The 1920s was a decade of change and is commonly referred to as ‘’Roaring twenties’’ or ‘’The Jazz Age’’.
The era of 1920s represented an era of socio-political change and growth. It is the decade of the 1920s in which fashion entered the modern era. It is considered to be one of the most important periods in the history of jewelry designs. The decade witnessed an enormous surge in the standard of design and craftsmanship.
‘’Style is not a display of wealth but an expression of imagination.”
1920s style was not about showing wealth and status but demonstrating elegance and sophistication. The decade saw new artisans mimicking fine jewelry for the masses, which was a luxury previously available only for the elites.
During the 1920s, women began wearing their hair bobbed, creating the perfect opportunity to show off statement earrings. Anything that added decoration to an exposed neck, back, or bare arm was the perfect accessory for an alluring woman of the 1920s. Pearls also came into fashion during this period. The designs and styles from this period are popular still today.
Watch - Collecting Art Deco Jewelry:
1920s Costume Jewelry Styles
The style which we refer to as Art Deco now is the decorative style that had a phenomenal impact on costume jewelry designs in the 1920s. Influenced by avant-garde art movements, the Ballets Russes, African art and the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, the Art Deco style was characterized by strong color contrasts, geometric shapes, clean lines, and stylized motifs (such as hieroglyphics, pharaohs, and scarabs – everything Egyptian – as well as images denoting speed – gazelles, airplanes).
Another style of jewelry that was introduced in this decade is what we often refer to as novelty jewelry – pieces made from plastics (Celluloid, Bakelite, Galalith, etc.). Hair combs and hat pins had been made of celluloid since the turn of the century. Celluloid bracelets, often embellished with rhinestones, were especially popular in the 1920s. By that decade, the availability and low cost of plastics allowed designers to experiment with designs and achieve styles that didn’t imitate precious jewelry and produce trendy jewelry in an almost limitless range of colors.
Material popular in the 1920s for making Costume Jewelry
In the early 1920s, much of the costume jewelry still imitated precious jewels and was made from materials such as white metals, clear and richly-colored glass stones, beads, faux pearls, shimmering stones (diamanté and marcasites).
Using these materials in costume jewelry resulted in achieving the same contrasting colors and textures as precious metals and gemstones used in the creation of fine jewelry. Filigree pieces in white and gilt metal were also popular.
The invention of new materials such as plastic and stones introduced an entirely new aspect to jewelry designers. Bright colors were the new aesthetic of the 1920s. Plastic was strong and resilient, and could imitate natural materials like wood, stone, bone and could be colored to almost every color.
Bakelite, a type of plastic, allowed jewelry makers new freedom in their designs. Rings, necklaces, brooches all could be made to fit any situation or match any outfit. Colorful plastics (Celluloid, Bakelite, and Galalith) were crafted into novelty pieces at this time.
1920s Popular Jewelry Styles
Necklaces were the most popular jewelry pieces in the 1920s. Pearls, beads, big stones, varying lengths, single strand to multiple strands and what not was experimented in crafting these.
Long Pearl Necklaces
Long pearl necklaces were the most favored jewelry piece in the 1920s. Pearls were a staple accessory encouraged by the designer Coco Chanel. Cultured “fake” pearls quality and affordability made them an item that every woman could afford. These pearls were available in many other pastel shades apart from white such as pastel pink, green, gray, and blue.
Long Beaded Necklace
These were equally popular as pearls. They had round stones and were available in popular Art Deco color palette such as black, red, white, and green. Mixing and contrasting was the trend and it was not important to match them with the outfit. Beads made of plastic and glass made jewelry affordable to common people. It was almost impossible to distinguish them from the real ones.
The twenties were not just about new styles of jewelry but also new ways to wear them! Sautoir was a popular long necklace which had a tassel or a large single gemstone pendant hanging at the bottom. It was worn in multiple ways other than wearing it normally down the front of the outfit. Sometimes it was looped to the shoulder, sometimes dropped down the back especially with an open back or backless dress creating a sensuous appeal. It was also wound around the wrist to form a bracelet.
