Here is an overview of the key jewellery looks of the first six decades of the 20th century.
These years saw the continued explosion in the Art Nouveau Movement in all its forms. The styles evoked femininity, mystery, nature and were an homage to an imagined pre-industrial Eden of the past.
Enamel work became prominent as the focus on artistry and craftsmanship dominated.
Bijouterie can be described as a piece valued for the delicacy of its design as opposed to the value of its materials. These more intricate pieces became prevalent as design took dominance over ostentatious displays.
Nature themes were popular as people sought to connect with the simplicity and beauty of the pre-industrial era.
Celtic motifs were also popular as people romanticised heritage and history in a rejection of the rapidly exploding modernity of the Western world.
THE FEMALE FORM
The female form and visage became one of the eras most iconic motifs as a craving for femininity emerged as a response to the increasing mechanisation of society.
THE WHIPLASH MOTIF
The whiplash motif was a signature motif of this decade.
These years saw an emergence of elegance and a focus on gentile refinement. There was an emphasis on evening wear along with an adulation of aristocracy and nostalgia for the hey days of the fine royal courts of Europe, in particular Versailles.
The lavalier became a popular item as the beauty of the décolleté was emphasised.
BANDEAUS AND AIGRETTES
Inspired by the natives of the New World, bandeaus and aigrettes started to become popular (this fashion exploded in the 1920s)
BOWS AND SWAGS
Hearkening back to Rococo and Baroque design, bows and swags became recurrent motifs.
TIARAS AND HEADPIECES
Inspired by the glamorous royal courts of Europe, tiaras and headpieces became popular evening wear.
The garland necklace was popular as the beauty of the décolleté, neck and shoulder was focused upon.
COLLIERS DE CHIEN
Princess Alexander popularised this iconic style.
The migration of many Italian cameo artists saw the popular emergence of cameos across Europe and the USA.
WHITE ON WHITE
White metals with white stones were the height of fashion with the emphasis on evening refinement and the desire to wear jewels that looked amazing by candle light (also inspired by the new vogue for luxury cruises.)
This decade saw the emergence of a new boyish and chic look. Jewellery became streamlined, youthful, forward looking, minimalist, light and lean.
BANGLES AND CUFF BRACELETS
With the craze for dancing it was important to wear items with movement.
EGYPTIAN AND ETHNIC MOTIFS
The architectural discoveries of these years saw an emergence of revivalist motifs, as well as an idealisation for the styles of foreign lands as the European empires expanded.
FAN, CHEVRON, GEOMETRIC AND THE MACHINE AESTHETIC
With mechanisation and modernity there came an emphasis on machine-inspired designs.
VENETIAN GLASS AND CRYSTAL BEADS
As long sautoir necklaces became popular (perfectly for twirling while dancing), the artistry of venetian glass and the beauty of crystal was revered.
MACHINE CUT GEMSTONES
Gemstones were now cut by machine for the most part, rather than cut by hand.
There was a craze for tassel earrings and tassel necklaces and the movement they brought with them while dancing the latest dance crazes.
This decade brought the glamour and dram of the silent screen and black and white movies into the forefront of popular culture.
Diamonds became the most sought after gem, popularised by the silent screen actresses who wore them for their ability to sparkle on the screen.
STEPPED, CHEVRON AND CIRCLE MOTIFS
The continued fashion for modernism saw an emphasis on geometric, architectural and non-organic motifs.
Filigree settings, particularly using white metals, became popular in this decade.
The simplicity and girlishness of floral motifs became prevalent.
Dress clips became the height of fashion
WHITE ON WHITE
The fashion for all white jewellery continued.
DIME STORE DECO
Dime stores sold inexpensive costume jewellery which made style available to everyone. These pieces became known as ‘dime store deco.’
The silver screen saw an emphasis on increasingly flashy costume pieces.
The austerity of the war years brought about a creative explosion in costume jewellery which made personal decor more accessible. It was not worn to display wealth but more as an expression of fun and levity, in contrast to the serious times.
Rhinestones became a popular and accessible stand-in for diamonds.
METAL AND WOOD
The scarcity of precious metals saw an explosion in creativity using readily available materials such as base metal and wood.
The new surrealist art movements of Europe overlapped into the world of jewellery design.
It became de rigueur for every woman to wear a display of patriotism.
These were pins with a rounded, polished lucite middle. Pioneered by Trifari in the 1930s but made popular by the head designer, Alfred Philippe, in the 1940s.
Floral motifs continued in popularity.
Vermeil became popular as a replacement for solid gold.
Sterling silver saw a surge in popularity as gold was less available.
BAKELITE AND OTHER PLASTICS
This decade saw a greater use of bakelite and other early plastics.
After the end of the Second World War, there was a return to the display of wealth. The love of sparkle and luxury returned with force but there was a retention of the fun and creative sensibilities of the previous decade.
These motifs remained popular.
This glamorous style of earring became all the rage.
The streamlined modernity of ‘Scandinavian Modern’ became sought after.
Textured gold became fashionable.
BEADS AND PEARLS
GIs returning from Japan brought home strings of cultured pearls to their sweethearts and a string of pearls or other beads around the neck (usually in princess length) became standard.
Artistry and fun was expressed through the fashion for figurative brooches.
Copper became a new innovative material to work with as a replacement for gold.
Perhaps as a symptom of nostalgia for the now long-gone Victoria era, parures (complete sets of matching jewellery) grew in popularity.
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