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1920 - 1940

From Paris to New York.


  • 1922 The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.
  • 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
  • 1926 Warner Brothers Studio introduces the first "talkies."
  • 1927 Charles Lindbergh makes first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris.
  • 1929 Stock Markets crash beginning The Great Depression.
    The discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 created a fashion for jewelry with Egyptian motifs.
  • 1929 The Museum of Modern Art opens in New York.
  • 1932 Polaroid photography invented by Edwin Herbert Land.
  • 1933 Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.
  • 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt becomes President of the United States.
  • 1935 Works Progress Administration approved by Congress.
  • 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
  • 1936 Frank Lloyd Wright completes Fallingwater in Bear Run, PA.
  • 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich.
  • 1939 Invasion of Poland.
  • 1939 1939 New York World’s Fair.


Ring, United States, 1930-1940, platinum and diamonds.

While the turn of the century embraced femininity and elegance, the next two decades promoted a rigid geometry. The Art Deco period, ushered in during the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, was the first truly modern moment for jewelry design. It also became an American moment, with design inspired by the mechanization and streamlining of industry. The same innovative geometric motifs seen in classic 1920s and 30s architecture, including the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, were applied to all forms of the decorative arts. In jewelry, this was a vast departure from the delicate, natural designs popular during the preceding periods.


The workshops of Boston jeweler Bigelow, Kennard, & Company not only employed jewelers, but silversmiths, engravers, cabinet-makers, and blacksmiths.

Before the 1925 Exposition, there was an equally influential revolution in the realm of fashion that proved influential for jewelry design. Rigid structure had been an important aspect of women’s fashion during the second half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the s-curve form. Corsets, fortified with whale-bone stays, forced women to conform to a very specific silhouette. In the 1910s, Parisian couturier Paul Poiret introduced radically different, flowing designs that freed women from the earlier restrictive forms. The new fashions clashed with romantic Art Nouveau and restrained Edwardian jewels, inspiring designers to create new shapes in jewelry. Long, swaying dangle earrings and looped bead necklaces echoed the movement of the new dresses. Although most women did not immediately embrace Poiret’s new forms, these designs had a lasting effect on the development of 1920s fashion, and by extension, 1920s jewelry.

The flappers of the “Jazz Age” were known for their striking, short dresses influenced by the innovative Poiret look. As the silhouette of the clothes grew scandalously bare, the women bedecked their deep decolletages and exposed arms with long, beaded sautoir necklaces and stacked bejeweled bracelets. Newly bobbed hair called for dangling pendant earrings and sparkling headpieces. American jewelry designers, following the lead of Paris and London, created symmetrical, geometric jewels that featured dazzling precious gems contrasted against hardstones including jade, onyx, and carnelian. With such a preponderance of diamonds, gleaming platinum was the perfect setting for these luxurious pieces.

In Boston and across New England, the large established firms continued to grow and adapt to changing fashions. As in the previous century, they offered giftware and other items above and beyond jewelry, creating a destination shopping experience. Often, these shops included in-house workshops and craftsmen for repairs and to create custom designs.

The woman pictured with her six sons in the 1930s wears a plastic Scottie pin and a gold bracelet.

Soon after the turn of the century, the first companies producing what would become costume jewelry were founded in America. European immigrants trained as goldsmiths, came to America and set up shops in New York City where they worked as jobbers or middlemen. Prior to the 1920s, these small family businesses created and marketed affordable mid-range jewelry that imitated high-end gold and gem jewelry. Their pieces were constructed in gold-filled or plated base metals and were set with simulated stones of Austrian crystal. As their expenses and overhead remained low, these firms had the capability to keep up with the newest trends. During the 1920s, their success led to several top companies building their own factories in Providence or Attleboro.

The 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Depression devastated American fine jewelry makers, yet conversely, provided an opening for the growing costume jewelry industry. While their designs continued to emulate, and often outright mimicked fine jewelry, costume jewelers offered jewelry that was beautiful, well made, and fashionable. Technological advancements also provided new and unusual materials that inspired the designers. The development of plastics, beginning in 1909 with Bakelite, allowed for jewelry that was not only affordable, but also creative.

1920 - 1940