The 1940s Vintage Jewelry
The citizens didn’t want another war, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the public was all in. Americans were fully engaged in the war and World War 11 had begun. War creates massive change on so many fronts, and one of them was jewelry. In the 1940s during world war 11, rhinestone and costume jewelry was shaped by war.
Patriotism and the colors red white and blue, showed up in earrings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches galore.
What about the Jewelry Supplies
There was a challenge for the costume jewelry market, in the 1940s, that was a direct result of war, that hadn’t happened quite the same way before. There were rations. Metal was needed for the war, to make the machinery. Jewelry manufacturing companies were ordered by the government to use up the supplies they had on hand, but in terms of metal and rhinestones, they could buy no more.
What about the Labor Force to Make the Jewelry
And it wasn’t just the supplies to make the jewelry that impacted the fashion industry and the 1940s jewelry trend, it was the labor force too. The immigrants who had toiled to build the factories , and mass produce the jewels, were recruited for building machinery and weapons. And it wasn’t just the supplies and the people that were needed for the war, the restrictions were placed on purchasing rhinestones and crystals, from countries overseas.
Where do we Buy our Product
Austria with the Rhine river running through, and Swarovski Crystals, the king of bling, had been a major supplier of crystals to make brooches, and earrings and necklaces, now taboo, to purchase from, during world war 11.
In some countries, the citizens and manufacturers might have just decided to give up, when blocked from building bling the way they knew, but Americans weren’t built that way. Nor were the Jews, who were the merchants who owned many of the costume jewelry plants at that time.
Americans are innovators and when one door closes, another opens somewhere else and that is what happened to the costume jewelry market during the first half of the 1940s decade, during world war 11.
Where are the supplies
Plastics were replaced with lucite and bakelite. Metal used for the war effort replaced with sterling silver, and plated gold. Wood designs, were the new materials used instead, of lead.
I even read that old used airplane wings that had been tossed as scrap had been repurposed into jewelry parts. The old was created into something new. It’s what Americans know how to do.
What about our labor
And the labor force changed too. Women were called upon to work the factories, and the jobs formerly held by men, now sent off to foreign lands to fight a war,
And laborers who had sat at machinery day after day, had opportunities to try new skills. Designers worked with new materials. Wood, Bakelite, Lucite, became the new composition for jewelry.
It was common to see compositions of fruit, crafted in lucite, for necklaces, in the jewelry of the 1940s.
As men were sent off to war, they often gave their girlfriends ID bracelets, with names inscribed. These Id bracelets are very collectible remnants of world war 11. They were very popular.
The second half of the 1940s ushered in new jewelry trends, much of it merging with jewelry trends seen in the 1950s.
The suburbs began, and a baby boom occurred. Women wore cocktail rings to cocktail parties in the suburbs. And the rings were big and gaudy. Everything was big jewelry. I reflect back to watching my Grandmas Jewelry and she wore huge cocktail rings on several fingers. It was a way of feeling like you had a million bucks, with these big heavy jewels that were made of foiled glass, but looked like they might be real rubies and diamonds. It was the style of the 1940s, and 50s too.
Clear rhinestones, and black glass set in gilt metal made dramatic clip on earrings. Colored stones and clear rhinestones pasted in screw back earrings formed some of the lower cost costume jewelry of the day.
The Design says it all
The design of the jewels says it all. Its the design that rises above the fact that its costume jewelry and not real gemstones. Its the design that is pleasing to the eye, that draws your attention to the beauty of a rhinestone, and that it doesn’t matter its not real diamond. The design of the jewelry piece is key.
There were so many designers of the 1940s that made their mark, that it would be impossible to recount them all. The higher pieces of rhinestone jewelry had designers that rose above the pack. Hattie Carnegie, Miriam Haskell, and Alfred Philippe created works of art that sold for top dollar then, and command in the thousands of dollars today, for some of these costume jewelry designs.
The rhinestone costume jewelry of the 1940s can be divided into two clearly defined parts. The first half of the decade was a time when companies were forced to innovate to survive. They needed to figure out new designs with new materials, as the metals and stones used were rationed and in limited supply. The second half of the 1940’s was big and bold, and the styles merged with 1950s designs.