Professional Jeweler Archive: Clever Clips

June 2001

From the Vault

Clever Clips

New clothing styles after World War I called for elegant new accessories

Dazzling and sophisticated, the diamond and platinum dress clips of the 1930s have an enigmatic origin. Until their first appearance in the late 1920s, there was no precedent for this unique and practical jewel. Its inspiration seemingly came from the sweeping changes in women’s clothing after World War I, when man-tailored suits for day and sleeveless dresses with plunging necklines for evening replaced the corseted long dresses of previous decades.

These radically different clothes cried out for jewels to accent jacket lapels, dress up the edge of hats, dramatize the curve of the shoulders or neckline of evening dresses, set off belts or enhance handbags. Dress clips were the perfect answer. Rumor has it Louis Cartier came up with the idea after watching a woman hang washing on a line. Be that as it may, the company patented a spring clip fastening in 1927: the système à ressort. Soon every jeweler began producing dress clips.

Dress clips differ from brooches in that they use a spring-hinged, toothed metal flap like an alligator’s jaw or spring-hinged double prongs rather than a single pin-stem. Clips with the flap system, invented first, are ideal for edges of clothing but couldn’t be attached otherwise. The double-prong system gave the dress clip the same versatility as a brooch.

Single clips were soon overshadowed by pairs that could be worn individually or joined by a hidden fitting and used as a brooch. This versatility made them popular after the stock market crash in 1929 when even the wealthy had to economize. The advantage of jewelry that could do double or triple duty was too great to ignore. Clips became the accessory of the 1930s, and jewelers contrived additional uses. Besides the nearly universal brooch fitting, hinged and lacquered bangles were made so clips could be attached on top, while clever designs for necklaces and bandeaux often incorporated detachable clips.

Designs Change with the Times

Motifs for double clips took a variety of forms. Early double clips were mirror images of each other in identical and symmetrical geometric motifs. Usually, these were in flat miters, trapezoids or fan shapes that complemented the slim, tailored look of the 1920s. As clothing fashion in the 1930s became more appreciative of the female form, jewelry became more voluptuous and curvilinear. Motifs for double clips incorporated volutes, scrolls, spirals, shells, pyramids, cylinders and stylized bows. Some double clips were designed so the same motif curved in different directions, making a right/left pair when worn together. Others curved in the same direction so they were identical when worn separately, side by side, or made an “S” shape when linked.

While the all-white look of the early 1930s was in vogue, double clips were fabricated of platinum set with diamonds in geometric patterns. Around mid-decade, color returned and double clips began to marry one colored gem with diamond: aquamarine and diamond, ruby and diamond or sapphire and diamond. The only exception was with multigem or “tutti-frutti” style that combined carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

With the outbreak of World War II, the curtain came down on this opulent era of jewelry. Although dress clips continued to be made well into the 1960s, their shapes and materials changed dramatically, and the platinum and diamond double clip faded from fashion entirely. Today, the classic double clip is generating new interest by evoking the suave sophistication of the 1930s.

– Elise B. Misiorowski
The symmetric geometric motif of this double clip/brooch by Tiffany & Co. suggests it was one of the earlier manifestations of the style. Courtesy of The Neil Lane Collection, Beverly Hills, CA; (310) 275-5015. Photos by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications