At the end of the First World War, as a reaction to four years of suffering and restraint, a period of exhuberation and of joie de vivre took hold in Europe. The traditions and customs of the pre-war era were put to one side, and a more light-hearted spirit ended society, whose new motto was “Live, and forget the past”. The jewellery worn was no exception.
The war changed irrevocably the role of women in society. During the period from 1915-1919, they assumed many of the roles previously reserved for men, and, now that the men were returning home, had no desire to give up these jobs. Constricting bodices and long skirts gave way to more practical clothes or uniforms, hairstyles were cropped short for practical reasons, and a more masculine style was the norm for daytime wear.
In contrast, evening wear for ladies become very feminine, with fluid and sleeveless dresses, low cut at the back, a lower waistline, and skirts above the knee (this enabled women to enjoy new dances such as the Charleston and the foxtrot!)
In order to follow these changes in society, jewellery changed accordingly. Geometric and linear patterns emerged, and dazzling arrangements and primary colours took over from previously black and white motifs. Jewellery became an accessory, to be shown off and admired, rather than a store of wealth as in previous generations.
The bare arms of the 1920s dresses focussed attention on the wrists; bracelets were worn two or three at a time, and the low cut backs of evening wear allowed ladies to use sautoirs and necklaces worn at the back rather than the front.
There was a trend towards futurism, and many designs had an industrial feel, removing excess decorative design in place of a crisp, streamlined feel.
Distant and exotic civilisations influenced many jewellery designers, and the discovery in November 1922 of the Tomb of Tutankhamun aroused interest in Egyptian style, with sphinxes, obelisks and lotus flowers becoming common themes, and amulets and diadems (ornaments worn on the forehead) being worn. Diadems and bandeaux particularly suited the bobbed hairstyle known as “a la garconne”, and almost completely replaced tiaras, which were too busy and elaborate for the period. Very often they could be dismantled and worn as brooches, when the occasion called for a more refined style.
Brooches were no longer restricted to the chest, but could be worn in lapels, as hair ornamements, on belts or sashes, or pinned to hats, often in pairs.
Bracelets and diamond set wrist watches became popular, in platinum and set with pavés of diamonds (Platinum became the metal of choice for jewellery, and very little yellow gold pieces were produced in this era.) The straps were of either black fabric, or platinum or white gold mesh.
The financial crash of 1929 changed the spirit of the era, and the jewellery of the 1930s changed with it, but that is for another day!
Some more of our vintage jewellery is pictured below, you can clearly see the 1920s design: