Jewelry of the 1940s: Retro and otherwise
The 1940s were an interesting decade for fashion and jewelry because of the changing social dynamics of the time. Jewelry manufacturers faced many challenges including a wartime economy and lack of access to precious metals like silver, copper and gold – all of which were being stockpiled by the U.S. military for the war effort. When considering manufacturers material constraints and lack of access to precious gemstones, jewelry makers were able to create classic pieces that are still popular well into the 21st century.
During the early 1940s, jewelry designs were made from non-essential metals pieces sculpted into curvy shapes and figural designs. Since metals were sparse, jewelry designers created pieces from alternative products such as Bakelite, which is made from a lightweight plastic material. Jewelry designs from the latter half of the 1940s featured patriotic color schemes, art deco-inspired metal work and colorful gemstones.
As European jewelry designers became more popular in the American marketplace, they were able to add variety to the selection of jewelry that was available to consumers. European designers had better access to the precious gemstones that became the hallmark of 1940s era jewelry later in the decade.
Metals and Stones
Because precious metals were in high demand, many jewelry designers created necklaces and bracelets from alternative metals such as yellow, green and rose gold. Since designers had almost no access to silver, they often substituted sterling in its place. Toward the latter half of the decade, designers moved away from necklaces and bracelets made from marbled plastics and began to design more conversational pieces that included rhinestones and brightly colored gems.
Some of the most popular stones in 1940s jewelry were topaz, citrine, amethyst, rubies and sapphires. Many times, American designers were able to obtain these precious stones through the help of European jewelers who had better access to these types of materials. One of the most popular color schemes for jewelry during this time was a red, white and blue motif, which exemplified the American spirit.
1940s Jewelry Trends
1940’s Citrine Cameo Cocktail Ring
One of the biggest forms of entertainment during the 1940s was the cocktail party and oftentimes, women wore large, bold cocktail rings to these events. Cocktail rings featured over-sized brightly colored stones cut in angular, rectangle and square shapes. These pieces were designed to inspire conversation and were a great way for women to get a taste of Hollywood glamor. Many of the decade’s leading ladies such as Katherine Hepburn and Eva Gardner sported over-sized cocktail rings in their films.
Another popular jewelry trend of the 1940s were retro style heart pins that could be worn on a hat, scarf or collar. Made from sterling, colored gold and sometimes precious stones, these pins are great collector’s pieces that are actually in vogue today. Pins frequently were made in figural shapes such as animals, clowns and ballerinas. These pins also were made to resemble elegant bows and knots.
The most popular heart pin of the 1940s was the MacArthur key to my heart pin. Made from Bakelite, the pin stood as a symbol. It represented patriotism, hope, unity and love. The pin gained popularity from being prominently featured on the cover of ‘Life’ magazine in 1941.