The Art Nouveau (“new art”) period only spanned about two decades but this style made a lasting impression on design, fashion, art, architecture and even jewelry. Curving lines are the hallmark of Art Nouveau and the period’s elaborate designs were made famous by graphic artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha and Jules Chéret.
In Art Nouveau jewelry, Réne Lalique flourished with designs depicting mermaids, fairies, butterflies and swirling flowers, often crafted from enamel. Today, modern engagement ring designs pull inspiration from the Art Nouveau period. If you’re looking for this style, focus on feminine swirling designs, nature motifs, or sculpt a ring that awakens an enchanting mermaid or allows a butterfly to take flight on the hand.
Many couples demand authentic, antique Art Nouveau engagement rings. As the Art Nouveau period is nearly a century past, any ring from this period is, by definition, an antique. Keep in mind that antique rings may demand a higher budget, and if you are on the hunt for antique Lalique, then your budget better be high.
Luxury auction house Sotheby’s listed a Rene Lalique ring sculpted in the image of Medusa—yes, that Medusa. The ring featured the glass face of Medusa surrounded by snakes encrusted in enamel. The selling price? More than $300,000. Christie’s listed a Lalique ring crafted with green enamel leaves bordering a bold white pearl, and the “price realised” was CHF 15,000 (this is about $15,700).
Authentic Art Nouveau on a Budget
Couples who are in search of an affordable antique Art Nouveau engagement ring should peruse estate sales or research jewelers who specialize in antiquities. However, this shopping experience does include a bit of ‘buyer beware’ advice. Hunting for antique rings takes a bit of expertise. Always look for a stamp within a ring that indicates karat weight or other metal content.
For platinum, the stamp should say PLAT950 or PT. Silver is marked with 925 typically. Jewelry without a stamp doesn’t mean that the metal is cheap or inauthentic, as the stamp may have worn away with age. However, when buying at an estate sale you can—and should—request for a jeweler to authenticate the piece before you complete the transaction.
The Conflict over Authentic, and Art Nouveau Re-inspired
There is one major concern with antique rings, and that is the issue of conflict diamonds. The Kimberley Process was established in 2000 to reduce the sale of conflict or blood diamonds that were used to fund violent wars. Many jewelers comply with the process and only purchase and sell ethically mined diamonds. However, any jewelry that was crafted before the new millennium may likely contain a conflict diamond.
For couples who demand ethically sourced diamonds, custom designed engagement rings can capture the beauty and design details of the Art Nouveau style. Before working with designers to create the ideal ring, though, couples should find examples of styles they love and the details they wish to incorporate in their ring. Couples should also set their budget to ensure that the designer can craft the ring within their price range. Art Nouveau jewelry is incredibly intricate, especially when expensive enamel work accentuates the designs.
You can also look for Art Nouveau inspired rings, which mimic various design elements, whether that’s intricate natural forms or sleek, smooth swirls, like in the unique engagement ring pictured below:
Maintaining the Details
Antique rings from the Art Nouveau period have survived the wear and tear of time. However, preserving this work of art is important. Antique jewelry can be ruined if it is not cared for properly and cleaning antique jewelry is best left to a professional who knows how to properly maintain the piece. Art Nouveau jewelry often features enamel details, which can be scratched with overzealous cleaning or abrasive soaps and detergents.
However, modern Art Nouveau-inspired engagement rings often can be cleaned at home. Soak the ring in warm water and dish detergent weekly and then use a soft toothbrush to wash away the dirt and debris. Never use an ultrasonic cleaner, which could loosen stones. And if your modern Art Nouveau custom ring features enamel, you may want to consult a professional about how to properly clean the ring.
Art Nouveau engagement rings swirl with amazing designs and beautiful depictions of nature and mythical enchantment. Choose an antique ring or customize a modern interpretation of the Art Nouveau style to celebrate the brief, but influential period of New Art.