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The Arts & Crafts Revival Movement: A Short Lived Era With An Ongoing Legacy

Tanzy Ward


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

In the original Arts & 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 & social reform, with an emphasis on workers being dehumanized through labor. Ruskin’s quote from his collection of essays “Unto the Last”, emphasized the view of the era. “ bring the pleasure of creative original activity into the lives of the men and women of the working classes, and to relieve the monotony to which repetitive mechanical labour 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 century. Many critics were dissatisfied with the lack of awards for artistic talent at exhibitions for new inventions and products. A lot of the celebrated items were machine-made and aesthetic design was not emphasized. This eventually lead to more effort and appreciation towards inventions created by hand.

The original focus of the Arts and Crafts movement did not include jewelry because the cost of creating the items were not affordable to the working class. Eventually, the Arts and Crafts Movement included 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 designs were not as extravagant as the Victorian era jewelry, and included detailed bead work for collar necklaces (as pictured above, available at Zanathia).

The appreciation of handcrafted jewelry is still ongoing after the Arts & Crafts Movement’s legacy. Currently, handcrafted accessories with semi-precious stones such as turquoise, jasper, and variations of the quartz stone are popular choices in the jewelry industry. Designs with copper, sterling silver, and wire wrapping are also major characteristics in the modern Arts & Crafts jewelry movement of today. Many handmade jewelry with semi precious stones are not precisely identical to one another because of the natural variations that occur. The original hand-made jewelry of the Arts and Crafts movement are now antique collectibles and many are still in great wearable condition due to its expert quality craftsmanship. Even as time goes on, antique and vintage handmade jewelry are excellent early examples of artisan work.

Although the Arts and Crafts movement was considered to be short lived, the era never actually disappeared. During the 20th century, there has been a variety of different jewelry movements that emphasized handcrafted artisan designs. After the first revitalized Arts and Crafts jewelry era, there were several other jewelry movements that celebrated handmade jewelry. Brutalist/Modernist pieces were often handmade by artists with materials such as metal and included geometric ‘raw’ designs. Southwestern accessories were often created by silversmiths & artists 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 actually 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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