Dog Collar Necklaces or Bib Necklaces
Another main style of 1920s neckwear was the dog collar necklace. Their designs were very unlike the usual neckwear and did not have to look realistic. They had a large square, triangle, trapezoid, or pointed oval stones set in heavy casings and were wrapped around the base of the neck. Black was the most preferred color for these.
1920s Drop Earrings
As more women embraced short hair and cloche hat around their ears, their neck drew all the attention. And to divert that attention from the bare neck, nothing was better than wearing dangling drop earrings! They were long columns, about 2-3 inches with rhinestones set in a filigree design.
For more formal occasions, earrings were usually matched with the hair clip or the headband a woman was wearing. Another trendy fashion was to pull long hair on one side to the back and wear only one earring. In the daytime, a brooch pinned to the cloche hat was coordinated with the earrings.
Flexible bracelets had made their appearance in both fine and costume jewelry. They were worn in multiples as the more, the better and remained an important wardrobe accessory to adorn bare arms.
They were available in different materials such as wood, bone, shell, metal, or plastic with a colored gem set in the middle and patterns mimicking the African tribal art. Jewelry was often colored black, red, or green. Many Egyptian designs and images were used in making these such as scarab, mummy, pharaoh, pyramids, and obelisk to name a few. If it resembled African art or something rare and native, it became the rage.
The Art Nouveau (a style which was prevalent from about 1890 until the First World War) style of filigree casings around diamonds was still popular in the 1920s, though many rings adopted Art Deco shapes. Less traditional cuts like square, rectangle, and oval shapes became more popular. For everyday use, birthstones became the more viable option.
Top Costume Jewelry Designers from 1920s
- Coco Chanel: Coco Chanel has to be the first name that comes to mind due to her innovative and enduring designs that have been popular for nearly a century. Coco Chanel was the first designer to introduce large fake pearls with glittering gemstones and this ignited a trend. Chanel brilliantly turned the undesirable costume jewelry into a hot fashion trend especially the idea of piling it on, a look that she consistently sported herself.
- Elsa Schiaparelli: Elsa Schiaparelli believed that costume jewelry was an integral part of fashion design as well as an art form in its own right. Elsa’s jewelry was whimsical, imaginative, and innovative often made with bright, colorful glass stones. Many of her designs are inspired by nature, the circus, astrology, and native African art.
- Miriam Haskell: Haskell's intricate work showcased faux pearls, rhinestones, and high-quality beads, and colored glass stones.
- Yves Saint Laurent: Yves Saint Laurent’s bold costume jewelry is remarkable for the use of materials such as wood, feathers, cork, leather, shells, and glass.
- Other outstanding costume jewelry designers include Kenneth Jay Lane, who like Chanel, made it chic for socialites and royals. Balenciaga, Cardin, Christian Dior, Schreiner, Trifari, Marcel Boucher, Countess Cis Zoltowska, and Coppola e Toppo, are among many others who have made a lasting impact in this field.
Jewelry Worth Collecting from the 1920s
Long earrings, long and short necklaces, fringe necklaces, narrow bracelets, and filigree brooches are some of the jewelry pieces worth collecting from the decade of 1920s.
Originally these were designed for the flapper, but they are equally stylish and in demand in today’s times.
Where to Buy 1920s Jewelry?
With a plethora of shopping websites on the internet, it is an arduous task to choose the best, safest, and most trusted ones to shop for your dream jewelry.
Undoubtedly, Etsy and eBay are some of the best platforms to buy your desired jewelry style from the decade of the 1920s. Not only these present you with a multitude of options but offer a safe and trusted, hassle-free shopping experience.
Check out our list of the 14 Best Vintage Costume Jewelry Shops on Etsy for some exceptional sellers!