Jewelry and Fashion in the 1940s

The outbreak of World War II diminished the production of the jewelry industry in Europe. Precious metals such as platinum and gold were almost unobtainable and rationed. Precious stones were also scarce, so jewelers started using semi-precious stones. Citrines in a variety of colors, aquamarines, amethysts and topazes became favorites during those years.

Jewelry became lighter, but by no means less bold and massive. A variety of alloys was produced and the percentage of copper in 19, 14 and 18 carat gold was raised. This gave the metal a reddish color typical of the jewelry of the war years. Palladium the lighter derivate of the six members of the platinum group was also introduced to jewelers during those times. Many job vacancies were left by men joining the war so, women took over their jobs and thus fashion had to adapt to their new way of life.

Feminine attire of the 1930s changed to a more masculine look. Well tailored length skirts, and long tight-fitting jackets with wide padded shoulders became popular. Large and bulky clips were worn in jacket lapels or at the sides of the square necklines. Voluminous bracelets and rings were worn with the austere fashions of the times.

Nonetheless, femininity prevailed in the square necklines of slim line dresses and Tricone hats decorated with flowers and veils. Clips and brooches became very important jewelry ornaments to the fashion of the 1940s. The “ribbon bow” was one of the most popular motifs; large or small they were made of yellow or red gold and often fretted with lace or tulle-like patterns. They were usually decorated in the center with a gem-set cluster or knot. Other popular designs were exotic birds of paradise, cats, dogs, songbirds, snakes, panthers, tigers, lions, and parrots.

At the end of the war, new fashion couturiers such as Balmain, Givenchy, and Balenciaga were designing feminine dresses featuring wide and short skirts, and generous décolleté tops covered by bolero-style jackets. In 1947, Christian Dior introduced his “new look” collection with wide mid-calf skirts and thin waistlines.

Jewelry designs were replaced by large gold jewelry inspired by nature. They featured exotic flowers, birds, animals, leaves and snowflakes. For evening wear women paraded opulent jewelry on the lavish décolletages fashionable at the time. In vogue were the necklaces in the form of precious “bibs” made of articulated gold plaques of geometrical design and alternating colored stones; which were very trendy toward the end of the 1940s. Fur coats worn with diamond jewelry were also á la mode.

After having disappeared for decades, parures showing a bracelet, brooch, necklace and earrings made their way back into fashion. The most popular parures featured a necklace and a bracelet of tubular gold linking, decorated with gem-set flowerhead clasps, a matching flowerhead brooch and a pair of earclips. Parures were made popular by the houses of Van Cleef and Arpels and Cartier. Demi-parures became also fashionable and featured a brooch and bracelet or a brooch and earrings.

Clip earrings were very fashionable during the 1940s and were made of multicolored gold, with rubies, diamonds or other colored gemstones to match the corresponding clips and brooches of the demi-parures. Among the most popular jewels of the 1940s, were the bracelets. They were bulky and massive with large and three-dimensional clasps, designed as bombé medallions, stylized buckles or bridge motifs, with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Towards the end of the 1940s, the most popular bracelets were wide bands of woven gold ornamented with floral clasps.

Recently, jewelry of the 1940s and the fashion for their bulky design have been imitated and is very popular. Designers such as John Galliano have brought back designs reminiscent of Dior’s “New Look,” in his Fall 2008 and Spring 2010 collections as well as Lanvin in its Fall 2009 collection and designer L’Wren Scott in its Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear collection.

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