Jewelry Periods Defined: The Retro Period

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Aquamarine brooch with rubies and diamonds, circa 1940

Aquamarine brooch with rubies and diamonds, circa 1940

The Retro period bridges the years leading up to, including, and immediately following World War II. During this time, the US became a world power and celebrities replaced royalty as trendsetters and fashion avatars.

Designs from this period are big and dramatic. Signature motifs include scrolls, bows, knots, ruffles, fans, leaves, flowers, hearts, and a wide variety of animals. Patriotic themes like flags, eagles, and military insignia were also popular. Favorite forms were large pendants and lockets, plus pins, cuff-style bracelets, and cocktail rings. Charm bracelets provided jewelry that was affordable yet highly personal and meaningful.

As you’ve learned, platinum was removed from the jewelry market during World War II. This left gold as the main metal for fine jewelry. Yellow and multi-color combinations were popular for fashion pieces, while white gold became a frequent choice for engagement and wedding rings.

Because the war disrupted traditional patterns of production and trade, gem choices shifted toward aquamarine, citrine, smoky quartz, topaz, and tourmaline. These came from Brazil, which was far from the fighting. Most of them were also available in large sizes, so they fit perfectly with the heroic scale of the period’s designs.

Patti Geolat

Patti Geolat is a widely known authority on the appraisal, brokerage, and sale of fine jewelry and antiques. Her many credentials include: Graduate Gemologist (GG), Gemological Institute of America; Fellow (FGA), Gemological Association of Great Britain; Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA), American Society of Appraisers; Associate in Risk Management (ARM), Insurance Institute of America; and Chartered Insurance Operations Professional (CIOP)
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