The incredibly influential period of Art Deco, just prior to the forties, set the scene on which 1940’s jewellery materialized. For almost two decades throughout the 20’s and 30’s, geometry, squares and straight lines were utilized by jewellery craftsmen, against bright white platinum backgrounds. It was towards the end of the 1930’s that jewellery design began to change direction.
It was the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life held in Paris in 1937 that signified the conclusion of the Art Deco era. Jewellers were encouraged to experiment with variety and to bring grace to their designs. This exhibition saw the use of nature inspired motifs and decorative ornamentation, such as volutes, animals, flowers and scrolls. It was here that master jewellers also showed off their achievements of the 1930’s – most notably the ‘invisible’ or ‘mystery’ setting perfected by Van Cleef & Arpels. Square Art Deco cuts of stones were combined with incredible creativity which was inspired by the natural world, and quite fundamentally, a thirst for change.
The outbreak of war in 1939 meant that platinum, the metal of choice in the Art Deco period, was prohibited and was used almost exclusively for the war effort. Gold and precious metals were scarce which meant jewellery making in general did slow slightly in the first half of the decade. If required, older gold jewellery would be melted down to be remade into new pieces, but even this process was taxed by some countries. One of the main distractions during the war was the movies and Hollywood glamour. Jewellery reflected this escape in the form of big and bold pieces, some of which were truly captivating.
Enchanting and fanciful motifs were sculpted from yellow gold into three-dimensional jewels. Ribbons and bows, sprays and twists, undulating forms, ballerinas, fans, shells and miniature animals such as birds, were all popular designs. The late forties saw the purchase of the famous Cartier panther brooch set with a beautiful cabochon sapphire by The Duke and Duchess of Windsor – the couple of the moment. Feminine curves were contrasted with strong Art Deco inspired shapes.
In the 1930’s hundreds of new gemstone deposits were discovered in Brazil. The newly discovered mines opened up a new world of larger coloured stones which were set into 1940’s jewellery. These included aquamarine, citrine, topaz, kunzite and amethyst. Before the war diamonds would usually accompany coloured stones, but as the war took hold, diamonds would often be replaced by other coloured stones. Jewellery would feature large central gemstones often with accented stones of smaller sizes. Different gemstone colours were contrasted to create interesting effects. Large rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds were scarce, and expert craftsmanship such as invisible settings between smaller stones created a desired larger look.
Jewellery acted as a welcome distraction during the war, and was worn in stylish celebration after the war finished in 1945. Large jewels were all the rage and rings we call ‘cocktail’ rings were quite a feature. Cocktail rings did not have to take any particular form, but they tended to be large and set with gemstones. Their size was such that they were typically reserved as more of an occasional ring – like a cocktail party!
This period was a turning point for jewellery design. Original forties jewellery reflects a point in history where then, more than ever, jewellery was admired and worn for its beauty. Enjoyment in the wearing of these jewels acted as both a distraction from the war and in celebration of its end. Find a unique 1940’s cocktail ring, retro earrings, a colourful necklace or gem-set bracelet, or a striking forties brooch in our collection at Berganza.