Brass star finding.


Brass star finding.

By Nicholas Tollemache

Reprinted with permission from 
Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry
P.O Box 265
Glen Oaks, NY 11004 and the author


During the 1930’s, glamour and extravagance were the hallmark of Hollywood and both were personified in its movie stars. The star system had been created by the Hollywood publicity machine twenty years earlier, when the studios realized that stars could be promoted to sell more tickets.


The stars were expected to live up to the image Hollywood created and they changed the way the nation dressed. Every outfit worn by Gloria Swanson, "The Queen of the Screen," was immediately publicized in movie and fashion magazines. When Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn appeared in tailored trousers they started a revolution, and women’s slacks became the immediate rage. Women around the world changed their silhouettes after Hollywood designer Adrian used squared shoulder pads to camouflage Joan Crawford’s broad Shoulders.


Hollywood’s "larger than life" image is partly attributable to vaudeville, where many stars began their careers and needed to project to the back of the audience. There were also technical reasons to project exaggerated images on the silent screen: "When you strip color and sound and the third dimension from a moving object, you have to make up for the loss with dramatic black and white contrasts and enriched surfaces".1

The conversion from silent movies to sound in 1929 was devastating. Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson never recovered as Hollywood’s leading stars. Jewelry also changed with the arrival of sound, since the jangling of heavy metal jewelry drowned out the actors’ voices. After experimenting with rubber jewelry, the studios replaced dangling necklaces and bracelets with tighter fitting versions, a fashion change noted by audiences around the world. The studios spent fortunes on wardrobes and jewelry to ensure their stars were the most glamorous. Cecil B. DeMille let his stars choose for their roles from a selection of precious jewelry brought to the set by Pinerton guards. Extravagance and self promotion were expected, and some stars spent lavishly. Mary Pickford had her 200 carat "Star of India" sapphire made into a clip brooch and wore her 60 carat star sapphire in a ring. While Pickford was the first to make $1 million, Swanson was called "the second movie star to make a million dollars-and the first to spend it" on Paris couture and Cartier jewelry. Jewelry continued to attract the stars, notably Richard Burton’s gift of a 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond to Elizabeth Taylor, and the Tiffany diamond-encrusted dolphin brooch by Jean Schlumberger, which he gave her for the premier of Night of the Iguana (1964).


This lavish spending attracted both designers and jewelers to Hollywood. The designers included Paul Iribe (The Affairs of Anatol, 1920), Erté (Ben Hur, 1926), and Coco Chanel (Tonight or Never, 1931). Elsa Schiaparelli, however, refused to go to Hollywood to dress Mae West, so a bust of the actress was sent to France for Schiaparelli’s use, becoming the model for the bust-shaped bottle for Schiaparelli’s "Shocking" perfume.

Meanwhile, fine jewelers like Van Cleef & Arpels opened stores in the film capital and Fulco di Verdura moved to Hollywood to design precious jewelry for Flato. The big and extravagant jewelry promoted by Hollywood swayed even the fine jewelers in Paris. Mickey Mouse, "the biggest star of them all," influenced Cartier to promote Disney character charm bracelets in its 1932 catalog. Costume jewelry was entirely accepted in Hollywood to project the image of luxury both on-and off-set. It was also used for promotions, as with Ther Thief of Baghdad (1939), directed by Alexander Korda.


Eugene Joseff started designing costume jewelry in 1928 and made pieces worn by Marlene Dietrich in von Sternberg’s Shangai Express (1932). The turning point in his career as "Jeweler to the Stars" began when he convinced the designer Walter Plunkett of the incompatibility of wearing modern jewelry with 16th century Italian costumes in The Affairs of Cellini (1934).

With Plunkett’s support, he went on to make jewelry for some 900 of Hollywood’s most prestigious productions. Katharine Hepburn’s crown in Mary Queen of Scots (1936), Norma Shearer’s jewelry in Marie Antoinette (1938), and quantities of Bette Davis’ jewelry in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) were all by Joseff. Plunkett was chosen as the costume designer for the epic Gone With the Wind (1939), and Joseff designed the jewelry including Rhett Butler’s cigar case and the necklace Scarlett O’Hara wore on their honeymoon. Dietrich again appeared in Joseff jewelry in Kismet(1943). Later, Joseff jewelry was worn by Grace Kelly in High Society (1956), and by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963).



Hobé was also active in Hollywood, designing for the studios and the stars. Originally a design house for stage costumes and jewelry in France, it entered the American theatrical scene in 1925-27 with an order for costumes and jewelry from Florence Ziegfeld for his "Ziegfeld Follies." Hobé started its "chessman" series with real ivory figures in 1927, and the "Bandoro" or "mud man" series in the 1930s.

Hobé called its designs "Jewels of Legendary Splendor" and clients at its Beverly Hills store included Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Betty Grable, Norma Shearer, Maureen O’Hara and many others. Hobé jewelry appeared on Bette Davis in The Little Foxes. William Hobé worked on many movies with Oscar winning designer Edith Head, who would always call at the last minute resulting in him having to work all night.


After World War II, audiences wanted to see a different image and Hollywood replaced "big and extravagant" with lighter, more delicate jewelry. Like Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond when reminded that she was once a big star, the larger-than-life Hollywood costume jewelry from the 1930s cries out: "I’m still big! It’s the pictures that got small."



Hollywood Jewelry Photo Gallery

Hollywood Jewelry Photo Gallery


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