Retro Jewelry

Posted on July 15, 2016 Under Jewelry History


The Retro Era brought us a bold, glamorous collection of jewelry, featuring a bounty of colorful gemstones, lustrous rose gold, and inspiration drawn from Hollywood and nature. This era extends from the late 1930’s through 1950, a time of both war and post-war prosperity. Due to WWII, platinum became scarce, as the metal was reserved for war efforts. This led to the jewelry industry moving back towards gold for their designs, which was also quite limited. Since jewelers wanted to make the most of their limited gold, they created a low karat alloy, commonly known as rose gold. The alloy contains a higher percentage of copper, giving off a reddish tone.

Although people were facing the hardships of WWII, Hollywood glamour was on the rise, becoming a key influence of this period. The film industry was becoming increasingly popular as film-making became more advanced, while at the same time, people used film and media as an outlet from the war. Major Hollywood actors and actresses were idolized for their glamorous lifestyle, which contributed to the trend of bold, high glamour Retro jewelry.

The pieces of this era take on bold shapes with fluid lines; much different from the airy geometric feel of Art Deco. Large and bright gemstones were set into jewelry, accented with small diamonds. We also find animated qualities in these pieces, for example, Van Cleef & Arpel’s frequently imitated Ballerina clip, Cartier’s infamous Panther, as well as various other jewelry mimicking elements of nature, such as flowers, feathers, and insects. In the later years of the Retro period, charm bracelets became very fashionable. Since the war had been over, people were finally able to travel leisurely, where they would collect souvenirs along their way. Women would purchase charms for their bracelets during their travels, as a way to remember their adventure.