Emerging at the time that Retro looks were going out of style, Mid-Century style and design quickly swept the cultural landscape and made a big mark on jewelry. Following the Second World War, people were seeking drastic breaks with the past and approached new and fresh jewelry designs with open arms. American prosperity in the post-war years sparked renewed interest in expensive materials and craftsmen were encouraged to be creative.
The greater ease of international travel, coupled with the prevailing view that the French were at the forefront of fashion and jewelry design, meant that American and European women were turning to France for inspiring new pieces. European jewelers like Cartier, Boucheron, and Van Cleef & Arpels once again were seen as leaders in quality and design and their showrooms were always busy.
The 1950s saw the prevalence of abstract design that heavily referenced science and space. Textured gold was a mainstay in pieces created especially to be worn during the day. Jewelry with diamonds and other gemstones was reserved for evening wear. Cultured pearls, especially as a single-strand princess necklace , emerged as a staple material in every woman’s wardrobe.
Organic, geometric shapes with harsh edges became very popular along with the depiction of animal forms. Birds, fish, panthers, elephants, snakes–all were sought after and the artistic representations of them were endlessly unique and thoroughly encrusted with jewels. Color was seen as very important, and gemstones were sought more for their color as opposed to their value.
Moving into the 1960s, stones became larger in size, even more colorful, and set in many versions of mixed metal designs. Styles of the 1920s that were very geometric and used crystals were reinterpreted on a grander scale. cabochons of all types of stones were intermixed with cut stones, especially diamonds, for a vivid impact. Jewelry sets that carried a motif through a necklace, bracelet brooch, and pair of earrings were popular once again as well.
Modern jewelry encapsulates an era of the 1970s to 1990s where the mantra was “more is more.” The scale became huge as Pop Art and Bohemian fashions ruled the trends. The concept of creating wearable art took on many new forms and plastic entered the field and changed the rules entirely.
The development of advancements in technology meant that pearls could be harvested easier, and improved quality in artificial stones meant that all segments of the population could afford to implement multiple pieces of jewelry into their wardrobe. The costume jewelry that arrived in the Art Deco period now re-emerged even stronger as plastics made possible every shape, size, and color.
The interest in craft and cross-cultural influences reached peak development in the 1970s and 1980s. It was during these decades that the U.S. government first began to sponsor and fund special grants to individuals to study and attend workshops, conferences, and exhibitions in a cross-cultural exchange of ideas and experiences.
Conceptual artists began designing pieces specifically intended for museum viewing and inspiring critical thought instead of actual wearing, while on the end of the spectrum, mass production techniques and the ease of working with plastic created a fun and whimsy in fashion that had never been seen before.
As trends and culture continue to be interconnected, the shift toward recognizing global communities as driving and shaping our tastes will build upon the eclectic amount of choice in jewelry for the foreseeable future. Artisans the world over, as well as the largest fashion houses and manufacturers now face global markets with endless options.
To help illustrate and further explain common terms used throughout this section, we will next explore the Jewelry Glossary | Definitions of Settings Terminology.