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Retro Jewelry (1935-1950)

by on July 2, 2013

The Retro jewelry period, or Cocktail jewelry as it is sometimes called, took place during World War II. As a reaction to the dire world conflict, jewelry became bolder, brighter, and more light hearted. Unlike the Art Deco style, Retro jewelry has soft curves and feminine motifs, set off against the severe silhouettes of women’s war-time wardrobes. Gold regained popularity, as platinum was essential to the war effort and scarcely available for commercial use. Different colors of gold, such as yellow, rose, and green, were used in striking combinations. Popular gemstones included aquamarines, topaz, and citrines, as well as synthetic rubies and sapphires, in huge rectangular cuts used in cocktail rings, over sized bracelets, and watches. Patriotic themes were also popular, diamonds, sapphires, and rubies were often paired together, and three dimensional sculptural ribbons, bows, and folds made out of metal were common.

The War in Europe caused many of the leading firms to shut down, leaving the jewelry market largely open for American manufacturers to gain a foot hold. Some European designers immigrated to America to escape the war and take advantage of the economic prosperity growing in the United States. As paper money was still questionable following the Depression, gold and gems in the form of jewelry represented a wearable but tangible commodity. Hollywood glamour was hugely influential on the designs of the period, actors and actresses influenced the fashion and trends of the time as European royalty had previously. Bows, flowers, and sunburst designs from earlier periods were reworked to reflect the bigger and bolder design sensibilities. Cartier perfected exotic fauna designs by Jeanne Tousaint which became the “luxurious but poignant symbols of the Duchess of Windsor.” Established jewelry houses such as Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Lacloche continued to increase their sales following the war.

Jewelry of the 1940’s is characterized by its chunkiness and contrast of materials. Most customers had limited financial resources, so small quantities of gold and other precious metals and stones were used with an eye towards achieving the greatest effect. Following the war, many of the technologies developed were employed in peacetime production. Jewelry continued to be mass produced using synthetic alternatives. Design gained a new importance as a means of selling products in the commercial world. In peacetime jewelry once again became more understated and traditional. Platinum became widely available for commercial use and began to replace the rose gold of the previous years. By the 1950’s Retro jewelry, with its big bold over the top designs, was out of style, replaced by the more tailored looks of the 1950’s and 60’s.

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