Retro-style jewellery, also deemed cocktail jewellery, is the jewellery that was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. Despite the economic depression and war that were experienced, retro-style jewellery was big, bright, and bold. Perhaps because of these sad times, the large size, boldness, and brightness were needed all the more. This was the Golden Age of Hollywood, so the jewellery produced during this time reflected what was seen in the movies.
Scarcity leads to experimentation
The jewellery was unique as it took a spin on traditional styles, making them futuristic as the world looked forward to the war ending. The dazzling panache of retro-style jewellery was eye-catching. Bracelets, rings, and necklaces were oversized and extraordinary. This was partly due to the availability of materials during the war. Platinum was scarce so jewellers worked mostly with gold, but also experimented with new alloys in order to achieve different hues and effects. For example, mixing yellow gold with silver or copper could lead to rose gold or green gold.
The economic and war crises also meant buyers had less money to spend and there was a short supply of precious gemstones. Because of this, semi-precious and synthetic stones became very popular. During the war, women began to migrate into the workplace and thus began to sport masculine-styled business attire. This allowed them to incorporate stunning jewellery to show their femininity and individuality, such as softening a collar with a beautiful brooch.
Much of retro-style jewellery featured curved designs and the motifs of bows, ribbons, ballerinas, birds, and flowers, all of which were considered playful and feminine. Retro-style jewellery pieces were each unique and often showed a functionality that was necessary during wartime. Brooches were not just used on a sweater or collar; they were also put on handbags, belts, and headbands. They were even attached to chains to be worn as necklaces. Rings and earrings were bold and colourful statement pieces. Semi-precious gems were often used as the focal point and if diamonds were used, they were merely accent pieces.
Bolder the better
The real emphasis was put on the dramatic shapes of the rings and earrings. Necklaces ranged from big and bold to pair with a cocktail dress to smaller, but just as extravagant, chokers for professional looks. Gas pipe or snake chain necklaces and bracelets were also extremely popular.
The glamour and flamboyancy of retro-style jewellery was a true testament to the ability of women getting through the tough war and economic crises. The dramatic asymmetrical pieces are unmatched by any other jewellery style and helped to offset the seriousness of the period, adding both a flair of grace and fun.