Art Deco jewelry was nine times out of ten made in silver tones. Whereas a lot of the jewelry from the Art Nouveau period only decades before saw warm yellow gold tones, Art Deco jewelry was all about silver.
Not all silver Art Deco jewelry was actually sterling. Although the color silver was very popular, in Art Deco earring design, a lot of jewelry in the 1920s was actually white gold, platinum or chrome-plated, which made jewelry look bright, smooth, and silver-toned.
See what Art Deco style silvertone earrings are available in the minusOne jewelry shop.
Silver and platinum were were less expensive than gold. And chrome plating was even less expensive than silver.
Cooler-toned metals may also have been influenced by Hollywood and the new popularity of hand-held cameras. Silver-toned jewelry looked better in black and white.
The Price of Silver Art Deco Jewelry
During the 1920s, silver was still being used in coins across the United States and Europe. In the US, this included Mercury dimes and Liberty Walking half dollars, which are highly collectible today.
The 1920s saw a significant drop in the price of silver bullion. The price of silver dropped in 1920 dropped by more than half, from just over $1.30 to $.065 per Troy ounce. It stayed at that lower price throughout the 1920s, falling to under $.50 by 1929.
Silver was an inexpensive alternative to gold in the 1920s. For comparison, gold was over US$20 an ounce during the same decade. One hundred years later in the 2020s, gold is almost $2,000 an ounce.
So, silver was a very affordable metal when crafting jewelry during the Roaring Twenties.
Silver allowed for monotones jewelry design
The monotone appearance of a lot of Art Deco jewelry stems from its use of silver-colored materials as settings for diamonds, rock crystals, and pearls.
Gemstones were extremely popular in 1920s jewelry, and new gemstone cuts like the baguette were developed to allow more and more interlocking stones to be set in silver-tone white gold and platinum, metals that would dissolve into the background, often making the stones appear like they were floating in space.
Chrome-plated silver Art Deco jewelry
Chrome-plating was newly available to jewelry designers in the 1920s, and made silver tone pieces sleek, shiny, and reflective.
As explained by contemporary platers Hard Chrome Specialists: “By the mid-1920s, there were two companies advertising their chromium plating services: The Chemical Treatment Company in New York and the Chromium Products Corporation in New Jersey. These two companies quickly merged, forming the Chromium Corporation of America. Following some patent interferences, the Chromium Corporation of America merged with a new company, General Chromium Corporation, and formed United Chromium, Incorporated in 1927.”
Chrome improved the ability of metal to resist corrosion and made it more durable.
Plating generally was discovered almost a century earlier. However, the early 1800s weren’t ready for costume jewelry. In fact, the ruling class feared the loss of gold as a status symbol if anyone could have something that looked like gold.
Platinum: an old metal with a new application
Platinum emerged in the 1920s as a prized metal nearly five centuries after its initial discovery. It wasn’t until the 1890s that Cartier and Tiffany & Co. began using platinum in their jewelry.
This new development in the world’s love of platinum jewelry was tied directly to the emerging industrial technologies of the age. Platinum has a very high melting point (nearly 2000 degrees Celsius!). This high melting point had been until the turn of the century an insurmountable challenge for jewelers.
However, the introduction of the right tools for the jeweler’s job – high temperature blowtorches, for example – changed their relationship to platinum, and the world’s accessibility of high-end platinum jewelry.
The Art Deco era, with its fanaticism for diamonds, loved platinum because – as a setting for engagement rings in particular – it didn’t alter the color or clarity of the gemstones.
Silver Art Deco Costume Jewelry in the 1920s
The 1920s saw enough erosion to the class system to allow plated metals and synthetic gems to become popular in jewelry design. In fact, Coco Chanel launched her first line of costume jewelry during the Art Deco period.
The clip-on earrings for non-pierced ears were another 1920s design innovation. Clip-ons made the Flapper style of long, heavy diamante dangles – (French trans. diamond) – popular in department stores and available to more than just the wealthy.
Silvertone Platinum in Art Deco Jewelry
Platinum, another silver-colored metal, became very popular with wealthy consumers during the Jazz Age. Although still very expensive, the cost of platinum in the 1920s dropped from around $75 an ounce to only $20 an ounce, increasing its popularity for Art Deco jewelry design. Today, platinum is around $1,000 an ounce.
Golden Age of Hollywood & Silver Art Deco Jewelry
The popularity of movies and the brilliant Movie Star further influenced Art Deco silver jewelry design.
More and more, Hollywood celebrities were part of the everyday life of the middle classes, and people got their fill of Hollywood not only in movie theaters, but also through magazines and advertisements.
Hollywood was still in black and white in the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the use of color in the movies was widespread.
The film used in the increasingly popular hand-held cameras was of course also black and white.
It’s hard to say for certain if black and white film was a reason why Art Deco silver earrings reigned supreme, but the song goes that everything looks better in black and white, and that’s very true of silver.
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