By Chris Cosby
The 1940s was a time for changes in the jewelry industry which were a direct result of changes in world events. The first part of the decade demonstrated a slow down in jewelry production due to the war outbreak in Europe. There was a scarcity of precious metals and importing precious gemstones was extremely limited. Some countries would even access taxes to the recycling of old jewelry when used to make new jewelry even for the same owner. The United States would restrict platinum for usage due to war efforts. Fine antique and heirloom jewelry was sought as a portable commodity due to growing concern for currency solvency. Almost 18 million US women would return to work to help with the war efforts. In the US money was available, however, there were not many goods available for purchase.
As with every decade, jewelry and clothing fashions would overlap. While new jewelry styles involving massive pieces would be introduced in the 1940s, there would still be jewelry inspired by the Victorian Jewelry Period and the white on white filigree appearance of the Edwardian Jewelry Period of the early 1900s. The Retro Modern Jewelry Period was not an architectural style, nor was it a decorative arts style.
In the early 1940s, French jewelry designers would become involved in the war. So in the US, American designers would rely on their own talents and creations for the American market. Early 1940s jewelry would use semi-precious gemstones, as precious gemstones and metals would become scarce. Large colorful citrine quartz, topaz, aquamarines and amethyst would be used. Because the availability of gold was limited, copper would be added to gold in larger portions resulting in rose gold. Rose gold would then be used in many early 1940 jewelry items, with perhaps a band of yellow gold. Massive geometrical lapel clips, large brooches, big bracelets and massive rings would be in demand. In the United States yellow gold would more frequently when platinum use was restricted to war usage. Gold filled or gold plated would be used to make costume jewelry.
Ladiess fashion would change during the 1940s. Cork would replace leather and rubber on shoes, as these materials would be used for the war. Clothes that would become fashionable would be military inspired suits with slim skirts and long jackets, big shoulder pads, dull colors and square necklines.
After the war ended in the mid 1940s, fashion and jewelry designs would come to flourish. French Fashion Houses would design more feminine fashion lines, finer fabrics and lighter colors. American women would start to wear pants and culottes. As the ban on platinum was lifted, jewelry designers would thrive with the new demand for jewelry. Precious gemstones and precious metals would once again be available for their use. At the end of the 1940s, French designers would introduce a new feminine look. Long, full sweeping skirts would be introduced.
In the late 1940s, jewelry would become more three dimensional. Precious gemstones would be used in combination with semi-precious gemstones. A large citrine quartz would be embellished by rubies or diamonds. Blue topaz might be combined with diamonds or rubies. Jewelry lines would be less streamlined as Art Deco and would become more sleek. The cone would replace the geometric cube. Jewelry would be inspired by nature, but would have a stylized appearance. Polished finishes would be crafted in red, rose, yellow, gray green pink, white and yellow gold or they would be crafted in multiple colors of gold. Red, white and blue jewelry would be popular. Belt buckle rings and bracelets embellished with larger citrine quartz or topaz gemstones would be stylish. Also popular would be folded ribbon, waiving flag and bow motifs. Big, bold and colorful would be the overall appearance of 1940s jewelry. At the end of the decade, colorful flower basket jewelry would be introduced. The flower basket jewelry would have a combination fine gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds combined in a yellow gold basket brooch. Popular jewelry pieces would be bracelet watches with ruby or diamond crusted covers.
Costume jewelry would become big business. During the depression many designers and retailers had switched to costume jewelry and would not switch back. Costume jewelry would be produced in all qualities and in a vast price range.
Retro Modern Jewelry Attributes
1940s – 1950s Jewelry
By: Chris Cosby
All Rights Reserved.
About the Author:
Fine antique and estate jewelry
historian and collector, Chris Cosby, discusses the
retro modern estate jewelry
of the 1940s to the 1950s.