From the Vault
Forties' Golden Glow
An endless variety of chunky bracelets are as salable today
as they were 50 years ago
After three decades of platinum's cool dominance, the warmth
of gold returned to jewelry fashion in the late 1930s. This may
have been partly because women became a stronger part of the
workforce, and the informality of gold suited this lifestyle.
Certainly gold's affordability was another consideration during
the Great Depression. The cocktail party, introduced by a budget conscious
society as an economic way to entertain, inspired the design
of dramatic gold jewelry big enough to be visible in a crowded,
smoky room. Soon "cocktail style" gold jewelry was
all the rage.
With the declaration of war in 1939, platinum was conscripted
for the war effort and prohibited for jewelry use. Gem mines
were closed and gem supplies were cut off. Jewelers enlisted
in the armed forces or turned their talents and workshops to
manufacturing wartime supplies.
The mood was patriotic, serious and determined. Women wore
"military chic" suits and dresses with square padded
shoulders and narrow, short skirts that conserved fabric.
Effect on Jewelry
Jewelry followed suit with utilitarian and mechanistic motifs
that reflected the serious side; stylized floral motifs satisfied
the need for a softer look.
Women wore fewer pieces of jewelry but chose larger designs
to compensate. These pieces were surprisingly light. Sculpted
to give a big look, cast pieces were hollowed out in back, and
fabricated pieces were of thinner gold sheet in shallow "box"
To conserve metal, 14k or 15k gold became standard for fine
jewelry, and colored gold alloys were immensely popular. Rose
gold, with a high percentage of copper, was especially favored,
green gold was used widely as an accent and white gold was the
accepted substitute for platinum.
Large expanses of unadorned polished gold made up for the
unavailability of gems. When gems were used, they typically were
small calibrated diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Synthetic rubies
were used frequently because natural ones were in limited supply.
After peace was declared in 1945, small stones were supplemented
with large citrines and amethysts from Brazil and by pale yellow
and blue sapphires from Ceylon.
Of all the jewelry that survives from the Forties, bracelets
are probably the most salable. Chunky gold bracelets were made
in endless variety throughout the decade. Some motifs such
as the "tank tread," "gas pipe"
and "bicycle chain" show a preoccupation
with war and mechanics. Others such as the "wave"
and the "fish scale" bracelets reflect natural
subjects. Also popular: wide gold cuff bracelets with decorative
gem set motifs on top.
Gold bracelets continued to evolve in the post war recovery
of 1945 to 1950. The fashionable belt or jarretiere (garter)
bracelet, rediscovered from the Victorian era, is a wide, flexible
strap with a decorative buckle from which the fringed strap end
dangles free. Some were made with flat supple links in a rectangular
"brick walk" pattern. Hexagonal "honeycomb"
link bracelets, which Van Cleef and Arpels introduced in the
Thirties, also made a comeback. Known as the "Ludo Hexagone,"
they have large decorative clasps often invisibly set with rubies
or sapphires and diamonds.
Today, we are drawn to the strength Forties bracelets represent.
New owners find the bracelets' golden glow projects an armor like
protective quality that's especially welcome in our fast paced,
by Elise B. Misiorowski
||Industrial motifs are typical in 1940s gold bracelets
as illustrated by these three examples. Courtesy of Neil Lane
Jewelry, Beverly Hills, CA.
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.