And All That Jazz...

09 January 2012 | Le Petit Bijou
Economic prosperity, cheap and plentiful manufacturing, an emerging popular culture and society’s increasingly materialistic mentality were all factors that contributed to the rise of throwaway jewellery during the twenties.

The introduction of the motion picture had a huge impact on the nation’s tastes as movie stars dangled a world of glamour in front of the masses. Costume jewellery gave the look that was projected on the big screen but without the price tag - allowing increasing numbers of people to enjoy the appearance of wealth. The growing cult of celebrity and its influence on the costume jewellery scene was not limited to the big screen, however. Fashion designer Coco Chanel fuelled the enthusiasm for cheap statement pieces by draping herself in long strings of fake pearls. The pearls looked particularly good with the elongated silhouette that was in vogue at the time. They became such a staple that they are now firmly associated with the twenties ‘flapper look’.

Clothing fashions also played a part in the popularity of another item of jewellery: the bangle. The developing trend for sleeveless dresses meant that more of a lady’s arm was on show than ever before and bangles, stacked high on the arms, made fabulous statement pieces. The recently invented plastic, Bakelite, was the perfect material for these solid, chunky hoops; it was light, cheap to produce and came in an assortment of delectable colours, ranging from Pea Green to Cherry Red and for those with an extra sweet tooth, Butterscotch. High culture and pop culture blurred when established names in the luxury jewellery industry such as Lalique and Van Cleef cashed in on the public’s appetite and introduced Bakelite in their own designs.

For those on a budget, but who were after a more classic look than that of the brightly coloured Bakelite, Rhinestones were a popular choice. Set in a cheap and plentiful alloy known as ‘pot metal’, it had never been easier (or cheaper) to generate the illusion of diamonds and platinum.

So the twenties was a period when appearance was everything. The ‘look’ became the thing and if this meant faking it, then the fraudsters were rearing to go. Not so very different from Gatsby after all then…
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