The Art of Adornment Timeline

This was an assignment for Typography II at the University of Baltimore. Our task was to create a comparative timeline as an exercise in studying typographic history. I compared the history of typographic design with the history of jewelry design and drew conclusions about how design trends for both mediums reflected each other and the time period. Our timeline was meant to be suitable as a museum exhibition handout.

The Art of Adornment

A Comparative Timeline of  Typography & Jewelry, 1452 – Present

Creative Brief

This exhibit will show the similar history of design trends and styles between typographic classifications and corresponding eras of jewelry design. By comparing typefaces and jewelry across time, we can put the design principles into context with their time periods.

The accompanying timeline pamphlet will be a concise overview of the exhibit that visitors can take home, refer to later and perhaps use as decoration.

Client: The Design Museum
Audience: Museum visitors, who can be designers or just tourists, students, etc.
Goal: Demonstrate how iconic typefaces developed based on the art, politics and cultural environment of their time.
Technical Specs: Booklet style, 5” by 5”
Booklet Introduction: If “typography is what language looks like,” as graphic designer and author Ellen Lupton says, then jewelry just might be what history looks like. Throughout time as art, culture, politics and religion change and adapt to their eras, humans have sought to express these changes. The way we adorn ourselves, with items such as clothing and jewelry, reflects not only our personalities but the climate of our culture. Language is similarly adorned through various examples of typographic design.  By comparing typefaces and jewelry over the past 550 years, we can put their design principles into context with their time periods.


A Renaissance Blooms, 1400–1490

When the Italian Renaissance began, scholars clamored for ancient Greek and Latin text. Thanks to the advent of printing, these texts were available to large audiences for the first time in history. The art of typography and jewelry are perhaps most strongly linked during this time. Goldsmiths developed techniques for enamels and stone polishing superior even to modern mechanical ones. Johann Gutenberg, himself a goldsmith as well as engineer, used those same techniques to develop his printing press.

Blackletter Classification (Cloister)
Blackletter, the typeface classification first seen with Gutenberg’s Bible Textura in 1452, is a condensed, vertical letterform designed to match the scribe handwriting in popular books of the era. To modern eyes it is ornate and rather difficult to decipher, especially at small sizes.

Cloister Old Style, the typeface this text is set in, was designed by William Morris and produced by Doves Press in 1900 as a modern interpretation of Gutenberg’s Bible Textura.

Medieval Jewelry
Like the typefaces of that era, late Medieval jewelry was intricate and created using ingenious methods. Pieces tend to be ornate and reflect the status of their owner—royalty wore gold and precious metals while commoners made do with base metals such as copper and pewter.

Reformation’s New Ideas, 1490–1580

Suddenly, thanks to the printing press, it was possible to spread information quickly to the masses (at least those that could read). This generation began to question the Papal authority of the Catholic Church, which eventually led to schisms orchestrated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and others. While typefaces of the era reflected a desire to explore new ideas and techniques, jewelry allowed people wear their religious loyalty pinned to their chests.

Old Style Classification (Garamond)
In 1528, Claude Garamond designed a Roman typeface that broke away from the script-like forms of the century before and instead used the innate characteristics of the steel used for printing. He was able to create this innovative approach to typefaces thanks to his apprenticeship as a punchcutter, where he learned how the three-dimensional shape of the letter punch greatly affected the appearance of the type. This letterform appearance began the departure from mimicking the scribe’s hand writing and became the Old Style type classification.

Religious Jewelry
The influence of the Reformation is stamped on most pieces of jewelry from the era in the form of religious imagery. Pendants were quite popular and designed using methods and styles developed in Italy as the Renaissance spread north. Many pendants were tiny biblical scenes played out in gold and silver.

Neo-Classical Artistic Delicacy, 1750–1840

In the late 18th century, there was a revival of interest in classical Greek and Roman arts. Designers looked to these ancient relics as inspiration and there was great delicacy and natural elements at play in both typography and jewelry.

Modern Classification (Bodoni)
Neoclassicism ushered in an era of ironically-named Modern typefaces, which began with Giambattista Bodoni’s work around 1796. His namesake typeface took advantage of the fine printing techniques earlier developed by using both the ink and white space to create a delicate letterform characterized by hairline-thin strokes and perpendicular stresses. Initially rejected as ugly and hard to read, Bodoni and other Modern typefaces became the epitome of elegance by the 20th century.

Georgian Jewelry
The Georgian era of jewelry is named for the four consecutive British monarchs of the same name from 1714 to 1830. Despite the assembly-line production methods used to create jewelry, pieces were usually quite delicate. Production assembly brought the cost of jewelry down significantly in some cases, meaning styles could change rapidly as new products came on the market to reflect the latest trends.

Industrial Revolution & Mass Media, 1760–1850

The reign of British Queen Victoria from 1837–1901 coincided with the industrial revolution and the birth of mass media. Women’s magazines flourished thanks to the advent of photography, advertising and cheaper printing opportunities. These outlets began a long-standing relationship between media, image, and how we see ourselves.

