The current pandemic is challenging but 100 years ago, society was just recovering from both a war and a pandemic. The Great War lasted from 1914 to 1918 and involved over 70 million military combatants. The number of dead was huge. Before the war ended though, from January 1918 until around May 1920, more than double the number of people, soldiers and civilians, killed in the war would be killed by a flu pandemic. The flu came in four waves, from the beginning of 1918, then in October 1918, January 1919 and finally recurring in May 1920. The second wave resulted in the most deaths. Over 500 million people were infected.

When the flu wave first hit, the warring countries censored the media, making it impossible for them to report on it. The flu spread to Spain in November 1918. As Spain was neutral  in the war, the media was able to report on it and it became known as the Spanish flu.

As countries tried to recover from the war and the flu, they struggled with disrupted supply chains, loss of people of working age due to the war and the pandemic, crippling war debt owed by countries such as the UK and shutdown of businesses due to the pandemic. There was a short depression in 1920 and 1921 in most industrialised countries but between 1921 and 1929, the US economy boomed into the Roaring Twenties.  The UK did not fare as well, with economic output slow and unemployment high.

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Art Deco French watch with chrysophase gemstones and onyx

In terms of jewellery and fashion, the 1920s are known for the Art Deco style and the flapper. Clothing was slimming down and hair was getting shorter as were hemlines. Waistlines started off high at the beginning of the decade and then moved down to the hips. Women had more control over their activities and a whole new class of working women emerged. Because of shorter hair, long hanging earrings became popular.

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Art Deco paste earrings

Long necklaces suited the style of dress and were worn both day and night. Lariats, beaded sautoirs, like the one at the top of the post, and pearls (real and fake) were common. Arms were bare so bracelets were worn. They might be a long necklace wrapped around the arm, a series of jangling gold bracelets or just one, set with gemstones like the one below.


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Art Deco gold bracelet set with rubies.

There was colour and movement for almost a decade until the Great Depression.