Art Nouveau began in the 1890s, receiving international recognition in 1900 when its designers were showcased at the Paris Exposition Universelle. Similar to the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau celebrated a return to craftsmanship and a triumph of imaginative design over precious material. As such, semi-precious stones such as citrine, peridot, moonstone, and freshwater pearls were often used, along with non-traditional materials such as bone, shell, horn, and carved glass.
Art Nouveau is characterized by a free-flowing aesthetic that honors natural forms, such as dragonflies, butterflies, curvaceous floral designs, and female faces. Sinuous oriental lines were borrowed from Asian cultures, while mythical/fantasy motifs were explored in hybrid feminine forms. As with the early 20 th century Symbolist movements in poetry and painting, Art Nouveau saw images as vessels for ideas. And none were more powerful than the romanticized image of woman—which thus explains the luxurious, long flowing hair so often found in Art Nouveau jewelry.
his period is especially noted for its exceptional use of enameling techniques. Popular methods in which Art Nouveau artisans excelled were cloisonné (in which enamel is poured into gold wire partitions); basse-taille (in which a transparent enamel covers an engraved metal design); and plique-a-jour (a stained glass effect produced when the backing metal is removed after firing from the translucent enamel). The undisputed master of plique-a-jour was René Lalique, whose renowned Art Nouveau designs are considered the greatest achievements of the age.