Jewelry In The 1940s & 1950s

T he year of 1940 saw Paris falling to the Germans and England stunned by relentless bombing. Yet through the horror and privation, the production of haute joaillerie survived. Adapting to the new austere lifestyle, designers used thin sheets of metal to fashion their jewelry, setting them with smaller precious stones or larger semsi-precious stones—such as amethyst, topaz, and aquamarine, in a tapestry of hues. Jewelers also frequently reset gemstones from old pieces into the new designer creations. The motifs of the 1930s (scrolls, bridges, buckles, and straps) largely remained.

Soon after the war’s end, fashion took a sharp celebratory turn toward the luxuries it had been denied. Christian Dior led the way in 1947 with “New Look” collections characterized by flowing feminine forms and narrow waistlines. Jewelry designers followed. Naturalistic style gold jewelry replaced the ample, geometrical, white metal, creations of the ‘40s. Opulent birds, flowers, and leaves appeared along with scrolled, pleated, and knotted designs, made buoyant once again with large precious stones.

As the decade gave way to the 1950s, the economy boomed and lifestyles grew increasingly relaxed and carefree. Fashion responded with breezy, functional lines, while jewelers discarded the weighty forms of the 1940s. To reflect the Dior look that had become the rage, jewelry designers produced light and curvy shapes that conveyed a fluid sense of movement. Uniformity was shunned, as exoticism, naturalism, and abstract designs were embraced. Sprays of leaves and bouquets of flowers remained a favorite decorative motif—along with wild animals, and fanciful spirals and turbans.

ay and evening wear jewelry once again became a consideration. A new middle-class was emerging in the ‘50s, composed of socially-active women who delighted in the jewelry of the new age. Platinum and white gold became the precious metal-of-choice for lavish diamond and precious stone eveningwear. Yellow gold triumphed among daywear, as more discreet yet imaginative brooches, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets were often seen fashioned in pleats, ruffs, and other fabric-like designs.