By Danielle Olivia Tefft, Jewelry Writer
A majority of the jewelry from the 1940s is easy to spot once you know what you are looking for. When rummaging through an old jewelry box, you come across pieces with futuristic geometric shapes and lots of base metal showing, there's a good chance they are Retro pieces from the 1940s. Other 1940's examples will have minimal rhinestones compared to earlier pieces and plenty of enamel or plastic.
Bold, three dimensional designs are prominent features of most World War II era jewelry. You will also notice that costume jewelry pieces from the era feature few rhinestones compared to their 1930's counterparts. These distinctions are mainly due to two pivotal events in jewelry history.
First, at the New York World's Fair in 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels displayed a radically new line of fine jewelry. The pieces had bold, three dimensional designs that were unlike anything that had come before. The futuristic lines were somewhat reminiscent of the 1920s Art Deco era. However, these pieces weren't flat. Nor were they completely covered with sparkling jewels as Art Deco pieces were. No, these new designs were bold, three dimensional shapes with prominently exhibited base metals. They had depth as well as width and length. They seemed to pop out at you. This new style captured the mood for the entire coming decade. Years later, it would be termed "Retro" jewelry by the experts at Christie's Auction House.
Second, and quite coincidentally, much of the costume jewelry of the 1940s followed Van Cleef & Arpels' new design trend first exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair. This is because World War II was raging in Europe. Costume jewelry manufacturers in the United States were cut off from their rhinestone suppliers in Austria and Czechoslovakia. So, unlike the pieces of the previous decades, costume jewelry from the 1940s showed more metal and fewer glittering rhinestones.
Much of the jewelry from the 1940s was made of gold or sterling silver. That's because ordinary base metal (the inexpensive pot metal alloys so typically used by costume jewelers) and platinum (a popular fine jewelry metal since Edwardian times) were deemed necessary for the war effort by the U.S. government. Therefore, fine jewelry manufacturers were not allowed to purchase platinum. So they began using more sterling silver and gold in their designs. Costume jewelers followed suit since they were banned from using base metals like copper and pot metal alloys needed for the war effort. They used plastics, sterling silver and gold in their designs instead.
One thing is certain, once you've seen enough examples of the 1940's Retro jewelry, you will be able to pick it out forever. A sad note: much of the fine Retro jewelry of the period made of gold or sterling silver has not survived. This is because during subsequent harsh economic times, much of it was melted down as people turned it in for cold, hard cash. But you can still find ample costume examples in plastic, sterling silver and gold plate.
Do you own a favorite piece of Retro jewelry from the 1940s? Please tell us about it with in the comments section. Also, if you love jewelry from all eras, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you won't miss an article!
Danielle Olivia Tefft is a professional writer with a lifelong passion for gems, jewelry and fashion. She is a GIA accredited jewelry professional and the owner of online antique and vintage jewelry shop, Treasure Box Antiques. Current projects include ghostwriting jewelry and fashion blogs for clients worldwide. When she is not writing, she spends time in the garden, spoiling her cats and traveling with her significant other. Would you like to hire her to write for you? Visit her website danielleoliviatefftwrites.com for more information or email her directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
< a href= "https://plus.google.com/110863166906514645261?rel=author">Danielle Olivia Tefft
About This Blog:
The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!