Vintage Jewelry through the Decades

Elizabeth Taylor 1953

The lovely Elizabeth Taylor

For years jewelry has helped people express their feelings, personality, or status. A red statement necklace can make you feel energized, a pale pink cuff might remind you of your childhood adventures, or a pearl necklace connects you with your grandmother’s legacy. The key thing to remember with jewelry: experiment – never be afraid to accent your look in a new way. We’ve created this quick guide to help you identify different eras and understand their influences.


Image from sprklg

Lalique dragonfly, image from sprklg

1890-1910

Influences and History

Remembered as a romantic time before world wars changed the course of history, designers created free flowing lines to reflect the Art Nouveau focus on nature and mythology. During this time the struggle of the up and coming industrial age against traditional craftsmanship brought about tremendously fantastic and imaginative designs.

Key Artists

Rene Lalique
Carl Otto Czeschka
Georg Jensen

1910s Topaz brooch by Faberge

photo by Shakko

1910s

Influences and History

Buyers at the time desired to channel an air of royal status through their jewelry purchases. The jewelry firm Cartier championed the use of platinum in their designs. Due to platinum’s strength, the firm was able to fashion more delicate pattern work and create the ornate details customers were demanding. Major themes during this period include: garlands, bows, swags, pearl and diamond combinations, and pieces that accentuated the neck and hair.

Key Firms

Boucheron
Faberge

from the George Grantham Bain collection

Norma Talmadge in the 1920s

1920s

Influences and History

After the horrors of the first World War, people wanted to look forward and distance themselves from the fanciful notions of previous time periods. Jewelry design in this era became focused on form and simplicity. In contrast to the Art Nouveau era, industrial processes were embraced. Like the Art Deco movement in architecture, geometric patterns were key. Additionally artists wanted to accentuate the movements of the modern woman – tassels, long necklaces, and bangles were meant to flow gracefully while they danced the night away to the Charleston.

Key Artists

Jean Dunand 
Naum Slutzky 
Van Cleef & Arpels

vancleef and arpels cadenas wirstwatch 1936

Image from Chevaldetroie

1930s

Influences and History

After the devastating stock market collapse in 1929, popular opinion on jewelry shifted. Costume jewelry became a valuable necessity and buyers longed to escape reality by watching glamorous movies. Spurred on by the glitz and flash of Hollywood, designers focused on gentle curves, rich textures, gold, and striking colors.

Key Artists

Elsa Schiaparelli
Paul Flato
Fulco di Verdura

Crown Trifari

Crown Trifari from the Cause A Frockus collection

1940s

Influences and History

With the onset of the second World War, costume jewelry remained king. As clothes inevitably became more sensible, jewelry became more important for the lady wanting to look her best. Materials were limited, so designers got creative with what was available. Faux looks, vibrant plastic, flashy cocktail jewelry, sterling silver, woods, and patriotic themes were the toast of the town.

Key Artists

Miriam Haskell
Marcel Boucher

Silver Charm Bracelet

Image from Vintage Jewellery UK

1950s

Influences and History

By mid-century French influences were back in full force. Much like the decade prior, over-sized rings, dazzling crystals, and pearls were in high demand. Jewelry types such as charm bracelets, chandelier earrings, and brooches were fashionable. Of course, pieces were meant to be worn with certain rules and restrictions – don’t get caught wearing an evening piece out to the grocery store! Also at this time parures were on trend. A parure is a set of coordinating jewelry pieces, for example a necklace, bracelet, and earrings all meant to be worm simultaneously. Textured gold and whimsical figures lent a sense of uniqueness desired at this time.

Key Artists

Jean Schlumberger
Christian Dior

Londons_Carnaby_Street,_1969

From the UK National Archives

1960s

Influences and History

A time of free thinking, progressive, and androgynous influences – jewelry in this decade reflected these bold philosophies. Over-sized accessories, simple patterns (stripes, contrasting colors), large pendants, ethnic themes, and “flower power” were the natural manifestations of the 1960s style sensibility.

Key Artists

Kenneth Jay Lane
Andrew Grima

Natalie_Wood

Photo by Allan Warren

1970s

Influences and History

The free-flowing 1960s were followed by economic recession and mass protests. These cultural changes paved the way for a spirituality movement. Music and dance heavily influenced the glittery designs of the time. Studio 54, sexual liberation, and ethnic influences culminated in body jewelry, an increased use of turquoise, and simpler designs.

Key Artist

Robert Lee Morris

Justine_bateman_9-20-1987

Photo by Alan Light

1980s

Influences and History

Our final vintage decade can be defined by two major motifs: power and punk. The rise in wealth during the 1980s came as a breath of fresh air for jewelry buyers. They demanded designer labels, big jewelry, large cuffs, structural designs, and edgy accessories.

Key Artists

Vivienne Westwood
Paloma Picasso


The ultimate guide to vintage jewelry


Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Vintage Jewelry: Classics to Collect & Wear by Caroline Cox, Wikipedia, and the wonderful people who put their images up on Wikipedia Commons without restriction.

What’s your favorite era or eras to collect? Why? Feel free to tell us all about it and send a picture…


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