The Drama of Retro Jewelry

In the late 1930’s a new style began emerging in jewelry design that is now referred to as Retro jewelry. Retro designs overlapped with the end of the Art Deco period so you start to see geometric, streamlined, elements give way to whimsical, over-sized, asymmetrical pieces. The style dovetails with the drama of the Golden age of Hollywood and like the epic films and glamorous movie stars of its time it was anything but subtle. The many innovations in the art of jewelry making during this time allowed artists to achieve feats of engineering that made even the largest pieces of the era feel light enough in weight to be wearable.

Retro era artists combined metal colors and textures to give their work added dimension and contrast. During WWII platinum was needed for the war effort so jewelers turned to rose and yellow gold for their creations. In fact, many accessories from this time combined yellow, rose and green gold all in one piece. Jewelers also juxtaposed a high polish finish with a matte finish on metals to accentuate their designs. Another example of the era’s love of texture is the use of snake chain. It’s incredibly light but has a substantial presence in keeping with the weighty looks of this time.

The gemstones used in Retro style jewelry are also more varied and colorful than those of the previous period. Because of the war the ability to access gemstones from South Africa, India, Burma and other countries was limited at best. Pre-war gemstone stocks were used sparingly and diamonds, rubies and sapphires of any significant size were scarce. Jewelers used precious petite gems in pave and invisible settings to create a grand look using several small stones. Many pieces were virtually covered in modest sized gems. They also utilized semi-precious gemstones that they could obtain in giant sizes like aquamarines, citrines and amethysts to create their larger than life pieces.

Themes relating to fabric and elements of nature were popular design motifs of the Retro era. Flowing ribbon, outsized bows and knots were commonly featured in jewelry. Flora and fauna were also dominant themes of the period. All the major jewelry houses used flowers, leaves, and petals in their designs. Animals with flowing feathers, fur, tentacles and fins were also highlighted and realistically rendered.

Retro jewelry is unique in that it’s not a period style. The style is not reflected in architecture or other decorative arts of its time but it is a definite, recognizable style that was prevalent until the end of the 1940’s.     If you love the pieces you see, search “Retro” on our site to find our more one of a kind pieces!