The 1940s and 1950s were decades of fundamental change in society brought about by the end of World War II. Due to the war, restrictions on the use of precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum were introduced and enforced. The lack of these resources spurred unusual jewellery creations using rich yellow gold, bi-coloured and tri-coloured metals after decades of jewellery creations in platinum.
Typical designs from the 1940s include large bow and ribbon motifs and flowing folded details giving jewels a daring and three-dimensional look. The prestigious jewellery house Cartier was in the midst of creating its iconic panther and tiger inspired jewellery. Many of the best dressed ladies of the decade were owners of at least one piece from this famous collection, including Wallis Simpson. Other celebrated jewellery firms of the decade included Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Boucheron, Mellerio and Tiffany & Co.
As the mid-century approached, cocktail jewellery gained popularity and therefore began to include colourful gemstones and bolder designs. New settings and textures were being embraced to coincide with the social and political changes of the time. In 1953, the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ was released in which pinup Marilyn Monroe famously performed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ draped in diamond set jewels. Although fancy texturized gold jewellery was favoured for day wear, diamond set jewels were utilised for evening wear emulating the style of Monroe with spectacular results.
By the end of the 1950s the vibrant gemstones and unique settings made famous by Oscar Heyman Brothers, Jean de Fouquet and Harry Winston had become the trends of the decade. Squared collets, high settings and ‘atomic’ shapes all feature strongly in this period thus giving the mid-century the modernist feel.