Retro jewelry refers to pieces created in the late 1930s and 1940s, a period during which jewelry designers were largely influenced by the changes accompanying World War II. As the name of the period suggests, these designs reflect an infusion of futuristic vision with elements inspired by preceding periods, encompassing a variety of gemstones, shapes, and materials.
The high demand among collectors for Retro jewelry is in part because the pieces are reflective of a unique period in time, giving them a distinct air of history. The Retro period was one of almost unprecedented transition, as the world marched into the future. Retro bracelets, like other jewelry from the period, boldly reflect this transition, often with designs based on the geometric styling of tank treads and assembly lines of the war years. The materials used in these bracelets represent not only aesthetic considerations, but were also the result of strong cultural influences. For example, yellow gold and rose and green gold alloys are often found in Retro jewelry, indicative of the wartime restriction on the use of platinum. The Retro period’s unique fusion of past and present resulted in a wide array of designs to choose from. Some designs are geometric and modern, while others are more romantic in style, featuring bold reinterpretations of the floral motifs of the Victorian era.
Brooches were all the rage throughout the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th Centuries. During the Retro period, women would soften the severity of the wartime era’s distinctly masculine fashions with beautiful bold and feminine brooches of stylized and often gem-set butterflies, flowers and scrolled bows. Recently, with the return to elegance and poise in fashion, brooches have been making a serious comeback. Retro brooches look fantastic when paired with many of today’s fashions, whether they’re pinned onto a lapel or collar, strap or dress bodice or worn in a less traditional way. Some women even wear brooches in their hair or attach them to belts, hats or handbags.
A favorite brooch can serve a variety of purposes, from dressing up a plain black sweater or dress to adding flair to a headband. Many brooches can also be attached to chains and worn as pendant necklaces for a change of look, or attached to a scarf or handbag for an extra bit of intrigue. Brooches can be a quick way to transform a simple jacket or cocktail dress into something truly unique and beautiful. A Retro brooch will provide you with countless ways to add a bit of sparkle to your ensembles and, given its versatility, makes a great investment piece for your jewelry collection.
Retro rings range from the romantic and fluid to the dramatic and geometric, so you should select one you feel reflects your individual style. Whether the gemstone is set at the center of the ring or off center in an asymmetrical style, the look should be big and bold. Retro gemstone rings are special because stylistically the emphasis is on a large and brightly colored stone, often an amethyst, aquamarine or citrine, and if diamonds are used they are often added to the design to enhance the colored stone.
Retro earrings come in many different shapes and styles, but stylized floral motifs, playfully exaggerated shapes and intricate geometric forms are common themes. Clip-on earrings were popular at this time, having been patented in 1934, and many earring styles from the Retro era emphasize the lobe area. Retro jewelry has a distinct air of old Hollywood glamour a la Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. While these pieces look absolutely stunning with evening wear, they can also be mixed with daytime outfits for a bit of drama. Paired with something as simple as jeans and a sweater, Retro earrings add an unexpected touch.
The word “retro” generally connotes items produced in the past. But when used in the context of jewelry, Retro specifically refers to the period of early Modernism beginning in 1935 and spanning World War II through the mid 1950’s. The Retro period ushered in one of the most exciting developments in the art and design worlds, a mood reflected in the innovative jewelry designs of the period.
In the Retro period, jewelry was glamorous and dramatic so as to offset the more serious and masculine styles of clothing worn by women during the War years. Retro necklaces often served as a focal point during this period, and were shortened to choker- or collar-length to complement the higher necked fashions. From flamboyant cocktail rings set with big, beautifully colorful stones to necklaces dripping with bejeweled fruit, Retro era jewelry makes a bold, sophisticated statement. Because they often have a playful quality to them, Retro necklaces tend to look just as fabulous during the day as they do in the evening. But whether you prefer to wear your Retro jewelry on a daily basis or save it for special occasions, it’s sure to become a personal favorite.
The Retro Period is also known as Retro Modern. The name itself suggests looking both backward and forward and Retro jewelery looks both to the past and to the future for its inspiration and themes. The streamlined geometric and linear looks of the Art Deco Period evolved to become larger and more three dimensional with curves and asymmetric motifs.
During the war years, platinum was conscripted for the war effort, many gem mines were closed and overall supplies were restricted by reduced safety in transportation. As a result of the changes in availability of materials, jewelry designers focused on using large expanses of polished gold but relatively few gemstones. Bicolor and tricolor gold became the norm including pink (rose), yellow and white. Rose gold with its dramatic pink look, a result of the high percentage of copper in the alloy, was especially popular.
While women wore suits and dresses with a severe masculine line they showed their feminine side with fewer but bolder pieces of jewelry. This jewelry often included a scroll or flower spray booch, a wide gold bracelet, a ring with a large gemstone or scolls of gold and smaller stones, a necklace of choker length and earrings that sit on the earlobe rather than dangling.
The prevalent themes of Retro jewelry were feminine and patriotic, or industrial, motifs. Feminine styles included flowers, birds, ribbons, bows, scrolls and fabric like folds. Patriotic and industrial styles included tank tread bracelets, with large repetitive links evoking tank tracks and war industry production lines as well as red, white and blue stones used on stylized flags and military type insignias.
The Retro years, though difficult for the great jewelry houses of war torn Europe, were particularly creative for American jewelers and for many famous designers, including Mauboussin, Verdura, Flato, Schlumberger and Seaman Schepps.