Jewelry of the 40s and 50s
1940, the war … and yet beautiful years of creations despite the torment and the German occupation
But how can the jewels of the 40-50s be characterized?
The Art Deco period of the 20-30s, marked by the black and white of platinum, diamonds and onyx, is followed by the 40s-50s Retro style, characterized by a massive use of yellow gold and a return to colorful pieces.
The Iconic Tank Ring
First we will see the birth of the famous Tank ring
The Tank ring that owes its name to the Tanks of the Second World War, during which it appeared, is the most emblematic jewel of the Retro style.
Tank Ring Models, Yellow Gold, Diamonds, Synthetic Rubies, Circa 1940-1950
Unlike Art Deco, which used a lot of platinum, Retro jewelry is usually made of yellow or pink gold (even if platinum has been retained to set the stones).
The heavy, voluminous and asymmetrical forms, the drapes defines the designs of Tank rings and its derivatives (bracelets, necklaces …)
Examples of Tank Bracelet and Necklace, Circa 1940-1950
Geometric shapes are also used for the Secret Watches from that period.
The tradition thought that women did not necessarily have to know the time. This is why the idea of “secret” or “hidden” watches has become very fashionable in western high society.
Nowadays, these watches are still very popular because they reveal a beautiful and feminine combination of jeweler’s work and watchmaker craftsmanship.
Most of the biggest French and Swiss companies have made Secret Watches, among which: Boucheron, Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Piaget, Chaumet …
On the left, a Boucheron Secret Watch, circa 1940. On the right, the Cadenas watch by Van Cleef And Arpels, created in 1935
The « Tubogas » Mesh
This round and fairly thick mesh is characteristic of this period.
Bracelet made in Tubogas Mesh, Circa 1940-1950
In 1942, Cartier created a cage-shaped brooch with a sparrow locked up to symbolize the occupation. A few years later, the house reissues this model, but this time the cage is open and the bird is ready to fly, celebrating the end of the war in 1944.
It was also during this period that Jeanne Toussaint, iconic creator of Cartier, made the first Panthère Ring.
First Panthère Ring, by Jeanne Toussaint for Cartier, 1943.
Panthère Ring by Cartier, today.
What were the materials used during the war?
In times of great scarcity, how did the workshops get supplies of gold? What type of alloy, which stones did they use?
The Retro style marks the end of the use of platinum, requisitioned, and a return to yellow and pink gold. It was indeed very hard to get precious metals, so the jewelers used a lot of copper for their alloys, which gave the color almost red to the gold.
Two Brooches and a ring mixing pink gold and yellow gold, set with diamonds, circa 1940-1950
But metal was not the only resource that became scarce during the war. The arrival of precious stones from Asia was also interrupted. It is for this reason that the jewels of the 40s are mostly set with synthetic sapphires or rubies, made by Verneuil (Auguste Verneuil made the first corundum synthesis in 1902). Nevertheless the very pink color of the rubies and the dark blue of the sapphires allow a rather simple and fast identification of these synthetic stones.
Emeralds, Verneuil synthetic rubies and sapphires, yellow gold ring, circa 1940-1950.
The great jewelers of that time
Today we find very few jewelry dated between 1940 and 1950, the great jewelers not wanting to show that they remained open during the occupation. But many of them remained very active in Paris or elsewhere, as the Van Cleef family, exiled in the United States.
Today we find sumptuous pieces of great jewelers such as: Boucheron, Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Sterle, Mauboussin, Mellerio Mellerio, Belperron, Verdura, Dusausoy, Marchak, Bulgari, Fred, Hermès …