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A Design a Day – Day 95

Looking back in time, today’s starry snowflake design was inspired by the Retro or “Cocktail Jewelry” period in jewelry making:

Watercolor and Gouache Gold and Diamond Retro-Inspired Snowflake Brooch Rendering by Joana Miranda

The famed jewelry house of Van Cleef and Arpels is credited with having introduced this new style of jewelry in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York.  In the aftermath of WWII, platinum was in short supply.  Jewelers resorted to using colored golds together with small gemstones (such as the small melee diamonds above), to create larger-than-life jewelry.  The influence of  Hollywood movies of this time offered an escape from the wartime mood and further inspired this period of fantastic and bold jewelry.  Unlike Art Deco jewelry which preceded the war, Retro jewelry turned away from both the geometric lines and the stark color contrasts to create more rounded shapes and softer colors.  Other hallmarks of this period include:

  • Floral and bow motifs accented with colored gems
  • Animal figures depicted in enameled gold with gems (at the forefront was the exquisite animal inspired jewelry by Cartier)
  • Large scale jewelry brooches and lapel clips
  • Bold, sculpted curves of rose gold set with small diamonds and rubies
  • Designs inspired by mechanical objects such as bicycle chains, padlocks and tank treads
  • Stylized natural motifs
  • Large motifs constructed using thin gold sheets to conserve metal while giving a substantial look
  • Small diamonds (plentifully on hand, since jewelers had used these so much during the Deco period)
  • Smaller faceted sapphires and rubies (both genuine and synthetic) used to complement larger gemstones
  • Large gemstones such as aquamarine, citrine, topaz, cabochon-cut rubies and sapphires (including star stones), golden beryl, peridots and tourmaline.

Following this period (1940-’45), and until the 1970s, Retro jewelry was often melted down to make new jewelry.  Today, surviving examples of Retro jewelry are very coveted and valuable.

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