Key Jewellery Looks by Decade

Here is an overview of the key jewellery looks of the first six decades of the 20th century. 


These years saw the continued explosion in the Art Nouveau Movement in all its forms. The styles evoked femininity, mystery, nature and were an homage to an imagined pre-industrial Eden of the past.

Germany, c.1903  Enamelled gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, emeralds,a ruby, hung with a pearl.  V&A Museum

Germany, c.1903

Enamelled gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, emeralds,a ruby, hung with a pearl.

V&A Museum

Semiprecious stones

Semiprecious stones such as opals, moonstones, turquoise, baroque pearls etc took a central place as the beauty of the piece was not necessarily defined by the agreed value of the materials. 

Enamel Work

Enamel work became prominent as the focus on artistry and craftsmanship dominated. 


Bijouterie can be described as a piece valued for the delicacy of its design as opposed to the value of its materials. These more intricate pieces became prevalent as design took dominance over ostentatious displays. 

Nature Themes

Nature themes were popular as people sought to connect with the simplicity and beauty of the pre-industrial era. 

Celtic Motifs

Celtic motifs were also popular as people romanticised  heritage and history in a rejection of the rapidly exploding modernity of the Western world.

The Female Form

The  female form and visage became one of the eras most iconic motifs as a craving for femininity emerged as a response to the increasing mechanisation of society. 

The Whiplash Motif

The whiplash motif was a signature motif of this decade. 


These years saw an emergence of elegance and a focus on gentile refinement. There was an emphasis on evening wear along with an adulation of aristocracy and nostalgia for the hey days of the fine royal courts of Europe, in particular Versailles. 

Tsarina Alexandra

Tsarina Alexandra

The Lavalier

The lavalier became a popular item as the beauty of the décolleté was emphasised. 

Bandeaus and Aigrettes

Inspired by the natives of the New World,  bandeaus and aigrettes started to become popular (this fashion exploded in the 1920s)

Bows and Swags 

Hearkening back to Rococo and Baroque design, bows and swags became recurrent motifs. 

Tiaras and headpieces

Inspired by the glamorous royal courts of Europe, tiaras and headpieces became popular evening wear. 

Garland Necklace

The garland necklace was popular as the beauty of the décolleté, neck and shoulder was focused upon. 

Colliers de chien

Princess Alexander popularised this iconic style. 


The migration of many Italian cameo artists saw the popular emergence of cameos across Europe and the USA. 

White on white

White metals with white stones were the height of fashion with the emphasis on evening refinement and the desire to wear jewels that looked amazing by candle light (also inspired by the new vogue for luxury cruises.)


This decade saw the emergence of a new boyish and chic look.  Jewellery became streamlined, youthful, forward looking, minimalist, light and lean. 

Bangles and Cuff bracelets

With the craze for dancing it was important to wear items with movement. 

Egyptian and Ethnic motifs

The architectural discoveries of these years saw an emergence of revivalist motifs, as well as an idealisation for the styles of foreign lands as the European empires expanded. 

Fan, Chevron, Geometric and the Machine Aesthetic

With mechanisation and modernity there came an emphasis on machine-inspired designs. 

Venetian Glass and Crystal Beads

As long sautoir necklaces became popular (perfectly for twirling while dancing), the artistry of venetian glass and the beauty of crystal was revered. 

Machine cut Gemstones

Gemstones were now cut by machine for the most part, rather than cut by hand. 


There was a craze for tassel earrings and tassel necklaces and the movement they brought with them while dancing the latest dance crazes. 


This decade brought the glamour and dram of the silent screen and black and white movies into the forefront of popular culture. 


Diamonds became the most sought after gem, popularised by the silent screen actresses who wore them for their ability to sparkle on the screen. 

Stepped, Chevron and Circle Motifs 

The continued fashion for modernism saw an emphasis on geometric, architectural and non-organic motifs. 

Filigree Settings

Filigree settings, particularly using white metals, became popular in this decade. 

Floral Motifs

The simplicity and girlishness of floral motifs became prevalent. 

Dress Clips

Dress clips became the height of fashion

White on white

The fashion for all white jewellery continued. 

Dime Store Deco

Dime stores sold inexpensive costume jewellery which made style available to everyone. These pieces became known as 'dime store deco.'


The silver screen saw an emphasis on increasingly flashy costume pieces.


The austerity of the war years brought about a creative explosion in costume jewellery which made personal decor more accessible. It was not worn to display wealth but more as an expression of fun and levity, in contrast to the serious times. 

Lauren Bacall 

Lauren Bacall 


Rhinestones became a popular and accessible stand-in for diamonds. 

Metal and Wood

The scarcity of precious metals saw an explosion in creativity using readily available materials such as base metal and wood. 


The new surrealist art movements of Europe overlapped into the world of jewellery design. 

Patriotic Pins

It became de rigueur for every woman to wear a display of patriotism. 

Jelly Belly

These were pins with a rounded, polished lucite middle. Pioneered by Trifari in the 1930s but made popular by the head designer, Alfred Philippe, in the 1940s. 

Floral Motifs

Floral motifs continued in popularity. 


Vermeil became popular as a replacement for solid gold. 

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver saw a surge in popularity as gold was less available. 

Bakelite and other plastics

This decade saw a greater use of bakelite and other early plastics. 


After the end of the Second World War, there was a return to the display of wealth. The love of sparkle and luxury returned with force but there was a retention of the fun and creative sensibilities of the previous decade. 

Marilyn Monroe c. 1954

Marilyn Monroe c. 1954

Floral and Natural Themes

These motifs remained popular. 

Chandelier Earrings

This glamorous style of earring became all the rage. 

Scandinavian Modern

The streamlined modernity of 'Scandinavian Modern' became sought after. 

Textured Gold

Textured gold became fashionable. 

Beads and Pearls

GIs returning from Japan brought home strings of cultured pearls to their sweethearts and a string of pearls or other beads around the neck (usually in princess length) became standard. 

Figurative Brooches

Artistry and fun was expressed through the fashion for figurative brooches.

Copper Jewellery

Copper became a new innovative material to work with as a replacement for gold. 

Charm Bracelets

Charm bracelets became an item every woman had to have. 


Perhaps as a symptom of nostalgia for the now long-gone Victoria era, parures (complete sets of matching jewellery) grew in popularity. 

Further reading:

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