Throughout my many years of treasure-hunting, I’ve always gravitated towards Art Deco jewelry. I love the craftsmanship that high jewelers in the 20s and 30s put forth - the intricate details, the vibrant use of gems. I love the combination of precise curves and hard lines that the Art Deco period ushered in.
You can see deco themes illustrated on a relatively large canvas in the world of bracelets, and there are lots of great Art Deco bracelets out there to be found. If you’re on the hunt for one yourself, let’s talk about what to look for. There’s a lot of jewelry out there - some good and some not so good... all interesting, and all competing for your attention and money. I’m going to give you some insider knowledge and pull back the curtain on what makes a great deco bracelet.
The Four Factors
When I’m looking at a deco bracelet, there are basically four factors that occupy my thoughts:
Let’s give each of these four factors a closer look...
When you’re buying a piece of fine antique jewelry, you should always start by looking at the materials it was made with. What metals were used? What gemstones were used? And do these materials represent the best of the era (or the best of your price range)? The Art Deco era is known, amongst other things, for being the first period to introduce the widespread use of platinum in jewelry. You’ll find a lot of bracelets out there purporting to be from high jewelers - but if they aren’t made of platinum, it’s a dicey bet.
Other great materials that you see often in beautiful deco pieces are diamonds (of course), onyx, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. I happen to love emeralds, and there are a lot of really nice platinum, diamond, and emerald deco pieces out there. The inlaid green of emerald just pops against platinum and diamond.
There are a lot of factors that go into figuring out if an antique piece is well made. One obvious factor is how tightly the gems fit into the framework or lattice. Does everything seem to fit well? Are the spaces regular? Are the tolerances and gaps between gems and setting small? The more securely everything appears to be assembled, the better.
Another great indicator of quality workmanship is the minimal appearance of metal holding the piece together. The great jewelers and craftsmen of the Deco era (and even the best today) manage to make the jewels appear bound together, floating on nothing but each other. The more economical the craftsman was with the underlying metal (while maintaining great construction), the more the gems stand apart.
Finally, I really look for how a piece moves as a key clue as to how well it is made. Great jewelry wears like clothing, and a great Deco bracelet will move against the wrist smoothly, almost like fabric. The many links should all all move freely, with very little resistance in their range of motion, and the bracelet should flow. I avoid bracelets where the individual links or pieces rub together and impede each other’s movement.
3. Tapering/Consistent Width and Consistency of Materials
Another thing I really insist on when buying a deco bracelet is that it be consistent in its charm along its entire length. With too many pieces, you’ll see really beautiful diamonds and colored gems arranged in beautiful patterns near the middle of the bracelet, only to see the width of the bracelet taper off and the quality or number of top stones diminish towards the ends. This was, of course, a cost-cutting measure by jewelers -- put the good stuff where people will see it, and hope they don’t notice that the piece finishes weakly.
When I’m looking for a deco bracelet, I look for minimal or no tapering, and I want to see those eye-popping stones repeating their pattern all the way along the length of the piece. That is a bracelet that makes a strong statement!
4. Good Condition
Last but not least, make sure to check that any piece you’re considering is in good condition. Look for missing and/or loose gems or for signs of repairs that came after the piece was made. If it seems like subsequent repairs were made, find out if the original jewelry house did the repairs or if they were done by a third party. And, of course, make sure that clasps and other hardware function correctly. If you’re not sure how to determine these things, consult with a jeweler you trust and who can make an independent determination and provide sound, unbiased advice.
So that’s it – those are the main things to look for in a deco bracelet! At first, it might feel like a lot to keep track of, like you’re looking for things you don’t know how to recognize - but don’t worry. It all comes with time and experience… and even the occasional mistake! That’s part of the fun of collecting. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my time, and I hope some of my thoughts can help you avoid the more expensive mistakes yourself.