinery. The jewelry designs often included natural semi-precious stones, enameling, beading, or intricate metalwork as the focal point. Nature and artistic merit were emphasized in this era, while mechanization was negatively critiqued.

In the original Arts and Crafts Jewelry era, the philosophical viewpoints of the natural world from writers such as John Ruskin and Owen Jones inspired the movement. These writers focused on the commitment to nature and social reform, emphasizing workers being dehumanized through labor. Ruskin’s quote from his collection of essays “Unto the Last” emphasized the era's view.

“ bring the pleasure of original creative activity into the lives of the men and women of the working classes, and to relieve the monotony to which repetitive mechanical labor condemned them for the greater part of their working hours.”


 Besides a pre-Raphaelite viewpoint, the rejection of machinery was formed from the beliefs of over mechanization in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many critics were dissatisfied with the lack of awards for artistic talent at exhibitions for new inventions and products. Many celebrated items were machine-made, and handcrafted aesthetically designed pieces were not emphasized. This eventually led to more effort and appreciation towards jewelry created by hand.

The original focus of the Arts and Crafts movement did not include jewelry because the cost of creating the items was not affordable to the working class. Eventually, the Arts and Crafts Movement had artistic and vibrant jewelry. Common characteristics and designs included metal brooches with butterflies, birds, and mermaids. Popular stones used were moonstones, malachite, opals, and amethyst. Simple techniques were not as extravagant as the earlier Victorian era jewelry and included styles like detailed bead work for lightweight collar necklaces.

Antique handmade beaded and carved jewelry from the early 20th century. Courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection Archives. 
The Arts and Crafts Movement created antique period styles like Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau jewelry emphasized the aesthetic rather than the value of gemstones. The jewelry reflected images from the natural world, ethereal fairy-looking women, and the celebration of handmade craftsmanship. The Aesthetic Era (c.1885-c.1901) was directly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and emphasized the celebration of artistic merit. The Art Nouveau jewelry within this period is an example of how the trend was to move away from previous Victorian styles and toward more ‘refined artistic work.’
Antique late Victorian Era hand carved Aventurine necklace and Victorian Era Black Lady in a convex glass frame. Courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection Archives & Tanzy A. Ward Antique Photo Collection
Antique Art Nouveau Era Hand carved Brooch with Amethyst stone.  Courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection Archives.


 The appreciation for handcrafted jewelry is still ongoing due to the original Arts and Crafts Movement’s legacy. Handmade accessories with semi-precious stones such as turquoise, jasper, and quartz stone variations are popular in the jewelry industry. Designs with copper, sterling silver, and wire wrapping are significant characteristics in the ongoing Arts and Crafts jewelry movement, many of which became significantly popular during the Mid-Century. The original hand-made jewelry of the Arts and Crafts movement is now antique collectibles, and many are still in excellent wearable condition due to their expert quality craftsmanship. Even as time passes, antique and vintage handmade jewelry are excellent early examples of artisan work. Many modern artisan jewelry makers create items that are inspired by earlier designs. 

(Vintage and Antique Handcrafted Jewelry Styles of the Early 20th Century and Mid-Century Eras, Zanathia Collection)

Although the Arts and Crafts movement was considered to be short-lived, the era never actually disappeared. During the 20th century, there was a variety of different jewelry movements that emphasized handcrafted artisan designs. After the first revitalized Arts and Crafts jewelry era, several other jewelry movements celebrated handmade jewelry. Brutalist/Modernist pieces during the Mid-Century Era were often handmade by artists with materials such as metal and included geometric ‘raw’ designs. Silversmiths and artists often created southwestern accessories with sterling silver and natural stones. Decades later, many original handcrafted jewelry pieces are still remarkable works of art to cherish. Therefore, the so-called ‘short-lived’ era was not so brief. As time goes on and technology advances, the appreciation of artisan jewelry made by hand still has a growing fan base. 

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