Retro jewelry flourished in the 1940’s, characterized by its futuristic 3D designs and flowing curves. Let’s take a look at the history of Retro jewelry.
In 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels showcased their futuristic designs at the world’s fair in New York and later announced that “Retro” design was born!
The term “Retro” suggests a backward look to the past, which is an element of the design style. But Retro jewelry design was also strongly influenced by wartime restrictions on materials and the trim, frugal, masculine styles in women’s clothing of the time. Scarcity was common. Therefore, making do with what you had on hand or could salvage and save became as important during WWII as it was in the Depression era in the ‘30s.
The Retro ’40s jewelry style incorporated curvy, botanical designs reminiscent of the Art Nouveau style, combined with more industrial looks. A good example of the latter is the “tank tread” bracelet deliberately made to evoke tanks, the stalwart moving weapon of the war.
Retro jewelry tended to be larger and more playful than Art Deco jewelry from the ’30s. Women often donned feminine brooches or earrings in flower, scroll, or fan shapes and newly invented “clip-on” earrings in bigger styles that emphasized the earlobe. These more feminine items offset the boxy, masculine clothing styles with straight skirts and shoulder pads that may have made the best of scarce resources but weren’t exactly glamorous.
Big, bold designs, reminiscent of Art Deco, but more three-dimensional in nature, with sweeping curves, along with floral influence, were the earmarks of this new Retro design.
Doing your part for the war effort meant sacrificing things like nylon stockings. As mentioned, this resource-conserving mindset also influenced the history of Retro jewelry. Around the time of WWII gemstones were scarce, so small gems were used in designs. Wartime also brought about restrictions on white metals, as they were reserved for military use. Therefore, gold became the metal of choice, often mixed with copper to make rose gold.
If clients wanted gemstones or white metals in their designs, they often repurposed existing jewelry.
The Retro style was big and bold, loud and proud right through the 1950’s. The war years called on women to fill many roles previously held exclusively by men, and the bold look reflected women’s strength, power, and can-do attitude.
You may find some Retro ’40s jewelry in your grandmother’s jewelry box or even still pinned to a favorite outfit she kept from the Retro era. But this isn’t the case for everyone, so Retro jewelry is valuable and sought after. The style’s fun, slightly larger-than-life appearance makes it a perfect complement to vintage clothing or a great focal point to use with more austere contemporary outfits. Add a piece to your collection from Solvang Antiques and enjoy their beauty and history for decades to come.