How the Roaring Twenties began costume jewelry craze
In the 1920s, jewelry took a turn to simplicity and art deco “modernism” in all styles from rings to necklaces and bracelets. Out were the fussy Art Nouveau styles. Out were the pressures of society to wear your wealth. Out were the expensive precious stones. In were cheaper semiprecious stones and fake plastics. To wear any jewelry at all was to dress up. It was perfectly acceptable to wear none for day-to-day life. This was a drastic change from the wealth driven society before World War I and one that forever changed the jewelry industry – by creating costume jewelry.
Long pearl necklaces are the most iconic of all 1920s jewelry pieces. Not all pearl necklaces were long or worn in a single strand. It was popular to wear layers of them in various lengths from 60 inches on up. Longer pearls were fashionable in the early twenties and were getting shorter as the decade progressed. The quality and affordability of cultured “fake” peals during the decade made them an item every woman could afford. Fake pearls now came in light pastel colors instead of plain white. Pastel pink green, blue and gray were especially popular with teens.
Long beaded necklaces were equally as popular as pearls. They had round faceted stones in the popular art deco color pallet – black, red, white and green. Stones were saturated with color. It did not matter if they matched your outfit – clashing colors was in vogue! Beads made of Bakelite or Lucite (plastic) made jewelry affordable to the masses. From first glance it was nearly impossible to tell what was real or fake.
Dog collar necklaces were the other main style of 1920s neckwear. Large square, triangle, trapezoid or pointed oval stones set in heavy casings wrapped snugly around the base of the neck. Some call these chokers, but they were a bit too low on the neck to be true choker necklaces. A more modern term is the bib necklace. Bold Art Deco colors and especially black onyx were popular. Inspired by cubism, the designs didn’t have to look like anything realistic. Simple shapes by themselves or abstract representations in a cubist like the suggestion of a flower or dragon or automobile were all the rage. The need for anything fast – fast cars, fast dogs, fast boats, and fast gazelles – were the only non-abstract designs found in Art Deco jewelry.
1920s Drop Earrings
Because of short hair and cloche hats around the ears, women’s necks now fully exposed. What better ways to draw attention to the naked necks than with drop earrings? They were long columns, about two to three inches with small diamonds or rhinestones set in a filigree design. Diamonds were for formal evenings only. Wearing them during the day was seen as vulgar. Gems for the day were semiprecious stones like jade, coral, turquoise, marcasite, onyx, agate and carnelian set in pure white, clear or silver casings. If silver was unaffordable sterling silver, silver plate, nickel and zinc could be used to look like white gold. Yellow gold was out of fashion except in Egyptian revival jewelry. For formal occasions, earrings usually matched the hair clip or headband a woman was wearing. If the hair was long enough to cover the ears, it was trendy to pull one side back and wear only one earring during the evenings.
As for bracelets in the 1920s the more bangles that were climbing up her arm the better. Thick or thin wood, bone, shell, metal or plastic bracelets with inset gems in the center came in colors and patterns mimicking African tribal art. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in the great Gatsby “When she moved about there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon her arms.” There is some confusion over what Fitzgerald meant by “pottery” bracelets. One thought is that brown Bakelite bangles resemble ceramic pottery. Another possibility is symbols of Egyptian artifacts such as pottery were carved or painted onto the bangles thus making “pottery bracelets.” In either case bangles were certainly seen and more importantly heard by surrounding company. Some slave bangles in the shape of snakes circled the bicep giving a nod to the Egyptian style goddess – Cleopatra!
Although many rings took on Art Deco shapes, the popular Art Nouveau style of filigree casings around precious stones – diamonds – still ruled most of the 1920s. Stones were, however, cut in less traditional cuts and more likely to be square, rectangle or oval shapes. Some stood taller on a finger especially when worn ungloved. A naked hand tickling the neck or tapping an earring was a not so subtle way of flirting. Birthstones instead of diamonds were very popular every day rings.