Queen Victoria loved jewelry and soon her fellow countrymen were as enamored of it as she was. Following Albertís death in 1861, she continued to wear jewelry. Known as mourning jewelry, Queen Victoria wore it in tribute to her deceased husband. The pieces were black and made of various types of materials: gutta percha, vulcanite, bog oak, ebonite and black glass.
After a lengthy period of mourning, the dark cloud was lifted and there was a period of great sentimentality. Women were wearing heavily corseted, multi-layered garments. Hair was long and usually worn piled atop the head, topped by huge hats.
Jewelry took the form of chatelaines, hair ornaments, lockets, pierced earrings, watch chains with fobs and seals, cameos, book chain style necklaces, hatpins, lavalieres, lace and lingerie pins, bangles, cufflinks and stud buttons. There were many motifs characteristic of this time: flowers, snakes, crescents, lizards, birds, Celtic designs, Japanese designs, horseshoes and acrostics. Acrostics are quite unique. A Victorian filigree diamond ring today is a much sought after piece.
The first letter of each stone spelled a word when put together. REGARD was such an example. There was a wide variety of materials used in the jewelry: turquoise, coral, pearls, agate, tortoiseshell, cut steel, sterling, gold and various grades of gold, jet, French jet (black glass), lava, onyx and paste, low carat gold markings (9 carat) and gun metal "blackened steel."
Considered a rebellion to the Industrial Revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement featured handmade jewelry, with hammered, patinated and acid-etched metals, with nature themes in clean stylized designs. Society was moving faster and the artisans favored the slower pace to create graceful pieces.
The materials for this jewelry were bronze, brass, silver, copper, amber, enamels and glass. Blister and freshwater pearls were preferred for their non-uniform shapes. Gemstones and glass were cut en cabochon. Stones of choice included turquoise, moonstones and opals.
The women of this era were becoming restless also. The urge to secure voting rights led to secret languages of color. Suffragettes wore green, white and violet ("give women the vote") huses on their clothing and in their jewelry. New jewelry styles included "paper clip" chains, organic designs in pendants, rings, watch fobs and sash ornaments.
Favored, too, were stickpins, festoon necklaces and cloak clasps.
1904 Georg Jensen opened shop in Copenhagen. Cartier opened in New York. N. Guyot and Sons opened shop in Attleboro, Massachusetts
1906 Sterling standard established in US National stamping act required marking of gold and silver content.
1908 Paul Poiret introduces dresses without corsets and with a vertical line at this "Boutique Chichi."
1909 Bakelite patented.
Colors of jewels tended to be soft, muted and more natural. Liberal use of non-foiled glass stones looked like "the real thing." While necklace lengths ran the gamut, most tended to be right around the hollow of the neck. Choker length and slightly longer strands of pearls and a riot of beads and crystals led the parade.
Automobiles raced upon the scene. Milady chose to spend a bit more time in the out of doors (i.e. "sun tanning"). She no longer hid under a parasol nor chose to be shy about applying a demure powder puff to her nose in public. How shocking !
A coincidental wave alongside Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau took elegant stylization to the female form, with graceful, flowing, curvaceous, nature redone. This was a sensuous era with female faces, insects, flowers. Also featured were draped and nude female figures.
Art Nouveau used many of the same materials and gemstones as did the Arts and Crafters, but their effect was much more intimate. The colors tended to be rich and warm. The designers were not so quick to abandon the advanced processes of the Industrial Revolution. Many of the pieces produced were done so in mass quantities. Brass stampings of the same design were used interchangeably for pins, necklaces, brooches, earrings, vanity mirror frames, purse frames and buttons.
Earrings were no longer pierced (considered to be vulgar at this time) but of the screw back type. Bracelets were straight, flexible, link and charm. Necklaces continued to be either very long or very short. There were few of medium length. Colors included black alongside another color.
Materials included marcasites (20s diamonds), jade, chalcedony, chrysoprase, chrome and rhodium plated metal, celluloid and Bakelite, glass and white pot metals. Brass that was gold or silver plated brass, sterling, wood, seeds, string, leather and other natural materials.
The Depression in America during the early part of the 1930s led to much jewelry production of the novelty and inexpensive type. Humor and whimsy led the way. Diametrically opposed to this costume jewelry were pieces being designed by fine jewelers, but in non-precious metals. 1928 Schiaparelli opened her shop in Paris. In 1931 William Spratling was in Mexico creating masterpieces in silver all over the Taxo region.
Coming out of the Depression and into the economy of a world at war, women found themselves called to work outside the home in large numbers...more than ever before. Rosie the Riveter couldnít dress like Blanche DuBois. Gone were the bias cut luxe fabrics of the 30s. Material was rationed, hence a slimmer, more practical style ensued. Pants and suits were necessary for the lives of working women. Jewelry took a similar turn. Gone were the heavy rhinestone-paved pieces of the Deco years. The stones came from Europe in the firs place, therefore being at war stopped the importation of the stones altogether. Manufacturers found they had to use inventory on hand. Design of the pieces produced were softer, almost flowery and romantic, with just a few stones. Sterling could not be plated with rhodium because it was being used for production in ammunition, so gold was used as the plating agent. One can almost pinpoint the period from this style of gold plated sterling pieces created. Add cabochons of Lucite and the Jelly Belly is created. Brooches were large, yet restrained design wise. Also used were whimsical pieces of carved Bakelite.
Of particular note in this arena is Joseff of Hollywood who created then leased his jewelry to major motion picture studios. Demand was so great for his pieces that he acquiesced and created a line for retail sale.
This was the heyday of costume jewelry production. In America there were 929 companies actively creating jewelry. We loved it!
After WWII the American economy emerged flush with victory. All those war working women felt obligated to treat themselves well. Fashion leaders responded eagerly. Christian Dior announced his "new look" which we interpret as "big look"-pouffy, bold and large accessories.
Rhinestones exploded in dimension and color. Every element was affected. Bracelets, necklaces, brooches-you name it-rolled off assembly lines in bigger and bigger proportions. Plastics and metals also were popular, as well as wonderful copper/enamel pieces by Matisse/Renoir, Hollycraft jools, clearly marked with date and name. In a nod to atomic power many styles included some sort of an exploded look.
In a parallel universe wonderful sterling and all metal pieces were created in a style known as "biomorphic." Not a single rhinestone here, just intriguing "amoebae" shapes done by hand, often humorous and always individual.
The history of costume jewelry does not end here. Every era has added its own touch. What I would like to leave with you is how inter-connected it all was, is and will continue to be. Viva la glitz!
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