Period - 1940 to 1945
The Thirties were a decade of Depression
for both the U.S. and Europe. The American public looked
to the movies as an escape from everyday struggles. The
real-life "love story" of the Duke and Duchess
of Windsor also captured the popular imagination. World
War II began in Europe in 1939. When the U.S. entered
the war in 1941, women joined the work force en masse
to lend their support. Sweeping social, economic and cultural
changes followed the war's end in 1945, as middle-class
Gold: Yellow gold regained prominence
during this era, as wartime restrictions made platinum
unavailable to the jewelry industry. Retro jewelry is
often multi-colored, combining gold alloys with rose,
yellow, and even green overtones.
Semi-precious and Synthetic
Semi-precious stones and synthetic rubies and sapphires
gained favor in the face of wartime luxury taxes and a
scarcity of precious stones. New trade routes opened up
South America as a bountiful source of large, semi-precious
stones. Consequently, Retro jewelry often features colored
gemstones like citrine and aquamarine, in rectangular
cuts and massive proportions.
Romantic motifs such as bows, flowers, scrolls, fans,
ribbons and ruffles complemented the new femininity in
fashion. In wartime, these jewelry pieces served as substitutes
for such embellishments on clothing, which were severely
restricted by the war effort.
taste for Hollywood glamour and drama called for jewelry
of "larger-than-life" proportions. Cocktail
rings, bracelets, watches and necklaces were massive and
three-dimensional. The vogue for textured fabrics and
an exaggerated silhouette further necessitated jewelry
of a certain size and volume.
Age Design: Glorification
of the machine in 1930s and 40s America was reflected
in jewelry elements that resembled pipes or plumbing,
zippers, brickwork and tanktreads.
Patriotic themes (like flags, eagles
and military insignia) and colors (synthetic ruby and
sapphire) were prevalent in wartime jewelry.
Sizeable, three-dimensional charms
became popular as a very personal form of expression.
They were often worn in great numbers on a link bracelet,
chronicling the life and experiences of its wearer.
Focus was on the lobe, as earrings
sat close to the ear, instead of dangling below it. Popular
motifs included flowers, scrolls and cornucopia. French
(screw) backs and clips were prevalent.
Engagement ring designs were directly
affected by the Thirties economy. Smaller diamonds were
set in illusion settings; these elaborately carved, square
white gold mountings gave the diamonds a much larger appearance.
Such rings are very popular today with budget-minded consumers
who care more for character than carat weight; beautifully-detailed
engagement rings with a lot of "look" can often
be had for around $500
Antique engagement rings from this time period are delicately-detailed,
and quite popular. Highly collectible is the estate designer
jewelry from this era, such as that made by Tiffany, Cartier
and Van Cleef & Arpels.
The term "Retro"
applied to jewelry is credited to François Curiel,
the head of the jewelry department for Christie's Auction
House in New York in the early 1970's.
Retro jewelry, or
"Cocktail Jewelry" as it is sometimes called,
originated in France with designs by Van Cleef & Arpels.
They produced a collection of jewelry that was exhibited
at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. When the World War
II broke out, the jewelry remained in New York. It served
as a great influence to American jewelry designers throughout
the remainder of the war.
jewelry is characterized by the bold, oversized and three
dimensional use of rose, yellow and green, highly polished
gold. Retro jewels often feature massive, emerald-cut
aquamarines, citrines and amethyst, accented with smaller
rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Retro bracelets, watches
and necklaces reflected the glamour and enchantment that
Hollywood inspired during times of crisis. The movies
provided a wartime escape into a world of fantasy and
romance that was "larger than life".
In 1936, Hollywood
was upstaged when King Edward VIII stepped down so he
could marry Wallis Simpson. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
(as they came to be known) were renowned for their collection
of bold, unusual jewelry. The most famous of the Duchess'
Retro jewels were made by Cartier and Van Cleef &
rationing and uncertainty brought about many profound
changes, but the production of jewelry was only marginally
effected during World War II. There was still much uncertainty
about paper money. In times of economic skepticism precious
metal and gems represent portable capital. Platinum was
relatively unavailable during the war, but Retro Jewelry
manufacturers used the gems and gold they had on hand
to create their fashionable masterpieces. Huge deposits
of gems were discovered in Brazil in the 30's as the result
of geological excavations searching for industrial minerals
to fuel the war. Hundreds of localities became known for
Brazilian deposits of citrine, aquamarine, kunzite, topaz,
chrysoberyl, tourmaline and amethyst.
The United States
entered the War in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Curiously, examples of American Retro Jewelry produced
at that time were whimsical and delightful. Birds, baskets
of flowers, dancers and other serene images were common
motifs. Ballerinas, bows, animals, shells, birds and hearts
were also recurrent designs in jewels of the period, often
accented with sprays of diamonds and twists and spirals
of calibré-cut precious gems.
Clips and broockes in the 40's were swollen to a spectacular
scale. The ribbon bow was the most popular motif, often
highlighted in the center with a calibré cut ruby
or sapphire knot. The Retro jewels imitate three dimensional
folds of fabric which easily seperates them from the two
dimensional Art Deco clips or Victorian bows.
Retro jewelry has
become very collectible. Until 1970, jewelry from the
40's and 50's was often sold for scrap value and melted
down! The examples of Retro Jewelry that survive today
are highly coveted. The value of Retro pins, clips, bracelets
and rings has seriously appreciated in recent years, and
the trend is not expected to crest in the foreseeable