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The Jewellery That Time Forgot

Do you remember your grandmother’s jewellery? I bet there was a little mother-of-pearl and some bold coloured bakelite or enamel. Probably lots of clear crystal as well. But what has happened to all of the styles that we remember seeing in old jewellery boxes and at auctions? Unlike early twentieth century clothing styles, which cycle in and out of fashion, jewellery from the 1940’s and 1950’s has almost completely disappeared in popular fashion. We remember Audrey Hepburn’s pearls, but forget the rest.

Mother of pearl

This beautiful, shimmering material was once upon a time hugely popular in jewellery. My mother remembers loving it as a child when she found pieces in her mother and grandmother’s jewellery boxes. Today, though, it’s almost vanished from fashionable jewellery. I don’t remember ever seeing it in a high street shop. It’s something that has become restricted to a few jewellery shops and high-end jewellers. Is it because it is difficult to imitate for budget mass produced jewellery? Is it just out of fashion? Classic pearls have never disappeared from style, but their lustrous cousin unfortunately has.

Old Jewellery

Coloured enamel and plastic

Some of the most iconic jewellery from the middle of the twentieth century was made from bold colours of plastic and enamel. Vivid yellow, olive green, and coral pink are just three of the colours that enjoyed huge popularity. Plastic was used in bangles and beads, creating jewellery that was strikingly modern at the time but is often considered sadly dated today. It has almost disappeared as a material in high-end jewellery, appearing in children’s and teenagers’ jewellery but not much else.

Coloured enamel has fared a little better, still appearing in vintage-inspired jewellery pieces, particularly floral and leaf motifs. It certainly still has an old-fashioned feel, but in a more elegant, timeless way than plastic. This is probably the easiest mid-century jewellery trend to find in modern shops if you are interested in hunting down styles from your grandmother’s time.

Diamante chains

Layers of diamante or rhinestone chains, made up of tiny square-cut stones, were a defining feature of evening jewellery for many of our grandmothers. High-quality examples of this style still appear in estate sales and vintage stores. They have also enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to designers producing modern, boldly coloured or even neon variants of the classic pieces. Even the clear, colourless versions still appear as evening or wedding jewellery, although they have never achieved the same level of popularity as in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Beaded necklaces

Layers of brightly coloured necklaces gained huge popularity in the 1940’s and remained in style for the next few decades until they gradually disappeared. Today, jewellery layering tends to focus on metallic chains rather than boldly coloured beads. It’s a shame, because the colours can look absolutely stunning, especially when worn with a plain white shirt. Bright necklaces have certainly enjoyed waves of popularity over the last few years, but the classic layered beads of the 1940’s just haven’t reappeared. This is probably partly due to the unpopularity of plastic jewellery – but what about the semiprecious stone variety? Beaded bracelets are all the rage in modern jewellery, but layers of beaded necklaces just haven’t caught on in quite the same way.

Which one of these vintage styles would you most love to see returning? Jewellery is a great way to tap into a little vintage style in a way that’s understated but still interesting. Mid twentieth century jewellery styles have been sadly overlooked, but it’s not too late! Hunt down a beautiful antique or vintage-inspired piece and bring back the jewellery that time forgot.

11 Sep 2016

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