Art Deco Jewelry: Part 2 The 1930s

The 1930s, also known as “The Dirty Thirties,” began with one of the most devastating historical events: the Great Depression. The era of excess and indulgence ended abruptly on October 29th, 1929, with an economic crash that sent the entire world into an uncertain state. This period saw the rise of dictators like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, who introduced fascism to the world. Additionally, the thirties witnessed a series of natural disasters, such as immense floods in China and the infamous “Dust Bowl” in the United States’ great plains. As the decade came to a close, the world plunged into World War II, leading to massive destruction and devastation in its aftermath.

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During the earlier times, most women couldn’t afford to keep up with the latest fashion trends and update their wardrobes frequently. Therefore, they relied on jewelry to enhance their outfits. The rise of affordable costume jewelry was due to advancements in machines, methods, and technologies. The dress clip was one such piece of jewelry that became very popular. It was known as the “Queen of jewels” since it could be clipped onto various accessories such as shoes, belts, hats, necklines, lapels, or other parts of the outfit. The key proponents of costume jewelry included Paul Flato, Coco Chanel, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Lupe Velez, MGM 1933. Image Source: Pixels

During turbulent times, people turned to Hollywood and movies to escape reality. Escapism was necessary, and individuals flocked to the silver screen to see the latest fashion and jewelry trends. As the movie’s cinematography was predominantly black-and-white, the jewelry had to be large, encrusted with white and black rhinestones, and visible on-screen. This style became popular, and the extreme contrast between black and white became a common trend throughout the 1930s.

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The early 20th-century jewelers welcomed innovative techniques and methods while exploring new and creative designs. The German design school Bauhaus promoted “streamlined” designs that softened the jagged, linear patterns. A dominating trend in this era was using rounded, machine-derived geometric motifs inspired by various sources, including tractors, trains, airplanes, and automobiles.

In the 1930s, jewelry became more prominent and daring. It featured hyper-stylized designs that imitated machine parts to mark technological advancements. The Bauhaus school had a significant influence on the design of that era, incorporating industrial and technological themes. Although the school closed in 1933, its impact on the style of the 1930s remains undeniable.

Model with Fine Jewelry ca. 1930. Image Source: Alamy Stock Photo

In the early 20th century, white jewels emerged again after a long time. The new style featured monochromatic jewelry of sparkling, colorless rock crystals, diamonds, sapphires, and spinels set in platinum and white gold. Unlike the Edwardian era, this new style was more sculptural. It was popular in cinema and reflected in the era’s costume jewelry. The stones were cut in a way that optimized their “flash” and brilliance, adding to the dramatic effect of the “white on white” look.

The Art Deco era of the 1930s revolutionized jewelry design with its bold geometric shapes, vibrant colors, and luxurious materials, notably favoring the “white on white” look with platinum and white gold. Influenced by black and white cinema, costume jewelry became a symbol of glamour and escapism, while the principles of the Bauhaus school inspired functional yet visually striking pieces. Art Deco jewelry remains a timeless testament to the era’s elegance and innovation, reflecting both the spirit of the times and the enduring creativity of human expression.

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