As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
 Winner, 1996

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Fireworks ahead!  With American Independence Day approaching as I planned this newsletter, my thoughts turned to "fireworks" jewelry -- and then to other forms associated with the World War II period.

Jewels from this era are rapidly gaining popularity, both because of cultural influences (such as many recent WWII films) and because it won't be long before the items are true antiques, by our 75-year standard.  Dating from 1940 to 1945, they're just 8 to 13 years short of antique status in this country (although Europe still generally holds to 100 years).  Pursuing these treasures are not only jewelry fans but "crossover" collectors of militaria.  Now is certainly the best time to acquire some, before prices "skyrocket" (so to speak).

Besides firework designs, Victory V and tank-track motifs are characteristic of this timeframe.  So, of course, are sweetheart jewels, introduced during the First World War but produced on a far larger scale in the 40s.  Also look for novel accessories made by ladies at home during years of strict rationing, when most metals were required for the war effort.  Because silver was not among rationed metals, costume jewelry actually got nicer as makers turned to sterling.  It strongly suggests wartime origin, when you find rhinestones and other faux-gems set in hallmarked silver.
  Further enhancing quality, the war brought lots of European talent to the New World -- for instance, Marcel Boucher, whose stunning Parisina line was crafted in Mexico.

WWII Fireworks Earrings. Sterling with red, white and blue rhinestones.  At Glitzqueen.

WWII "V for Victory" Ring. Sterling.
At Glitzqueen

Rationing affected fashion, too, because the use of fabric had to be limited.  The narrower, more tailored look that resulted called for a different type of jewelry.  So did the mood of women, many of whom held jobs for the first time.  The Retro style that captured their strength was born a few years before war broke out -- while the Depression dragged on and, in newsreels, people watched the militarization of fascist powers in Europe with growing horror.  Escapist movies and cartoons took the edge off.  The glamor of Screen Queens and the whimsy of Disney animation found expression in figural jewelry.  The influence of Modernist sculpture was also strong, leading to an explosion of dimensionality after the strict geometry of Art Deco.  Despite Retro's bold lines, femininity was far from forgotten.  Graceful bows, floral forms and dancers were very much parts of the picture, along with the ubiquitous sentimental hearts.

WWII Sweetheart Charm Bracelet.  Sterling Silver, Mint in Box.
At GlitzQueen.

WWII Sweetheart Earrings by Trifari.  Vermeil (sterling washed with rose gold) & Diamond Rhinestone Baguettes.  At GlitzQueen.

WW II "Tank Tracks" Jewel (wearable as bracelet, sash buckle or choker).
Heavy Plastic.  At GlitzQueen

1944 Ballerina Earrings by Marcel Boucher (Parisina).  Sterling. 
At GlitzQueen.

Gliding smoothly from the 30s into the 40s was a passion for "cocktail" jewelry.  Drinks parties had replaced dinner parties during the Depression, since the cost of hosting was so much less.  These grew even more popular in wartime, with practically everyone working all day.  For evening glamor, dazzle was essential, but "real" jewelry was an extreme luxury then.  Platinum, the Deco fave, was wholly unavailable for jewels, being an excellent catalyst for fuels and explosives.  Gold was scarce, too.  Jewelers were cut off from usual sources and trading in gold was suspended in some countries, so even the likes of Fabergé worked in 14k, rather than 18k.  Also, since it was also desperately hard to get genuine stones, synthetic, semi-precious and faux gems were widely used (sometimes mixed with real ones, even in very high-end jewelry).  No shame was attached to wearing these pretenders.  In fact, it was considered more patriotic not to be overly self-indulgent.

Convertible jewelry suited that trend, because its versatility supplied more for your money.  Clips rose to new heights of desirability -- especially the "Duette" designs introduced by Coro, featuring two clips that joined as a large brooch for evening, but by day could be dispersed onto lapels, collars and even shoes.  

Retro Duette Clip Brooch.   White Metal & Diamond Rhinestones.  From Pre-War or Wartime Germany. 
At GlitzQueen.

Retro Duette Clip Brooch by Coro.  Vermeil (gold-washed sterling) with Enamel & Rhinestones.
Private Collection.  Sold by GlitzQueen.

The era's massive clip earrings were often clipped in other spots, too.

Retro Earrings Signed Robert Rose.  Copper with Carnelian Tiger's Eye & Goldstone.  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Stylized Floral Earrings.  Signed Eleusinian New York..  Sterling.  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Earrings.  Sterling with Vermeil (gold-washed) Accents.  French.  At GlitzQueen.

In wartime, Mexican jewelry truly came into its own, extending the Renaissance sparked in the 1930s by William Spratling.  With European wares unavailable, buyers for American stores looked south -- especially to the able artisans of Iguala and Taxco, whose work is now in huge demand.  The highly dimensional, signed Retro parure at left -- consisting of necklace, bracelet and earrings -- is Igualan, offered at GlitzQueen.

Another key aspect of the era was extensive use of unconventional materials.  Aluminum enjoyed a revival; plastics played a greater role than ever, including new types like Perspex (used for airplane cockpits); and resourceful ladies wanting something cheap and cheerful fashioned one-of-a-kind jewels with whatever lay at hand: stiffened fabric, wood, tiny baskets, shells, even paper.  

Most gals faced a struggle to look good, while the war was on.  My mother never tired of lamenting her lack of nice shoes, when those were rationed.  Of course, conditions were far worse in Europe -- where women unable to get mascara learned shoe polish would do.  They also found cigarette ash worked for eye shadow and drew lines down the backs of their legs to simulate silk stocking seams.  With these privations in mind, I especially delight in discovering their hand-made treasures.  Those with fruit motifs are particularly moving; it had never looked tastier than when in such short supply.

Bold WWII "Rosie the Riveter" Bracelet.  Brushed Aluminum. At GlitzQueen.

WWII Nosegay Corsage Pin.  Fiber.  At GlitzQueen.

WWII Poppy Corsage Pin.  Crepe Paper, Wood &  Fiber.  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Fruit Cornucopia Earrings.  Celluloid.  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Bracelet.  Clear Lucite, Hand-Painted.   French..  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Brooch.  Perspex,  Reverse-Carved & Painted . English.  Private Collection.  Sol by GlitzQueen.

Retro Necklace. Tinted Shells on Clear Celluloid Chain.  At GlitzQueen.

Retro Earrings. Fiber & Wood or Resin. West German ( post-war, but like earlier fruit basket jewels).  At GlitzQueen.

Retro "Screen Queen" Designs

Retro Cocktail Ring.  Emerald & Diamonds in Gold.  Private Collection.  Sold by GlitzQueen

Retro Cocktail Ring by  Espo. Sterling & Diamond Rhinestones.  At GlitzQueen.

WWII Sweetheart Locket.  Real Diamond (at top)  Mixed with Rhinestones in Gold-Plate. 
At GlitzQueen.

Retro Bracelet. White Metal & Chrysoprase. At GlitzQueen.

Retro Demi-Parure. Silver with Emerald & Diamond Rhinestones.  Private Collection.  Sold by GlitzQueen.


Retro Earrings.  White Metal with Fixed & Tremblant Diamond Rhinestones. At GlitzQueen.

Retro Demi-Parurre by  D'eri. Sterling with Diamond Rhinestones.  Private Collection.  Sold by GlitzQueen.