As with nineteenth-century jewelry, it can be difficult to clearly identify turn of the century pieces as one particular style or another. At times, two or more styles are commingled in a single piece of jewelry. Up until recently, historians usually grouped all turn of the century art jewelry as Art Nouveau.
Now, most make a distinction between Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts. Although one person’s Arts and Crafts are another’s Art Nouveau and Edwardian pieces sometimes include Art Nouveau elements. Arts and Crafts were more than a style - it was called a movement, which encompassed a philosophy, an attitude, and a way of living.
The practitioners of the movement were revivalists of a sort, but unlike the Etruscan and Greco-Roman revivalists, they were not copyists, but interpreters of the past. They revived the ideas of handicraft, medieval guilds, and individual craftsmanship.
Their philosophical point of view influenced their creative impulses, which found expression in a number of different forms and incorporated a variety of stylistic elements. So Arts and Crafts movement is not one style, but many.
It began in Great Britain as a rebellion toward the greatest industrialized nation at the time, in fear that it was the beginning of the end of artisanship. Although the movement started earlier, around 1870, in architecture, interior design, and furnishings. Jewelry making wasn’t included till the Guild of Handicrafts in London was founded in 1888, by C. R. Ashbee.
By the late 1890’s this movement had founds it way across the channel to Europe, where it was interpreted and renamed by German, Austrian, and Scandinavian artisans. In Germany and Austria, it was called Jugendstil or “young style”. Scandinavians called it skønvirke. There were many fine jewelry firms making Arts and Crafts type jewelry, even Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of Tiffany & Co., turned his attention from interior design to jewelry after his father’s death in 1902.
It may seam difficult to reconcile that any Tiffany’s jewelry could be Arts and Crafts, coming from this most prestigious firm, but many item were and many items by L.C. Tiffany had no markings as to his hand.
As with any other type of jewelry, one should evaluate Arts and Crafts pieces on their own merits, regardless of where, when, or by whom it was made. Because so much of this jewelry is not marked, and often unattributable, this may not be just the first, but the only method of evaluate.
Many amateur hobbyists ,even today, make handcrafted jewelry in the Arts and Crafts mode. Some of it is well done, some of it is not.
Mourning the loss of high quality craftsmanship and handmade items due to the Industrial Revolution many jewelers were opposed to any specialization of their craft, each piece of jewelry being made, start to finish by one craftsman. This gave rise to a lot of primitive jewelry made in silver with cabochon cut stones. This was also the time when the designers tried to become craftsman and the craftsman tried to become designers. It didn’t work.