Retro Jewellery 1930's - 1940's

The term retro was coined in the 1970’s and is used to describe jewellery from the late 1930’s through to the end of the 1940’s. The retro period saw bold, colourful designs of jewellery which were a welcome boost to morale during and after the Second World War. This change in design also marked the end of the Art Deco period.

Britain was greatly impacted by the war and saw many changes in society, particularly for woman who were once again fulfilling roles previously reserved for men. This led to a change in fashion and women started to wear more practical, modest, tailored, clothes which were much more feminine than seen in the Art Deco period. As the fashion changed so did jewellery designs. Magazines were being printed in colour for the first time and they showcased bright, colourful, bold designs which became the height of popularity.

Gemstones & Gold

The supply of gemstones was greatly affected by the war and availability was scarce. This led to an influx in the use of synthetic gemstones and enamelling as a colourful substitute. It also paved the way for the use of previously less popular gems such as citrine, amethysts, aquamarines, peridot, tourmaline, and topaz as they were more readily available. Diamonds and sapphires were used sparingly, and small stones were often pavé set. Diamonds were often mixed with gemstones to make pieces more cost efficient and there was also a surge in the popularity of costume jewellery.

The war also affected the supply of platinum and gold, and although palladium was used as a substitute for platinum, gold still dominated designs. With demand for gold jewellery higher than ever and availability low, designers got creative with its use. This led to innovations in gold plating such as rolled gold, silver gilt and vermeil being used in designs. Solid gold jewellery was made hollow which allowed for popular bold designs to still be produced using gold sparingly and the use of silver and lower grade 8ct gold became more popular. It wasn’t just gold in short supply, costume jewellery designs also suffered as the base metals used were also scarce. Manufacturers turned to the use of plastics and Bakelite as a substitute.

Designs & Themes

Following the war, patriotic motifs such as national colours and symbols became popular. Designers such as Cartier created many jewels that showed support to the Allied forces. They also produced a pin with the letter V for victory.

Feminine styles were also hugely popular and bold motifs of flowers, bows, ribbons, scrolls and birds dominated designs. Clever effects such as trembling petals and vibrating butterfly wings brought jewellery to life and Flora and Fauna forms were very popular. Textured metal, scrolls, fans, ribbons, and lacey designs all became common. Birds were particularly admired and were showcased in collections by designers such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Mauboussin. It was the beginning of Cartier’s iconic panther design and Van Cleef & Arpels Ballerina brooch which were widely replicated as costume jewellery.

The rings of the retro era were big and bold, often pavé set with colourful gemstones. Citrine and aquamarines were highly fashionable and brightly coloured gemstones were everywhere. Cocktail rings were the height of fashion and worn as statement pieces.

Clip on earrings were also in fashion, they were gem set and came in a myriad of designs particularly styled with the popular motifs mentioned above.

Bracelets were bold and chunky and predominately made from gold. Charm bracelets were also popular, dotted with gemstones and adorned with charms. Necklaces were similar in style to bracelets at the time, bold and chunky and worn at the base of the neck.

Compacts, cigarette cases, lipstick holders, lighters, minaudières were all part of life in the 1940s.

Engraved, pierced, gem-encrusted, woven and enamelled, accessories from the Retro era are some of the most innovative gem and precious metal items ever produced.