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The decade of the 1950s welcomed social stability and economic growth after the austere period of the 1940s. As the world recovered from the crisis, the jewelry industry witnessed a boom in its prosperity and popularity.
The 1950s or Mid-Century jewelry was characterized by femininity and elegance. Full flowing skirts, defined waistlines, low necklines, and soft shoulders popularized by Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look” idealized femininity and elegance. This ideology dominated the jewelry industry too with jewelry designers creating more feminine jewelry by reforming jewelry styles, shapes, and color.
Hollywood actresses such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor were the fashion icons of the decade, and people drew fashion and jewelry inspiration from them.
Popular 1950s Jewelry Styles
Driven by the ideology of femininity and elegance, women coordinated their jewelry well with their dresses and wore matching sets of jewelry. A parure is a set of matching jewelry designed to be worn together.
Parure typically comprised of a brooch, ring, necklace, bracelet, and earrings. Wearing parure signified wealth, prestige, and royalty too.
Bright and colorful makeup by women in the 50s found a way into clothing and jewelry too. The popularity of bolder color grew immensely with ‘Red’ being in great demand. From belts to brooches to bangles and earrings, red was seen almost everywhere.
Costume jewelry in vibrant colors was well coordinated with a woman’s outfit to reflect elegance. Many jewelry designers very innovatively created jewelry in the clothing. They stitched rhinestones onto dresses, belts, or embellished necklines or collars. Pearls were beaded onto hats, handbags, and clutches.
Precious Fine Jewelry
As the economy became stronger, the spending power of a common man also increased considerably. This growth resulted in people spending on buying precious gems and metals that were not only dazzling and big but trendy too.
Established jewelry houses such as Tiffanys, Cartier, and Harry Winston emphasized primarily the gem quality and created more of traditionally designed jewelry. On the other hand, DeBeers heavily promoted diamonds with their renowned tagline “Diamonds are forever” targeting all the income groups successfully.
Many people preferred yellow-toned gold as the jewelry setting metal, while rose gold was preferred when setting with warm-colored gems such as ruby. Gold button earrings, gold cuff bracelets, gold brooches, gold flower and leaf necklaces though large had simplistic designs. The latter part of the decade saw increasing popularity for gold chains, necklaces, and bracelets.
The popularity of pearls saw an all-time high in the 1950s gaining an iconic status. Grace Kelly, a popular American actress made appearances wearing pearls quite often and popularized them further.
Pearls were favored in all accessories - necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, and others. Other than natural shades, pearls were available in a range of other shades such as cream, grey, coffee, and champagne, chosen carefully to coordinate and compliment the dress.
A “simple strand of pearls” was the most sought-after jewelry piece of this era. A single or double strand necklace along with single pearl studs became the usually sported day look. A single strand pearl necklace was also the perfect accompaniment of popular evening black dress. Multi-strand pearl necklaces were also very much in demand.
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Everyone is a star and deserves a chance to sparkle.” Sparkling glittering jewelry fulfilled the desire to outshine and was the preferred choice for the evening dress-up.
Rhinestones provided the quintessential glittering sparkle without being heavy on the pocket. Rhinestone jewelry could be minimalist, dramatic, or even superfluous leaving the wearer with numerous choices for their dress-up, such as a single or double strand rhinestone necklace or a more dramatic bib necklace for dresses with deep necklines.
Some fashionistas opted for a minimalist look and chose to highlight their attire with a rhinestone brooch or a large-sized rhinestone earring only. Such was the fascination for rhinestone that accessories such as handbags, hats, clutches, shoes, and even the evening dresses were embellished with them.
In the 1950s, the jewelry industry was taken by a storm with the invention of a shimmering stone - Aurora Borealis.
Manfred Swarovski found a new technique to coat the crystals, by which they reflected a range of rainbow shades, from shimmering green to blue, violet, and a magical red. These crystals were called Aurora Borealis due to their similarity to the mesmerizing and dramatic auroras ‘Northern Lights’ seen in the Earth’s sky in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Swarovski collaborated with Christian Dior, and Dior was so enchanted with the crystals ‘iridescence’ (rainbow-like effect) that he got them embroidered onto the lapels and necklines of his evening gowns, down the sides of sleeves and dresses.
The dazzling sparkle of Aurora Borealis in jewelry brought a feminine glamour with a very pristine style. The exceptional quality to pick up tones of fabrics and reflecting them turned Aurora Borealis into a fashion revolution.
The 1950s gave birth to a new style of jewelry - ‘Atomic Jewelry’. It was influenced by the use of nuclear power by America during World War II. Atomic jewelry had whimsical and fanciful representations of swirling atoms and electrons, explosions, cluster motifs, sunbursts, and starbursts.
This highly innovative style captured the general public fancies and fears about nuclear power, with memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing still fresh in their minds.
There was a surge in the popularity of large-sized jewelry 1950s. Oversized sized jewelry pieces or cocktail jewelry especially the cocktail ring was a must for evening get-togethers or cocktail parties.
Most of these jewelry pieces were made of large-sized diamond imitations or translucent stones like Lucite for the dazzling effect. Colored gems, faux pearls, rhinestones clusters, metals, and Bakelite were also used in producing these statement pieces.
The cocktail ring was the most famous from the cocktail jewelry family and was made in many shapes and designs.
- Bypass Rings: These rings were quite big, characterized by bands that would overlap and part. Very big sized gems were used in making these.
- Bombe Rings: With a rounded curving shape, these rings were embellished with small colorful gemstones all over in a dotted manner.
- Ballerina Rings: These rings had a very distinctive style featuring chiefly baguette cut sparkling gemstones all over with a central gemstone.
- Wired Rings: Wrapped wires created a base for these rings which was crowned with a big gemstone.
A fashionable trend that started in the 1950s was to drape a sweater or a cardigan across the shoulders. However, keeping them in place without tying the sleeves was an uncomfortably repetitive task.
Sweater guard, a fashionable accessory was the perfect solution to this problem. It had two fancy clips that were connected with a chain or string.
Floral designs inspired by the Victorian Era made away into all the jewelry items, be it a bracelet or a necklace or a brooch or earrings. Some most favored flowers were tulips, rose, sunflowers, orchids, daisies, and poppies.
Gold, colored metals, plastics, and enamels were used in producing these.
In the 1950s, an earring style that gained popularity during this time was hoop earring in different sizes and colors which women matched with their dresses, scarves, or headbands.
Though button-style earrings and dangling earrings were both in vogue, clip-on earrings with precious or semi-precious stones were the most popular. For dinner or an evening meeting, clip-on earrings with pearls, single diamonds or clusters of diamonds were the preferred choice.
The latter part of the decade marked the social acceptance of ear piercing which had lost favor in previous decades. As a result, women could wear heavier and longer earrings with ease.
Famous Brands & Designers of 1950s
Many other costume designers used special glass stones for a great effect. Elsa Schiaparelli used a large stone with unusual shapes and textures; iridescent lava rocks; and tourmalines in her creations. Henry Schreiner produced pieces with amazing art glass stones as their focal point, along with ingenious color combinations. Christian Dior used Swarovski’s aurora borealis in most of his creations in this decade.
Sarah Coventry became a household name with their unique marketing technique which involved purchasing designs from freelancers, and housewives acting as sales representatives showcasing the jewelry to others in mostly house held parties.
Designers like Schiaparelli played with colors in their creations, whereas Balenciaga and Dior’s creations restricted the use of colors and revived the 1930s trend of whites.
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