of the 1950's
Post war jewelry
of the 1950's has only recently been classified and viewed
with an historical perspective by jewelry scholars. Jewelry
of the 1950's depicted a birth of artistic diversity that
continues to this day.
After the war, all
aspects of popular culture changed. In 1947, Christian
Dior introduced a new look in fashion that brought femininity
back in style. Long, full-skirts, close-fitting waists
and décolleté necklines also called for
a change in jewelry styles. 50's culture and society had
revolutionary influences, like rock & roll, television
and the birth of the "Beat" Generation. Jewelry
design split in two directions. The large fine jewelry
houses and manufacturers produced traditional and classic
styles of jewelry while there co-existed a growing community
of avant garde studio artists producing new "modernist"
designs. Creativity and individuality were the slogans
of the period.
Economic and industrial growth produced a rapidly growing
upper middle class. The nouveau riche demanded luxury
and were eager to flaunt prosperity. Jewelry of the 1950's
reflected the public's mood with a showy and often overly
indulgent use of gemstones.
DeBeers started to
promote diamonds to every income level. In 1948 they coined
the slogan "Diamonds are Forever" and in 1954
introduced the annual Diamonds International Awards encouraging
the use of diamonds in both casual and formal jewelry.
The Diamond International Awards promoted individual designers
from around the world.
The large jewelry
houses created lavish jewels "dripping" with
diamonds and precious gems. One of the greatest innovators
and trend setters of the time was Harry Winston in New
York. He designed flexible settings that almost invisibly
showcased and secured important diamonds, rubies, sapphires,
emeralds and pearls. He believed the gems to be the essential
element of the jewel, and they ALONE dictated the design!
His breathtaking creations were spectacular and became
enormously successful with his wealthy clientele! Cartier,
Van Cleef & Arpels, Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany
and Sterlé produced opulent designs that also found
a wide audience with the newly prosperous.
The motifs of 50's jewelry design may have been similar
to pieces produced in the '40's, but they were executed
in an entirely different way. Retro Jewelry had a solid,
heavy and highly polished look whereas 50's jewelry was
open, airy and textural. Florentine finishes were popular
and braided and twisted wire accents, were preferred.
Yellow gold was the prominent metal except in all diamond
There was a trend
for matching accessories, which fueled the popularity
of complete sets or parures of '50's jewelry. Suites of
matching bracelets, earrings, rings and brooches were
in vogue. Popular motifs were animals, snowflakes, stars,
bumble bees, butterflies, leaves and flowers with an increasing
emphasis on gemstones and texture as focal points. Short
necklaces were singularly the most popular jewelry accessory
seen in Opulent 50's Jewelry. Choker length strands of
graduated pearls were popular for both day and evening.
"Riviera" necklaces, chokers of graduated diamonds,
were coveted for formal affairs.
As mentioned earlier
there was a modernist movement of Mid-Century American
Studio Jewelers in the United States that had their inspiration
in pre-war Europe. The philosophies of Bauhaus, Dadaism,
Surrealism, Isomorphism and Cubism could be seen in jewelry
designed by a group of prominent European painters and
sculptors. Salvador Dali, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso
and Jean Cocteau were among the artists who inspired American
Studio Jewelers to create "Jewelry as Art" or
"Wearable Art", as it if often referred to.
The modernist's work was characterized by abstract and
non-objective form. Space does not permit me to fully
describe nor pay tribute to the brilliant and often overlooked
work of the Mid-Century American Studio Jewelers in the
is unique and quite specialized. It does not appeal to
everyone. Creations by Mid-Century American Studio Jewelers
were often one of a kind and totally hand fabricated.
There are a growing number of sophisticated collectors
who have recently brought attention to this genre.
The opulence, comfort
and stability that characterized society in the post-war
50's was greeted with dissention, demonstrations and defiance
in the 60's. This brought about an abrupt end to jewelry
designs flaunting luxury and prosperity. The rejection
of the establishment by the younger generation gave birth
to dramatic changes in fashion, art, politics and every
other aspect of our culture!