The Retro movement in jewelry was a case of adaptability leading to triumph. In the same way that Art Deco was Art's reproach to the obscenity of World War I, Retro was its retort to the waste of World War II


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Jewelry History - Sixties Jewelry


The Sixties Jewelry 1960-1969

The dawning of The Age of Aquarius saw the rising of the Berlin Wall, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the massacre of My Lai, and IRA terrorism in Northern Island. Let the sun shine in, indeed. The laser is invented. Telstar, the first telecommunication satellite, goes up. Yuri Gagarin is the world’s first astronaut. Cable TV, the first heart transplant, Valium and the VCR rise on the horizon. The CIA cons America into the Vietnam War. 

 The Beatles become the bards and troubadours of the age, not to mention its most telling voice. Free Love, drugs, Hippies, student riots, psychedelics and war protests become the daily diet. Someone brings up the fact that smoking may be dangerous.
   The Do-Your-Own-Thing credo of the 60s transformed the world of jewelry design by exponentially exploding the factor of individualism far beyond the parameters set in the 50s. Creativity expanded like matter from the Big Bang and filled the jewelry universe with legions of creative artisans marching to the beat of their own drums. The major difference was that these artisans not only could design their own jewelry, but had the talents and expertise to manufacture and market it as well. Experimentation with shape, form and texture was rampant. Individual craftspeople, men and women alike, were encouraged to pour energy into their own visionary and nonrepresentational pieces. As an interesting sidebar, this liberation of creative energy encouraged consumers to unfetter their own individual tastes from whatever vestigial conventions bound them, and express themselves freely. 

And those consumers were out in droves. New money and new crime hit the streets at the same time. The good jewelry was kept in the vault and the fun jewelry was worn in the open. As funky as the Carnaby Street clothing that helped inspire it, the jewelry of the times was totally off-the-wall. Fashion became a hip, witty, animated cartoon, all fun and fancy, with conventions about daytime and eveningwear summarily tossed out the window. Leading this Mardi Gras were cheap materials, neon colors, Mother Nature stylized into abstract patterns, cabochons in textured mounts, and animal motifs studded with gems. Brooches were done as garlands, leaves and flowers. Gold that was chiseled, reeded, hammered, corded, plaited or twisted made the scene. The great design houses got the message and responded accordingly. Wild animals, spiky fish, flowers and leaves, starbursts, explosions, flaming stars, cascades of large and voluminous gemstones in jagged clusters all replaced the soft round curves of the Fifties. 

Large gemstones no longer dominated, but became subordinate to the designs that supported them. The new freedom sent traditional taste and fashion packing. The heavy styles of the 40s and the hipster styles of the 50s morphed into a multitude of textures, forms and materials. However, diamonds were still numero uno, and the balanced asymmetrical look of the period was helped by brilliant-, pear- and marquise- cut stones. The day had no lack of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and garnets. Turquoise crashed the party of expensive gems and gained wide popularity. Colored stone beads took their place among all the gold, diamonds and precious stones. India’s influence on design was starting to be felt in a big way. Chromatic psychedelics dominated color schemes. Jewelry was worn with abandonment and in abundance. Tiaras were out and parures of matching jewels lost favor, but demi-parures of selective pieces were still worn. Consumer creativity mixed and matched the lines of all the major designers. 

Earrings were wild and wonderful, precisely because they did not take themselves all that seriously. Abstract, asymmetrical and whimsical, they were done in every color, texture, shape and material. The market saw them in gold, diamonds and seashells. They were rounded, domed or buttoned, decorated in mabé and baroque pearls, cabochon corals and turquoises, or in an extravagance of clustered and cascading gems. Gold was textured, plaited, woven and corded. 

Chokers, bibs and short necklaces in general were the public’s whim. Spiky, abstracted hanging pendants of pear-shaped diamonds, agate, crystal aggregates or baroque pearls usually adorned them. They also displayed marquise-cut diamonds and colored stones as stylized leaves or flower heads. Other necklaces had abstract pendants of textured gold and diamonds, or crystals encaged in gold work, suspended from ribbons. The look was dynamic, jagged, broken, and layered, with plenty of depth and volume. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds consorted with diamonds. Colored beads were twisted around gold beads. Rivières of marquise-cut diamonds were set vertically to each other. 

Bracelets were done as flexible, gem-set bands or rigid bangles, randomly studded with diamonds of various cuts, or with wavy bands of diamonds. Contrast was a big statement. Entwined or plaited ribbons of gemstones in different hues became big as accents. It was not uncommon to see course-set baguette diamonds entwined with a line of cushion, pear-, or marquise-cut colored stones. Another big draw were brightly enameled animal bangles set with cabochon-cut or faceted precious and semi-precious stones. 

Solitaire rings lost ground to the three-dimensional rings of clustered stones. The outstanding look of the time was a large central stone raised above a cluster of other gems that flocked under it in a splintered effect. Pear- and marquise-cut gems were usually employed for the look. Meanwhile, cabochon-cut gems were encaged in gold work or surrounded by small diamonds. Textures duplicated effects from nature, like moonlight on the water. Natural landscapes, in effect, were being done in gems and metals. The Boule ring also gained favor, while ballerina mounts for diamonds were seen everywhere. 

The three-ring circus revelry that defined the decade naturally fell apart. The lunatic clothes, the loony-tune mores, the grandiose adolescent rebellion, the entire bacchanalian abandonment of the 60s ended when the oil taps in the Middle East were turned off, ushering in the recession of the early 70s and, inevitably, Childhood’s End.

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Georgian, Victorian design, Edwardian design, Art Nouveau, Art Deco design, Retro design, The Fifties, The Seventies


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