CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

The Wonderful Era of Retro Jewelry

In the years before the Second World War, the Art Deco period of jewelry and design transformed into the beloved Retro era. Inspired by the organic, rounded designs of Art Nouveau, the floral motifs of the Victorian age and the geometric, bright designs of Art Deco, Retro jewelry became a modern interpretation of the past — all the while influenced by the turbulent and ever-changing world of the 1940s and early 1950s. Join us as we identify some of the characteristics that make the Greatest Generation of jewelry design so exceptional.
 

Diamond and Emerald Earrings by Charles Krypell
Diamond and Emerald Earrings by Charles Krypell
These eye-catching earrings were created by the renowned jewelry designer Charles Krypell. Diamonds totaling approximately 15.00 carats are featured in the "door knocker" design, while emerald accents add depth to the 18K yellow gold setting.
 

Statement Jewelry

Although metal had to be rationed and smaller gems were commonly used, there is nothing diminutive about Retro jewelry. The futuristic designs often utilized illusion settings to create a heavier, three-dimensional look compared to the orderly, flat style of Art Deco jewelry. And while geometric, Art Deco-period inspiration was still prevalent, Retro designs favored rounding out the sharpness and abruptness. Brooches, earrings and cocktail rings became especially popular during the Second World War and into the 1950s.
 

Composition

Since platinum and sterling silver were reserved solely for military purposes during WWII, jewelry of the Retro era was most often created in yellow and rose or green gold alloys. Copper and palladium became new staples in the jewelry world during wartime. Jewelers often used thin sheets of these metals backed by a non-precious base metal to conserve supplies while preventing jewelry from being too small or minimalist.
 

Gems were especially challenging to find as many gem mines closed, and because international trading saw new sanctions and vast differences from the pre-war era. Since procuring gemstones was rare at best, many jewelers began to utilize synthetic, or lab-made gemstones instead of naturally occurring ones. Clusters of small diamonds and sparse settings of jewels like rubies and light-colored sapphires were especially popular over the use of fewer, larger gems.

 
Floral Aquamarine Brooch
Floral Aquamarine Brooch
Eight elegant blue aquamarines serve as the petals of this flower brooch. 14K gold.
 

Brooches

As women began joining the workforce during WWII, pants and pantsuits gained popularity. Many of the women wearing pants sought out a feminine balance to the more masculine clothing. Thus, motifs of bows, flowers and animals came into vogue. These motifs were found most often in pins and brooches. Typically using smaller stones and gold, these decorations created an exciting addition to any outfit while continuing to make use of the available materials.
 

Companies like Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier found fame and success in the demand for feminine accessories. The former produced the wildly popular “Ballerina Brooches” and mastered the decorative bird and feather plume. The latter’s famed panther design popped up everywhere in women’s accessories — brooches included.

 

Earrings

Feminine motifs were seen in earrings of the Retro era as well. Scrolls, flowers and ribbons became common designs, often executed in gold alloys. Earrings of the 1930s and 1940s often centered around the earlobes because clip-on earrings were invented and popularized in the 1930s. 
 
Carved Lapis and Diamond Ring by David Webb
Carved Lapis and Diamond Ring by David Webb
This eye-catching ring by David Webb is set with a stunning specimen of carved lapis. Diamonds totaling 1.54 carats add sparkle to the highly sculptural design. Set in 18K yellow gold and platinum.
 

Rings

Retro era jewelry is sometimes referred to as cocktail jewelry — alluding to large, statement-making pieces that draw the eye. While one may think of cocktail rings as having one striking stone, Retro-era rings often had many gemstones. Still, the large and showy nature of Retro jewelry designs makes them excellent party-going rings.

 
WWII Paratrooper Earrings
WWII Paratrooper Earrings
This extraordinary pair of earrings was specially crafted to commemorate the Allied victory during World War II. As patriotic as they are charming, these troops are crafted of 14K gold and adorned by red rubies, white diamonds, and blue sapphires.
 

Mechanical and Patriotic Inspired

As WWII carried on, jewelry began to reflect American pride and emulate the production of military goods and industrial works. Chains inspired by tank treads and those with large links played on this idea further; gas-pipe style chains were immensely popular for both necklaces and bracelets. These industrial-inspired chains were worn with and without pendants and gemstones.
 

Patriotic pieces of jewelry featuring reds, whites and blues via rubies, diamonds and sapphires were often seen in Retro jewelry. American flags, fans, scrolls and military motifs decorated women throughout the nation as the war ensued.

 

Convertible Jewelry

Multi-use jewelry was exceptionally popular during the era. Brooches sometimes doubled as bracelet charms or as necklace pendants. Necklaces themselves could often turn into bracelets, giving a variety of looks for minimal price. Having a statement piece that could be used in multiple ways was truly enticing — especially since resources were so scarce.
 

The ingenuity and eccentric style of the Retro era is still admired and sought after today. We are always acquiring new finds, including antique and Retro jewelry, at M.S. Rau. Stop by regularly or sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date.

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