Slab Serif Classification (Clarendon)
Leaving behind the delicate designs of Modern typefaces, Slab Serifs added weight to advertisements and their short, punchy copy. Clarendon, with its beefy rectangular serifs and thick strokes, is the iconic slab serif and ideal for cheaply-printed, high-volume promotional materials. It was designed in 1845 by Robert Besley and Benjamin Fox.

Victorian Jewelry
Jewelry at this time was inspired by the popular Queen, mass produced and copying whatever the she was wearing at the moment. Designs were bright and intricate relications of flowers during the Queen’s happier years. Later, after the death of her husband, mourning jewelry made from jet and often including images or locks of a loved one’s hair became popular.

The Machine Age Steamrolls Culture, 1880–1940

With the 20th century looming, people began to grow weary and uneasy of the newly industrialized world. Jewelry designers began rejecting the often inferior quality of machine-made goods and placed a new importance on craftsmanship. Meanwhile, typography was taking advantage of technological innovations to create sleeker letterforms.

Gothic Sans Classification (Franklin Gothic)
Morris Fuller Benton, looking to the 19th century grotesque typefaces for inspiration, designed the iconic Gothic Sans typeface Franklin Gothic in 1903. Rejecting recent trends toward decorative and flashy letterforms, Benton created a sleeker look with tall lowercase x-heights, which drastically improved legibility.

Arts & Crafts Jewelry
Jewelers saw the Arts and Crafts movement not just as an aesthetic, but a way to “improve the soul of the workman as well as the end design.” Cheap, machine-made jewelry was seen as tacky and designers as well as consumers placed a premium on handmade pieces adorned with flourishes and uncut gems.

Seeking A New Order After World War I, 1910–1940

The upheaval people experienced in the aftermath of the first World War was devastating on every cultural, economic and political level. Just as the world seemed to recover and begin to prosper again during the Roaring Twenties, everything came crashing down again when the Great Depression hit in 1929. The realms of design seemed to seek a kind of order in the chaos during this time by gravitating towards clean, geometric lines and angular shapes.

Geometric Sans Classification (Futura)
Futura, designed by Paul Renner in 1927, was the typographic epitome of this geometric craze. The iconic Geometric Sans Sarif of its time, Futura is “a complex combination of stressed strokes and complex curves,” says John Kane in his book A Type Primer.

Art Deco Jewelry
The Art Deco jewelry of this time period is highly sought after even today for its beautiful geometric shapes and innovative designs. Here we began to see geometric gemstone cuts such as triangles, trapezoids and oblong shapes. The iconic jewelry houses of this era—Tiffany’s, Cartier and Harry Winston—endure today as the ultimate standard in jewelry design.

Post War Ingenuity, 1950–1970

The futuristic forms, bright colors and bold shapes we associate with Mid-Century Modernism developed as the world began to recover from a second devastating war. This modern theme is evident in most design of the era, including typography and jewelry but also in furniture and fashion styles that have endured and gained popularity again as we became obsessed with the Mad Men television depiction of this time period.

Neo-Grotesque Sans (Helvetica)
Traditional ideas in typography design began to melt away. Sans serifs, previously only used sparingly in headlines, were a way for type designers to break the mold. The epitome of Swiss mid-century type design is Helvetica, designed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman in 1957. Praised for its lack of distinguishing features, which make Helvetica ideal for multiple applications, it is also disparaged for its non-existent personality. The mythical quality of Helvetica is so ingrained in culture that it inspired a 2007 documentary titled simply, Helvetica.

Mid-Century Modernism Jewelry
Jewelry in the 1950s adhered to the same design principles as other mediums of the era—clean lines, futuristic shapes and bold statements. A defining feature of this jewelry are the bright colors and eye-catching details. Costume jewelry, duplicating popular designs and produced from cheap materials, made these statement pieces available to the masses. Much like Helvetica, while these pieces were often beautiful, their extreme popularity left little options for personalization.

Information Age Multi-Tasking, 1970–2014

Two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution radically changed culture and economy, we began to see a shift from the importance of production to knowledge. The Information Age, ushered in by the internet and other digital technology, made massive amounts of information available globally and instantly.

Service and knowledge-based industries began to flourish and we began to prize immediate information delivery. Communicating all this data requires new models that can express vast amounts of information quickly and clearly.

Hybrid Serif/Sans Serifs (Rotis)
Post-Modern hybrid serif and sans serif typefaces such as Rotis, designed in 1989 by Otl Aicher, are a direct result of the data-rich documents we now produce. These typefaces allow designers to create complex levels of hierarchy, extended identity systems and massive amounts of content without getting stuck in the minutia of type setting. These new letterforms, combined with revolutionary desktop publishing, high-resolution printers and outline font technologies, opened the world of typeface design to anyone with a computer.

Tech Hybrid Jewelry
In this Post-Modern era, your jewelry can be not only decorative but also extraordinarily informative. Ringly, a line of traditional-looking and bluetooth-enabled cocktail rings, will light up or gently vibrate on your finger when your smartphone receives a text or notification. Meanwhile, dozens of companies have produced activity tracker bracelets that digitize everything you do from sleeping to exercising, then collate and send that data to you for review. For consumers not content with products that are just informative, designers put a huge effort into creating tech-hybrid jewelry that is attractive as well as useful.

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