Oh, So Retro!
Mid-century jewellery will forever be loved for paving the way towards a new type of glamour.
What is Retro Jewellery?
After the heyday of ultra-glamourous Art Deco jewels, the Second World War ushered in a new era of design. Born out of the necessities of restraint and war-time restrictions, the Retro jewels of the 1940s and 50s took on a new feminine aesthetic that was optimistic, without the need for the flash of large gemstones and expensive settings.
Instead, due to the restrictions on Silver and Platinum, pieces were often crafted in Rose Gold—an alloy of gold mixed with more widely available copper. (Read more about alloys and Precious Metals.) Since sourcing large gemstones, including Diamonds and rare gems such as Sapphires and Emeralds, was becoming too difficult during war times, jewellery designers got creative with uplifting flora and fauna designs featuring smaller accent stones on the must-have items of the day, including brooches, hat pins and even cigarette and vanity cases. Bouquets of flowers were a particularly popular motif, and perfect for allowing smaller-cut gems to shine. Charms also became quite fashionable, since they showcased the wearer’s personality without necessarily requiring any gems at all.
Unlike the splashy post-war decadence of the 1920s, the period after the Second World War was still tense with an air of anxiety and lavish spending on luxury items was not returning to fashion as quickly as the first time around. In the UK specifically, the government’s new post-war “purchase tax” was raised from 30% to 125% and made luxury goods such as jewellery nearly impossibly expensive to produce and purchase. However, the latter didn’t mean that jewellery wasn’t still on the menu. In a way, it was a as popular as ever, just with a few budget-conscious adjustments.
Regardless of the lack of resources, men and women were still feverish with “proper” dress, and jewellery and accessories were as popular as ever. While men turned to tie pins and cufflinks to complete their look, matching jewellery sets including bracelets (worn with or without gloves) and bib-style necklaces were all the rage for ladies about town. Pricier Diamonds also took a backseat to cheerful, coloured gemstones which were less expensive and easier to find in large, eye-clean sizes, including Amethyst, Citrine, Smoky Quartz and Aquamarine.
Not dissimilar to the Art Deco period, which was in many ways a post-WWI rejection of the frivolity and romanticism of the Edwardian period, the 1950s and 60s ushered in a sleeker design sensibility which represented more freedom, prosperity and excitement for the future. These styles, which were at their height of popularity in the 1950s, are now known as Mid-Century Modern. Scandinavian designers such as Georg Jenson were particularly popular, and showed off more streamlined designs with geometric patterns and chunkier accent stones.