Arts & Crafts Movement Jewelry

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
William Morris


Gaskin, Georgie Cave, 1868 – 1934 (designer)
Brooch, Silver wire, opals, glass imitating emeralds
V&A Museum

The Arts & Crafts Movement (1860-1910) was a philosophical, political, cultural and design movement that was the human soul’s response to industrialism.  It stood for economic and social justice, for a return to simplicity and connection with nature.  It was nostalgic for the time of the small-holder, for the freedom of the individual artisan before workmanship became centralized in factories. In a time when everything, including jewelry manufacture, was becoming more and more mechanized and therefore homogenized, The Arts and Crafts Movement looked to traditional craftsmanship and the virtue and beauty of the hand-made.  When it came to design, The Arts & Crafts Movement looked to the romance of medieval times, to naturalistic forms and to European folk culture.

The movement began in Britain, and was led by the great writer, thinker and artist William Morris (1834-1896).  William Morris was the single most influential designer of the nineteenth century. Standing outside the mainstream of Victorian thought and sensibility, William Morris and his followers brought a breath of fresh air, light and youth to the stuffy, grandiose, morbid and dark design sensibility that pervaded that time.  It is marvelous to contrast the subtle, sensual, fresh, colorful work of William Morris and his peers with what had come before; his designs must have truly been revolutionary. Indeed, having nothing whatsoever to do with ‘mourning’ and Queen Victoria’s grief that was imposed on her populace or with ostentatious displays of wealth, The Arts & Crafts Movement was, in many senses, anti-establishment.

Two other strong influences on the Arts and Crafts Movement were the writers John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Augustus Pugin (1812-1852). The movement, which began as British, soon spread across Europe and to North America.  Each country had their own specific interpretation of Arts & Crafts with their own influential designers and writers. It would be lovely to delve into the details of each and discuss each individual country’s interpretation of Arts & Crafts, but I will leave that for the future.

Of course, The Arts & Crafts Movement and The Art Nouveau Movement have a great deal in common and some might well argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was just part of The Art Nouveau Movement.  However, if you examine the jewelry of each movement, you will find that, although related, they do have strong stylistic distinctions. But it has to be said, rather than being necessarily always distinctive in style, Arts & Crafts movement jewelry is always distinctive in being part of a unique philosophy.


Arts and Crafts jewelery designers were often painters or architects who then later turned to jewelry design and were often self-taught.  Some Arts and Crafts Movement designers (to name but a few) were:  Arthur and Georgie Gaskin, Nelson and Edith Dawson, Andrew Fisher, Henry Wilson and C.R. Ashbee.

Materials, philosophy and techniques

No man is good enough to be another’s master.
William Morris

Arts and Crafts designers believed in simplicity and allowed the method of construction to be seen in the object.  They believed that the ideal was for one individual artisan to finish one piece from start to finish.  They believed in ‘truth to material’ meaning the quality of the material was entirely important and leaving the material in as close to natural state as possible was vital. But that did not mean they used expensive materials, Arts and Crafts designers gravitated towards less precious metals like brass, copper, silver and aluminum.  They loved leaving the hammer marks and demonstrating the hand-made process.  Gemstones were understated and chosen for their beauty, rather than as a display of wealth.  Cabochon cuts were more common than faceted stones and were often bezel set.  Pearls were loved by Arts & Crafts jewelers, with an emphasis on less perfectly rounded specimens.  Lapis, turquoise, carnelian, ivory, tourmaline, opal, peridot, moonstone and malachite were some of the other materials that were loved.  Craftsmanship and artistry was considered more important than value of the materials.  Enameling was of course hugely popular with Arts & Crafts movement jewelers, and many pieces displayed marvelous, sumptuous colors that are clearly reminiscent of Renaissance enamel work. Arts & Crafts enamel work was simpler, using Limoges enamel techniques (where enamel is painted across the whole metal like painting a picture), than Art Nouveau, which favored the more sophisticated plique-a-jour.


Henry Wilson, (1864-1934)
Necklace, 1905, Gold, enamelled, opals, pearls, emeralds
V&A Museum

Designs and Motifs

If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.
William Morris

The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
William Morris

The Arts & Crafts movement looked to nature, to tradition, to flora and fauna.  Several Arts & Crafts Movement workshops and guilds were set up in the countryside of Britain and elsewhere and explored old techniques and methodologies.  The Gothic Revival (1830–1880) was greatly influential to Arts & Crafts design, and the romance and naturalism of the medieval past was dear to the heart of the designers. Motifs included winged scarabs, flowers, birds, leaves, peacocks and ivy. Celtic and Etruscan design was strongly influential. The sailing ship was also a recurrent and distinctly Arts & Crafts motif.

Cloak clasps, brooches, hair ornaments, rings and pendants, bracelets and cufflinks were more common.  Earrings were rarer.

Arts & Crafts designers had much in common with the ‘Pre-Raphaelites’ who also rejected mainstream Victorian sensibilities and looked to the past for inspiration. Rosetti and Mallais were two Pre-Raphaelite painters who liked to feature Arts & Crafts jewelry pieces in their works.

Abbildung: Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861)

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861).© National Museum of Wales.
The necklace she is wearing appears to be Arts & Crafts

It is perhaps ironic and a little sad that although the stated intent of the Arts and Crafts Movement was to bring the common man beautiful hand-made design, the cost of labor meant most Arts & Crafts Movement items were out of reach for all but the wealthy. Some would argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was intrinsically an elitist philosophy although it aspired to be the opposite.

The Arts & Crafts Movement designers and artisans said that they believed in ‘the moral purpose of art’.  Truly, when you look at the amazing work they created and your heart and soul just lift and then you compare that to the machine made, poor quality, mass produced jewelry that is so prevalent today, I really believe they were right.  There is a moral purpose to art and Arts and Crafts Movement jewelry fulfills that purpose.


England, c. 1912
Necklace, gold with silver, moonstones, carnelians and labradorite
Reginald Pearson
V&A Museum


England, c. 1900
Pendant gold openwork, gold openwork, pearls, blister pearls sapphires, emeralds, rubies, moonstone, turquoise.
Henry Wilson
V&A Museum

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