The Twenties and Thirties 1919 - 1930

1920s Theodore Fahrner Silver Gilt & Opal Brooch
  photo courtesy of Terrance O'Halloran

The end of the First World War marked the start of the popularity of costume jewelry. Fine jewelry at the time had unpleasant associations with being frivolous and unpatriotic. The new fashion for women was casual as well as sporty, and was not very well suited to the formality of precious gemstones. The Art Nouveau movement had already prompted a change in perception towards jewelry, focusing attention on aesthetic rather than monetary value. In the postwar period, the major couturiers took this one stage further by initiating the trend for entirely non-precious jewelry.

Poiret, Chanel and the fashion accessory

October 1928 Advertisement from Harper's Bazaar photo courtesy of Pat Seal

Paul Poiret had initiated the interest of the couturiers in costume jewelry before the war, when he produced theatrical jewelry for Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in 1910. The bold, vivid Eastern silhouettes associated with this influential ballet were in stark contrast to the Art Nouveau styles of the time. Poiret later developed his range of costume jewelry further. He commissioned the fine jeweler Rene Boivin, Gripoix, and the artist Paul Iribe to accessorize his collections for the European department stores as early as 1913. They produced the silk tassel jewelry studded with semi precious that typifies Poiret's style. Other couturiers such as Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Premet and Drescoll followed Poiret's lead.

Fashion magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue were at first cautious about the idea, as they relied heavily on advertising revenue from the fine jewelry houses such as Cartier. However, they overcame their trepidation and began to feature the new costume jewelry in the mid-1920's. Other magazines throughout Europe and particularly America took up the theme and costume spread rapidly internationally.

German Enamel Pins
  photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

1920s Beaded Bag
  photo courtesy of BeeGee McBride

The couturiers reveled in intricate detail and elaboration, particularly embroidered beadwork and garnitures, which reflected current fashions and the use of sequins that adorned evening wear. One of the most flamboyant and innovative of fashion designers was Coco Chanel who coined the term 'junk' jewelry.

1920s Sautoir
  photo courtesy of Paper Moon Vicky Niolet

Twenties fashion dictated a new range of ornaments. As well as the bob haircut, there were the dropped waistlines, rising and falling hemlines, and décolleté necklines and backless dresses, requiring a new range of jewelry styles. Costume jewelry expanded accordingly to include clips, liberty pins (to hold up corsetless lingerie), and free flowing sautoirs associated with the dropped waistline.

American and mass-produced jewelry

America was well placed to apply the new manufacturing techniques to the jewelry field, and where Paris led the trend for costume jewelry, it was America that chiefly propagated it. Less hide-bound by craft traditions than the European countries, and less inhibited by old bureaucracies and stylistic inertia, America was undergoing full-scale industrialization. In the jewelry field America simply ceased to import or copy European role models and began to experiment with new technologies and materials of its own, to the extent that jewelry manufacture rapidly became a major industry. Companies along the length of the East Coast, from New York City to Providence, Rhode Island such as Napier and Co., were involved in jewelry production. Lightness and simplicity were the qualities desired. New materials came into their own, particularly plastics.

Plastic jewelry

The widespread introduction of synthetic plastics during the 1920s marked the beginning  of jewelry that was affordable to the masses. Plastic was not particularly cheap and did not have couturier name attached to enhance its price. Plastic was ideally suited to machine production and to the new clean cut geometric Art Deco styles. Plastic could be easily molded into sharply defined shapes and it offered the possibility of 'Mathematical precision and purity of finish'. As soon as plastics became available manufacturers started to produce large quantities of beads, bangle bracelets, and molded pins with a variety of different finishes from mottled to pearlized effects.

Bakelite Frog Pin
  photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

Bakelite Corn Pin
  photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

Bakelite was light, warm, and virtually indestructible and extremely well suited to the imitation of a number of different substances. From the 1920s onwards it could be produced in more sophisticated colors. It was not just an inferior imitation of natural materials, but had many unique qualities.

The Thirties

Trifari Costume Clip
  photo courtesy of Sheila Pamfiloff

In the 1930s, the glamour and extravagance of the twenties gave way to increasing economic hardship and to the Depression. There was a swing back to more traditional jewelry. These designs represented reassurance in a financially insecure society, and could be regarded as a reasonably secure investment

A return
 to convention

1930s Jensen Brooch  
photo courtesy of Marbeth Schon

1930s Costume Clip
  photo courtesy of Sheila Pamfiloff

The thirties was a period highlighted by a return to a more conservative attitude towards jewelry and the status associated with it. There was renewed interest in 'good taste' and morally acceptable styles. The mid to late thirties are characterized by a soft streamlined look. Curved feminine fashions superceded the hard-edged lines of Art Deco. In terms of jewelry fashion, clips were particularly popular and were considered an essential part of a woman's dress. The fashion for diamonds was at its height, and flower sprays and bouquet jewelry with gilded finishes was a favorite design.

 and Surrealism

Advertisement from Vogue Magazine with Dali painting,
 Bergdorf Goodman Scarf & Mark Cross Bag
  photo courtesy of Marbeth Schon  

In sharp contrast to this return to safe forms of design were the avante-garde contemporary art movements, known as Dadaism 8 and Surrealism 9. These movements had a considerable effect on the world of jewelry. Designers like Schiaparelli, Chanel's fashion rival, used these ideas. A number of the Dadaist and Surrealist artist themselves experimented with jewelry design including Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Jean Clement and Jean Arp.
Surrealism reached its peak in the Paris Exhibition of 1936 with a range of bizarre items on display, from lantern lit jewelry to glassless spectacles. They were admired by the social and fashionable elite of this period including Mae West and Mrs. Reginald Fellows.

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Copyright 1999 MODERN SILVER magazine