Our ‘Celebrations’ drop shines a light on antique and vintage fine jewellery, in styles that evoke the most hedonistic of eras - riotous parties, soirées, dinners and fairs, for which getting your accessories spot-on was crucial.
In the swinging Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s, the fashion for short, sharp sleeveless dance dresses, including Chanel’s famous LBD, left ladies with bare arms crying out for wristfuls of diamond bracelets in the contemporary Art Deco style. Flexible, fluid, supple bracelets of geometric openwork design, echoed the patterns of oriental rugs, or were designed to reflect sublimely articulated graphic elements.
Piled on with careless panache, diamond bracelets danced and shimmied with the wearer, and added attitude to languorous fingers curled around a cigarette holder. Today, the Art Deco diamond bracelet has become an all-time classic – cool and elegant worn on its own, or for those who dare, layered or stacked, with more diamonds or a punch of gem-colour.
"1940s Cocktail jewels are still the masterful show-offs of the jewellery universe."
While impressive gem-set jewels, including tiaras, had long been a pre-requisite for formal evening wear, it was only in the late 1930s and 40s that a new genre of party-jewel came into fashion. Less formal and status-driven; more dynamic and dramatic: these bold, gold and supremely confident jewels oozed with the new, effervescent Cocktail style, now often referred to as Retro-Modern.
Personally, I prefer the name Cocktail style. It emerged fully formed in the late ‘30s, and was a heady mishmash of themes and influences. The machine-age motifs of the 1920s and flat geometric lines were plumped up into voluminous forms and infused with movement. They recalled the rolling motion of the industrial assembly line - a powerful 1920s inspiration - but were fluid and sculpturally voluptuous. The same happened with Art Deco stylised floral motifs, as they blossomed into windmill-like flowers, or swirling, ribbon-looped rosettes.
"These are jewels that perfectly captured a confident, emerging femininity"
The cool, monochrome minimalism of the 1920s and 30s, which favoured all-white compositions of diamonds and platinum, were then replaced by the warmth and sensuality of gold. Often a mix of butter-yellow and rose gold, designers heaped it into great sweeps, swirls and whirls, ribbons, flounces and frills, or articulated mechanical-looking links, making it massive yet light to wear.
There were hard economic influences at work, from the Great Depression to World War Two, when precious metals - especially platinum - were needed by the military. The Cocktail style eked out gold, creating an effect of richness and high-drama – and offering the kind of escapism everyone needed. For the same reason, the style was defined by the use of cheaper coloured stones, huge chunks of aquamarines and citrines, and clusters or lines of small cabochon rubies, scattered like pomegranate seeds against fashionable pink gold.
These are jewels that perfectly captured a confident, emerging femininity, of women who worked, took on men’s roles and jobs, and contributed to the war effort. Jewels echoed the fashions of the day: strong, tailored, broad-shouldered silhouettes, rigorous and powerful yet seductive and voluptuous. They are infused with the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and more generally with American influences, where jewellery was less affected by the global descent into war.
At the time, America’s fresh, forthright and extrovert style was taking shape. It emerged at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, with its bold take on futuristic modernity. And it resonates today, in a world powered by creativity and uncertainty, by AI and robotics. Now more than ever, at the end of a tough year, we crave joy, colour, light and escapism.
"Now more than ever, at the end of a tough year, we crave joy, colour, light and escapism."
Last but not least, these jewels were perfectly suited to the newly-fashionable cocktail party that evolved from the ritual of pre-dinner drinks. It offered a style of entertaining that was less formal and expensive than, say, a dinner, where guests could gather freely, and drink American alcoholic concoctions with zany names, theatrical colours and a thrilling buzz.
These parties became popular and glamorous in the 1950s and 60s, crafting the vogue for cocktail dresses and for jewels as intoxicatingly bubbly as the drinks themselves: dynamic in colour, sheen and movement, and dramatic enough to be spotted across a crowded room. 1940s Cocktail jewels are still the masterful show-offs of the jewellery universe, and so perfect for 2020’s End of Year celebrations. We dare you to dazzle.
We invite you to Celebrations: Even this year - especially this year - we want you to dress up, celebrate and revel in the joy of jewels.