1950s Jewelry: Subtle for Day, Sparkle for Night

Grace Kelly publicity still for Rear Window, 1954.

The Boom Years, Atomic Age, Cold War, The Red Scare, Suburbia, Consumerism, Uniformity, Cultural Conformity, Civil Rights Movement Was Born, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, Television, Abstract Expressionism all defined the 1950s.

Diamond and platinum brooch, circa 1950.The 1950s was an era of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. World War II was over, people had come home from overseas and life was much more joyous and lighthearted. The 1950s were boom years, a housing boom and a baby boom were well underway. Both of which gave rise to suburban housing developments that were part of the “American Dream”. People had money to buy readily available appliances and cars paving the way for consumerism to take  hold. It was the golden age of television and families were gathering in their suburban homes to watch shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Leave it to Beaver”. American women were encouraged to marry young and be stay-at-home moms and homemakers. Rock ‘n’ roll was born and Elvis Presley made it famous through legions of screaming fans. The House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating anyone and everyone for having ties to communism, instilling fear throughout the country, while the threat of nuclear war put everyone on edge.

Pearls Were a Favorite

Fashion in the 1950s was all about matching sets and a sense of formality, a sensibility that spilled over into jewelry. Not only that, but in the 1950s there was a distinct difference in what was worn as daywear and what was worn at night.

Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953.Pearls were once again available after the war and they were a fashion favorite. Their allure was enhanced by multiple images of movie stars such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn wearing their pearls. During the day every well-dressed woman wore either a single or double strand pearl necklace that fell just below the throat along with pearl earrings. Three-quarter length sleeves were popular and left a nice expanse of arm for bracelets – pearls and gold mesh were favored as were charm bracelets which carried over in popularity from the 1940s. Daytime earrings were big, but close to the ear, often a pearl with an ornamental surround, or a simple gold clip-on earring. Pierced ears were not common in the 1950s so most earrings were clip-ons. Other than engagement rings and wedding bands, rings weren’t worn much during the day.

Night Time Bling

Diamond and platinum earrings, circa 1950.Jewelry changed for night time when the sparkle came out in full force. Diamond and platinum jewelry, often in matching sets, were worn for evening. Baguettes were frequently used in diamond pieces mixed with other fancy shapes, especially marquise and pear shaped diamonds. Earrings were diamond clusters, or the cascade style with a precious stone on the ear with smaller gems creating a cascade of stones that dangled around the face and neck. Large pearl earrings were also favored. Earrings showed off really well in the 1950s as hair was worn either short, or swept up into a chignon. Diamond hair clips were another way of adding more sparkle to the look. And let’s not forget about bracelets; those too, were glittering with diamonds often with a floral or swirl motif. Necklaces were large and worn close to the throat and torsades (necklaces with multistrands of gems that are twisted) with elaborate closures were popular.

Diamond, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold bombé ring by Boucheron, circa 1950s.Large brooches in textured gold depicting animals and flora and fauna were favorites. Small brooches were also stylish. Instead of wearing just one large brooch, “scatter pins”, small brooches worn in multiples, were trending and were often themed.  Large rings were still in style, but instead of one large, square or rectangular gem, they evolved into more rounded forms, bombé styles were center stage as were cluster styles, ballerina rings and bypass rings featuring oversized gems.

As the 1950s marched on, change was in the air and the free spirited 1960s ushered in the “Age of Aquarius” and a new look in jewelry.

Featured image (top of page): Grace Kelly publicity still for Rear Window, 1954.

First: Diamond and platinum brooch, circa 1950; Second: Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953; Third: diamond and platinum earrings, circa 1950s; Fourth: diamond, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold bombé ring by Boucheron, circa 1950s.

Authored by Amber Michelle