Depression Era Jewelry: The 1930s
The roaring 20s complete with unending prosperity, coupled with a belief that it would never end were over abruptly in October of 1929, when the world sank into a depression, after the stock market crashed.
You might think the depression era would have hurt the jewelry market, as people struggled to put food on the table, but it didn’t. Depression era jewelry actually thrived in the 1930s.
The diamond, ruby and sapphire market took a severe hit, but for rhinestone costume jewelry produced in the 30s, the industry thrived. People wanted sparkle. They wanted glitz, and glitter. Rhinestone colored jewelry gave women an inexpensive way to get it.
I can’t explain it, but the same thing happened when the country shut down and businesses closed during Covid. Jewelry sales in the costume jewelry market boomed. It’s as if sparkling rhinestones offer sunshine during dark days. An inexpensive way to get some pizazz.
One of the most remarkable stories of the 1930s time period was the story of the Eisenberg jewelry line. They began selling sparkling, rhinestone, brooches in the 1930s, by accident. And they have one of the most collectible jewelry lines today. ( Julianna jewelry)
Eisenberg didn’t start out in the jewelry business, they started out in New York in the garment district. They manufactured and sold dresses, and the depression was severely hurting this market. In an attempt to sell more dresses they created a marketing campaign where they gave a free brooch, when you purchased a dress.
And what happened? The customer wanted to buy the brooch. They didn’t want the dress. Purchasing the brooch wouldn’t send them to the poorhouse. Buying the dress might.
It reminds me a little bit of what happened during the beanie baby days when people threw away the McDonald’s happy meal to get the teeny beanie, that had been given for free, to sell more happy meals.
The public has a way of telling the business what it is they want. Anyway, Eisenberg figured out they were better off discontinuing the dress line and focussing on making pins and brooches. Eisenberg jewelry was born in the 1930s during the great depression. Eisenberg left New York and moved to Providence Rhode Island, the costume jewelry capital of the world.
From Art Deco to Depression Jewelry
In the 1920s it was almost as if artists trained in geometry designed jewelry. The lines were crisp, clean, straight and the colors bold. In the 1930s, the rhinestones were white. They were pasted into settings. The jewelry was black and white. It was like this for black and white necklaces, brooches, earrings and dress clips.
The Dress Clip
One of the most fashionable accessories in the 1930s was the dress clip. They were sold in doubles. They accented dresses. Shoe clips in the 1930s were also popular. These clips were made from heavy metal, were dark in color with white colored rhinestones that sparkled. Unfortunately many have disappeared and often only one can be found. The rarity is when you are able to find both.
In the 1930s the metals were heavy, primitive, and inexpensive. The rhinestones were pasted into the settings. It was an inexpensive piece of jewelry. Today, many of these pieces have disappeared. They are almost a hundred years old. Some of them that sold for 2.00 when made now sell in the hundreds of dollars. And some are still very affordable for the collector, who seeks the jewelry from the depression time.
The Entertainment industry had a huge impact on the fashion jewelry of the 1930s. The actresses adorned themselves in black and white jewelry with white rhinestones. A black beaded necklace with a layered white beaded necklace and an inexpensive metal holding it all together. In the 1930s, the sparkle was there, it’s just that the bright colors had disappeared.
The Depression ended
When the depression ended around 1935, zippers replaced buttons in fashion design. It was quite innovative to zip and unzip, rather than button and unbutton.
Zippers were a huge seller in fashion, and are included in a conversation about depression era jewelry. Not because they were fashionable, but because they were functional.
Depression era jewelry was basic, black and white. It still had glitz and sparkle. It just was missing the color. It was a sign of the times, back to the basics. Color came back into the jewelry of the 1930s in the second half of the decade.