Retro Jewelry Period

Much of the jewelry from the Retro Era was made of gold or sterling silver. For the first time in the 20th century, yellow (also rose and green) gold overtook production of white gold and platinum in the fine jewelry industry. It wasn't because society fell out of love with white precious metals. The war effort superseded the public's craving for them. Platinum and the alloys used to create white gold (nickel copper and zinc) were needed to make weapons. Therefore, fine jewelry manufacturers were not allowed to purchase these metals during World War II. They had no choice but to use more yellow gold and sterling silver in their designs.

Retro period diamond and ruby ring

Retro diamond and ruby ring.

Retro jewelry was large and futuristic. In addition to being made of yellow gold or sterling silver, Retro jewelry also lacked gemstones due to wartime shortages. Chunky, futuristic designs with one or two large stones were popular. Illusion settings in engagement rings were a staple. These were settings in which the metal around a diamond was cut and polished to make the diamond appear larger than it actually was. Synthetic rubies were also very popular. Supplies of real gemstones from Asia were cut-off during World War II.

Van Cleef & Arpels had a lot to do with the public's acceptance of Retro Era jewelry. The renowned jeweler's exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1939 first introduced this ultra-modern style. Other jewelry manufacturers quickly embraced the bold new look for their designs.

Retro pin up beauty

Retro Pin-up Beauty.

Retro pieces resembled the geometric jewelry of 1920's Art Deco era. But Retro pieces were three-dimensional, not flat. Also, due to wartime scarcity, they weren't adorned from top to bottom with glittering jewels like Deco jewelry. These bold, modern pieces went well with the masculine wartime fashions of famous designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.

The buying public embraced the retro jewelry look wholeheartedly. If they missed platinum and white gold, they seemed to resolve that they were necessary sacrifices of war.

Retro amethyst and diamond ring

Retro amethyst and diamond ring.

Because much of this World War II era fine jewelry was made of gold or sterling silver, much of it has been melted down during subsequent hard economic times. The pieces that remain are true treasures from that uncertain but heroic time period.

Learn about the other antique & vintage jewelry periods.

Visit our Antique & Vintage Jewelry Time Periods page.