1940s -1950s

Retro Jewellery

After the Second World War, the world was reinventing itself and celebrating life. Society was changing and so were gender roles, with women having a stronger position after doing their bit for the war effort.  The party like looks of the Art Deco era - full of  glitzy, big screen glamour and long silky dresses - was replaced by a stronger, sexier aesthetic that included sharp, tailored suits and trousers. In line with this bolder style (think Katherine Hepburn and Heddy Lammar) jewellery also became much stronger, bigger and more colourful.

During and after the war, expensive materials like gold and precious gems were hard to come by, so synthetic and semi precious gemstones became popular. Amethysts, peridot, tourmaline, citrine, aquamarine and topaz all providing a colourful, affordable alternative to more costly stones. For those who could afford diamonds, the jewels were often paired  with less precious stones for a fun and colourful effect.

Jewellery of the era typically included plastic, glass, synthetic stones, silver, enamel and even wood, and because so much platinum had been rationed for military use during the war, a material known as palladium was often used instead.  Gold was still very popular,  but also in short supply, so jewellery makers created bulky, chunky, hallowed out styles such as snake chains which required less gold - and were therefore much cheaper to make.

Luxury & Liberation

Costume jewellery is a big part of the Retro era, representing a move towards jewellery becoming more affordable and accessible to everyone,  not just the very wealthy.

Motifs and patterns were big, with lots of symbolism. Perhaps the most famous emblem of the Retro era was Cartier’s “Bird in a Cage”, which was created to deliver a strong message to German forces and was displayed in the shop window on the Rue de la Paix in Paris.  To mark their Liberation, the piece was replaced with the  “Bird at the Door of its Cage”. So, if you’re looking for a piece of Retro jewellery that really sums up the age and has a political message, bird cages are both symbolic and beautiful. 

Contrasting Themes & Designs

Nature was a common theme in Retro jewellery, with animals, birds,  plants and flowers all appearing often.  Wealthy women chose to show their position in the world through jewellery that featured big, bejewelled cats, such as Cartier’s famous panther. These designs were often brought to life through special effects that made wings and petals vibrate and tremble with every step.  There were lots of love tokens and lockets around - a definite nod to wartime romances - while much of the designs reflected the machine age and war, such as tank treads and gas pipes.

Sex Symbols & Silver Screens

The 1950s were a time of great change and positivity. With the Second World War now a memory, economies were re-building themselves and music, art and fashion were more exciting than they had been in years. It was the dawn of Rock n’ Roll, the teenager was officially invented, and dancefloors were full of high heels and swishy petticoats.

The sex symbols of the era were icons who are still loved today, with Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Liz Taylor all gracing the silver screen. Though few women got to experience the glamorous lifestyles of their movie heroines, wearing gorgeous costume jewellery brought them a little bit closer. |

Another very popular trend of the era was convertible jewellery. Because of the shortage of precious metals and stones, designers had to be creative and find ways to make the most of their limited resources. So, fashionable women would have jewellery boxes full of versatile pieces that could be easily converted, such as necklaces that could change into bangles or brooches that could be worn as hair clips.

Feeling inspired? Channel your inner Rita Hayworth, Vivien Leigh or Marilyn with some wavy hair, wide legged slacks and big, bold colourful Retro jewellery. Check out our range here