BAROQUE (early-17 to mid-18 century / 1600-1730)
Baroque is the earliest of the silver design styles. Originating in Italy, the Baroque movement was a reaction to the strict Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church wanted to glorify the ethereal and ideal with a sense of drama and the ornate. Architecture, interiors, music and decorative arts were luxurious and highly embellished. Key characteristics include foliage motifs, chubby infants called putti, monograms and heraldic crests. During this time William III commissioned London silversmith Andrew Moore to make tables, stands and mirrors.
ROCOCO (18th century / c. 1720-1780)
Rococo style is generally regarded as one of France’s most original decorative contributions, especially in silver, furniture and ceramics. Key characteristics include natural motifs like shells and flowers, hand-worked carved forms, asymmetry, S and C curved forms, rocaille frilly carvings or eroded rock, and the Acanthus leaf. Dutch-born Paul de Lamerie was perhaps the most influential silversmith during this time.
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NEO-CLASSICISM / REGENCY CLASSICISM (c. 1760s – 1830s)
Neo-classicism emerged in Britain and France and was inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. Rebelling against the extravagance of the Rococo style, neoclassical design focused on harmony, proportion and symmetry. Key elements include swags & festoons, urns, classical figures, real & mythical creatures, laurel wreaths, and beading. This style lasted until the time of the Prince Regent (later George IV). Not only was he a patron of many silversmiths but also his interest in antique styles helped develop the designs of domestic silverware. John Schofield, Robert Hennell and Hester Bateman’s works during this time exemplify the period and their pieces are highly sought after.
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There was more silverware made in the 19th Century than ever before or after. Social and industrial developments influenced the silver design styles of this time. Silver jewelry, tea sets and large dinner services became essential requirements for the emerging middle class. The Victorian style has no consistent design theme, but borrowed elements from virtually every other previous style and combined them. Silver was heavily ornamented often featuring multiple techniques of decoration such as chasing, engraving and embossing. Hunt & Roskell, Garrard and Elkington & Co are all notable silversmiths of this period.
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ARTS & CRAFTS (c 1860 – 1920)
The Arts and Crafts movement grew in the early 20th century as a backlash against the fussy, overwrought style of the Victorian era. It rejected the factory-produced symmetry and precision of furnishings and decorative accents and instead embraced natural beauty and traditional craftsmanship. The hand-hammered finish used by silversmiths is one of the main characteristics of this style.
John Ruskin, William Morris and Charles Robert Ashbee were key figures at the time. Ashbee, who worked in a range of disciplines from interior decoration to jewelry, believed that good design and craftsmanship could not come out of mechanical and industrial organizations. Ashbee founded the School and Guild of Handicraft in 1887 and had a significant influence on contemporary silver design with his restrained and simple pieces.
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ART NOUVEAU (1890-1905)
Art Nouveau overlaps with the Victorian period and evolved as a backlash against the mass-produced wares of that era. It was reflected in silverware through its curved asymmetrical lines often looping back in a “whiplash” like shape, intertwining floral patterns, insects and feminine shapes depicting a great influence from Japanese art. Key techniques during this time were repoussé and chasing. Georg Jensen, Gorham, Liberty & Co, and Tiffany all produced an array of Art Nouveau products.
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ART DECO (1900-1945)
Originated in Paris, Art Deco reflected the changes in the modern world: jazz, skyscrapers, radio and cubist art. It was a movement against the naturalistic feel of Art Nouveau emphasizing symmetrical and geometrical forms. Mirrors and black lacquered finishes were popular, as well as glass and highly polished metal. Key characteristics include structured floral motifs, stylized curves, zigzags and sleek geometry. Puiforcat and Georg Jensen (particularly designers Harald Nielsen and Sigvard Bernadotte) produced exemplary pieces in this style.
Visit our Art Deco silver page here.
For more on silver design styles visit the Victoria and Albert Museum website.