By the middle of the 18th century, an Alsatian jeweler named Georg Frederic Strass had made himself a small fortune from his business of cultivating imitation gemstones. ("Strass" is often used interchangeably with "rhinestone"—a small piece of rock crystal found in the beds of the river Rhine, and a name that is synonymous in present day with many types of man-made sparkle.) Strass is famous among jewelry collectors for creating "paste"—a lesser-known and now highly coveted type of glass stone that Strass would facet and polish just like a gemstone. His stones were so rich in color and sparkle that they became popular in their own right, worn by aristocrats alongside their diamonds and sapphires. When Strass's unique process of paste-making ceded dominance to Swarovski in the earlyish 20th century, paste-set jewelry became a thing of the past. This late paste ring features a luminous faux pearl and white paste stones with old European cut faceting set in warm 18k white gold.
ART DECO (1915 – 1940)
Art Deco is highly recognizable for its minimalism and futurism. Simultaneous art movements—Cubism, Bauhaus—informed the geometric style, along with “exotic” foreign influences like the Ballet Russe. Motifs like ziggurats and sunbursts, stripped of visual clutter, conveyed the optimism of an increasingly technological world.
In jewelry, the predominant use of white metals let colorful gems take center stage. Stones that were opaque and true in color, like lapis lazuli, onyx, jade, coral, and opal were worked into designs alongside more precious and brilliant gems, like diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Extra-long beaded necklaces and tasseled “sautoirs” followed the narrow flapper silhouette.
The baguette cut was an Art Deco innovation, and the decade saw increased use of other angular diamond cuts, like the precise caliber cut and the emerald cut. Synthetic gems, like sapphires, were celebrated as a scientific marvel. Marcel Tolkowsky, 21 years old at the time, published the design for the round brilliant cut in 1919.