Mid-Century

1940’s-1960’s

Modernism was the main influence of the Mid-Century period. After the war Retro jewelry and Victorian designs continued to influence jewelry trends, during the 1950’s jewelry designs began to shift radically. The 1950’s and 1960’s was a very creative time for jewelry design, artists such as Picasso, Braque, and Dali designed precious jewelry. American designers continued to gain acceptance in the luxury markets. However, the stylish and wealthy American women of the day traveled to Paris to shop for the latest in fashion and jewelry. The French were regarded as the leaders of the fashion industry and dictated trends. American jewelers opened showrooms in Paris to keep their traveling customers loyal and to stay abreast of the latest trends. After the war European jewelers again became the leaders in quality and innovation. Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Mauboussin, and Boucheron were among the most elite and largest firms in the jewelry world. Smaller French firms such as Marchak, Sterlé, and Mellerio produced very high quality designs equaling those of the larger houses.

Following the war years and the Retro period, jewelry designs of the 1950’s underwent radical changes as customers sought fresh, new styles to distance themselves from the troubled past. Materials and craftsmen were again available and the prosperity of America in the post-war years increased the demand for new fashions and jewelry. Throughout the 1950’s abstract designs were common. Starbursts and “atomic” designs, such as the Cartier “Sputnik” reflected the nation’s fascination with the new frontiers in space exploration. Textured gold was almost mandatory, Florentine finishes, twisted rope, braided wire, mesh, reeding, fluting, and piercing were all employed in jewelry design. Gold jewelry without gemstones was primarily daytime jewelry, while diamond and other gemstone pieces were reserved for night. Popular stones included amethyst, turquoise, coral, and increasingly cultured pearls for daytime wear.

Artists used organic shapes with jagged edges and detailed surfaces. Animal jewelry, ranging from panthers to serpents and fish, was elaborately detailed, fish gained jeweled scales, birds brightly gemmed feathers, and jeweled eyes. Cartier and later David Webb excelled at creating unique, exquisitely jeweled animal forms. Color was very important and stones began to be used for their hues rather than value. Schlumberger while working for Tiffany & Co. was known to combine precious stones with less expensive pieces and enamel to create his visually interesting pieces. Various types of chains were popular, especially the fox-tail which could be draped into swags or tassels, or used to suggest flowers or feathers. Multi-strand beaded necklaces with much larger beads than in previous periods were popular and imported from Germany and Japan. Costume jewelry, such as embedded Lucite jewelry and Diamante jewelry, made of rhinestones, was widely available and an affordable alternative to expensive precious jewelry pieces. Button earrings were a common everyday accessory, coming in a range of styles and colors to match a variety of outfits.

During the 1960’s jewelry became even bigger and more colorful. What a decade earlier would have been considered vulgar, was now the peak of fashion. Geometric shapes were reinterpreted. Long gold chains, sometimes interspersed with stones, were also popular. Yellow gold, platinum and silver were used together with natural gemstone crystals. Cabochon gemstones of all sizes were incorporated with round brilliant cut diamonds and other gems in yellow gold. Jewelry houses such as Cartier took their inspiration from Asia, creating paisley designs and reintroducing bracelets of facing animal heads like those of the 1920’s.


Related items:

 
Van Cleef & Arpels Paris Mid-Century Diamond and Gold Bangle Bracelet
Van Cleef & Arpels — BA-18238

 

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