Hollywood’s Golden Age produced some of the most iconic actresses in film. To attract audiences to the cinema, movie makers decked out these actresses in exotic and lavish jewels. Stars like Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Claudette Colbert became jewelry trendsetters, known for their iconic style as much as their talent and beauty. Lengthy pearl necklaces, extravagant diamonds, and cabochon jewelry are just some of the styles that can trace their popularity to their appearance on the silver screen. Below, we highlight some of our favorite actresses from this time and offer a closer look at their signature jewelry.
Theda Bara, known as the original Vamp, was plucked from middle American obscurity and transformed into an exotic beauty. Her dark, mysterious look is showcased in the film Cleopatra (1917). Snakes, pyramids, and falcons were popular motifs in the Egyptian Revival that would soon explode in the 1920’s, sparked by interest in the archaeological discovery of King Tut’s tomb. On Theda, this style takes on an almost avant garde look, accented by her dark eye makeup and take-no-prisoners expression.
On the other end of the style spectrum was Mary Pickford, America’s sweetheart. Demure and feminine, one of her signature pieces was a pearl sautoir, a kind of long necklace ending in a tassel pendant.
Jewels were not just worn as accessories, either. Both Alla Nazimova in Salome (1922) and Gloria Swanson in Male and Female (1919), were positively drenched in pearls to form their actual costumes. Gloria, who was building a reputation for her lavish lifestyle and fondness for excess, was rarely seen without a healthy adornment of jewelry.
Brief sartorial panic ensued in Hollywood at the advent of sound in film – elaborate costumes adorned with pearls and beads proved too noisy for the new sound recording equipment, drowning out the actors’ speech. Around 1930, however, technology improved and was able to overcome the unintended noise. This advancement was crucial, for the actresses of the 1930’s would prove no less devoted to jeweled excess than their silent predecessors.
Diamonds are of course synonymous with Hollywood glamour. Norma Shearer made a splash when she debuted her marquise cut diamond engagement ring in The Divorcee (1930). The jewelry maker Mauboussin designed wide diamond bracelets for the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Claire Luce, who wore them stacked, glittering in the soft focus of the camera. However, few could quite match the extravagance of Mae West. In She Done Him Wrong (1933), Mae was positively dripping in diamonds, rings on every finger, mixing Art Deco styles with Victorian Era pieces.
A renewed interest in older jewelry styles was also sparked by an endless amount of period films, such as Gone With The Wind (1939), which showed actress Vivien Leigh in a pair of Etruscan Revival earrings from the 1800’s.
Cabochon jewelry exploded in popularity in the 1930’s thanks to a few (famous) devoted fans. Claudette Colbert appeared in The Gilded Lily (1935) decked out in star rubies, a cabochon cut of the gem that shines with a star (called an asterism) in the light. Marlene Dietrich was so fond of her emerald cabochon jewelry that she insisted on wearing it onscreen. Joan Crawford’s gem of choice was star sapphires, large cabochons set into ornate bangles and a matching pendant.
The extravagance of jewelry in Hollywood continued into the 1960’s, (thanks in no small part to Elizabeth Taylor). Although the Golden Age of Hollywood was over, the legacy of glamour that these actresses brought to life continued on, and still resonates to this day. So when you put on that Art Deco diamond dinner ring, give a wink to Mae West, and when you clasp your pearl necklace, think of Gloria Swanson – their spirit resides in the vintage pieces we love so much.
Below are some pieces from our collection that evoke Hollywood glamour. Click the photos to shop the looks you see here.