The genesis for the Retro era came from a French collection of jewelry exhibited by Van Cleef & Arpels at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Shortly after the collection showed, war broke out in Europe, and the collection remained in the United States for the duration of the war. This collection became the inspiration for the short and fantastic era which has come to be referred to as Retro.
Coinciding with the years of World War II, it, like many other jewelry eras, reflected the social changes going on in the world, some on a metaphorical level and some on a very practical level.
One of these very practical changes was the restriction set on the jewelry industry by the war. While most of us think of platinum as a fine metal for fine jewelry, it also has usages in war industries and so the United States disallowed the use of platinum, iridium and rhodium with “conservation order M-162”. After the predominance of platinum and white gold for forty years--yellow, rose and green gold came back in to fashion with a vengeance.
America was discovering a new prominence in the world and Hollywood was its royalty. And the era's jewelry reflected this. Bigger was better, with massive, bold, three dimensional designs. Some designs were angular, and geometric reflecting a glorification of machine. Other designs were feminine--beautiful bows with articulated folds of fabric.
Also almost eighteen million women joined the work force during World War II. All of sudden women were wearing trousers and earning their own paycheck. Leading many to eschew more feminine designs for something a little bit stronger. Women, often for the first time, were purchasing their own jewelry with their own paycheck and they had opinions about what they wanted to wear. Besides, with fabric restrictions resulting from the war, jewelry was often the chief decorative motif in a women's arsenal.
And jewelers worked hard to fulfill their every dream. Working with what they had, beautiful yellow, rose and green gold as well as fantastic large citrines, aquamarines and amethysts from mines discovered in Brazil, they created bold cocktail rings, chunky bracelets and delightful earrings worn close to the ear.
Though a short era, only lasting the years of the war, the Retro era's striking originality and massive beauty remains as fantastic today as it did sixty years ago.
TO ISADORAS RETRO
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