By Katie Austin
Believe it or not, we’ve come to the final installment of The Jewelblog’s (Abridged) History of Jewelry. We started with the dawn of mankind, journeyed through Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, and made stops in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial revolution and both World Wars. Now that we know how jewelry has developed over hundreds of thousands of years, what’s to say about jewelry’s evolution in the decades following the last World War up to here and now? Let’s find out, jewelry fans!
After World War II, much of the world had been lifted out of the economic woes of the Great Depression and enjoyed a time of prosperity and relative normalcy. The post-war era was an interesting one. At the same time that traditional values, style and gender roles were touted to combat Cold War fears of communism, there was also the rise of the Beat Movement that pushed the boundaries of traditional, mainstream attitudes about a variety of social and artistic ideas. As a result, the world of jewelry in the post-war 1940s and the 1950s hit a fork in the road.
On the mainstream side, the young men who had come back from war were eager to get married, settle down and have families. In 1948, the DeBeers diamond company jumped on the marriage bandwagon and kicked off a marketing campaign that thrust diamonds into the limelight as a must for men proposing marriage of all income levels. The new slogan for that campaign? “A Diamond is Forever.” Important women’s fashion designers like Christian Dior brought traditionally feminine attire back into the limelight, including feminine jewelry.
On the opposite side of the spectrum was Modernist jewelry. Much like beatnik writers and Modernist painters, Modernist jewelers rejected the styles of the jewelers who had come before them and sought new heights in creative thinking. It was in this period that less conventional jewelers pushed the idea of turning jewelry into one-of-a-kind wearable art that expressed individual creativity and personality over economic status, marital status or social conformity. Since The Jewelbox is founded on the notion of jewelry as individual works of art, our hats are off to the post-war Modernists!
If you look at the history of just about any facet of fashion, you’ll find that styles frequently cycle out of and back into favor over and over again. The 1960s are prime examples of this truth because most of the jewelry trends of that particular decade were revivals of earlier eras in jewelry. You could even say that the 1960s were a throwback to the very beginning of jewelry because of the aesthetic tastes of a new subculture: Hippies. The hippies evolved from the beatniks of the 1950s, sharing an affinity for pushing social norms and boundaries. Unlike the beatniks, who were often apolitical, hippies were more politically outspoken when it came to matters such as women’s rights, civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Hippies’ taste in jewelry leaned heavily toward natural elements such as hemp and drilled shells. Does that sound familiar? After 100,000 years, it seems that mankind still holds a special place in its heart for the offerings of Mother Nature set on fibrous cord. Beyond such a far aesthetic throwback, the 1960s also saw revivals of Victorian style, particularly cameo pieces, and Art Nouveau-style stained glass cloisonné jewelry with a psychedelic edge.
This era also saw the birth of mod style. The term, “mod,” was coined in the late 1950s by British teenagers who were fans of modern jazz music and R&B. Unlike rockers of the same era, mods were concerned with how they dressed, opting for patterned suits, high boots and mini skirts, all often in bright colors. Popular trends in mod fashion influenced jewelry as well. Colors were bright, pieces were big, adopted materials included a clear acrylic called Lucite and other plastics. Certain animals in jewelry, particularly owls, were all the rage. Think “flower power” motif and you’ve got a good idea of mod jewelry style.
Beyond mod and hippie jewelry, the 1960s saw a rise in popularity of ethnic jewelry. Bangles, stick pins, pendants and more featured the styles and imagery of various parts of Africa (including Ancient Egypt), East India and Asia, with many pieces of jewelry combining elements from multiple cultures.
The 1970s started off with a continuation of the use of cameos as popular pendants, this time strung on what dominated 1970s jewelry style: The choker. Chokers, or short necklaces that sit high and close to the neck, were made by everyone from high-end jewelers to mass-producing factories in every material from velvet ribbon to precious metal and diamonds. The appeal of chokers spread to craft hobbyists, too. The art of macramé, a form of textile-making using knots rather than knitting, was big in the 1970s and it was common to see macramé chokers. An appreciation for ethnic art continued in the ’70s with a shift in interest to Native American-style beaded jewelry with traditional symbols.
A jewelry company that utilized an interest in ethnic art as its focal point in the 1970s was Selro. Founded in the 1940s by jeweler Paul Selenger, Selro’s link bracelets, bolo ties and brooches incorporated ethnic faces and tribal masks into its designs to much acclaim.
The 1970s attitude of personal adornments as wearable art carried over and morphed into a 1980s mindset that jewelry is, essentially, an extension of one’s self and the means of making a statement. In fact, Princess Diana embraced that idea by wearing priceless, gem-encrusted chokers as headbands. This attitude wasn’t only reserved for connoisseurs of fine jewelry, either. As with the 1960s and 1970s, everyday jewelry wearers of the 1980s expressed themselves with stacks and stacks of big, bright jewelry, often made of synthetic material. A wildly popular piece of 1980s jewelry was the jelly bracelet, a thin, rubbery bracelet, in every color under the sun (but often neon or glittery) that could be stacked by the dozens. Pop stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were often photographed with jelly bracelets stretching all the way up their forearms. As could also be seen on pop stars and jewelry fans of the ’80s, earrings remained as big as they were in the ’70s, often in the forms of huge hoops and heavy, chunky faux gem clip-ons. Necklaces, though, made a sharp 180 from single chokers to gaudy layers of long bead necklaces.
Jewelry in the 1990s was pushed in a new and fascinating direction by a popular trend: Body piercing. Though body piercing has been recorded as far back as Ancient Rome and the tribes of ancient Africa and India, the 1990s was when body piercing began to gain acceptance and legitimacy by modern Western culture. From then on, jewelry wasn’t solely confined to ears, necks, fingers and wrists. Now, young people specifically embellished themselves with metal and gems in everything from noses to navels. The 1990s was also a time of increased acceptance of visible tattoos and interestingly enough, that also inspired a trend in necklaces. to chokers but with a design in step with the look of tattoos. The “tattoo choker” was a series of thin, woven plastic strands, usually in black, that pressed against the neck and gave off a similar look of having a tribal design tattooed around one’s neck. Jewelry adornments of the 1990s were also heavily influenced by clothing and musical trends. “Goths,” known for wearing styles consisting of all-black makeup (both men and women), baggy or Victorian-style black clothes and black-dyed hair, were influenced by the Victorian Era’s mourning fashions and the dark, emotional styles of music like The Cure and Evanescence. Goth teenagers often bolstered their style with black, spiked collars, Large, steel-ball chains, spiked cuff bracelets and wallet chains. On the sunnier side of the street, Orange County-style pop music like Sugar Ray and LFO inspired an affinity for jewelry appropriate for sand and sun like white pukka shell necklaces. Hip hop music and culture also inspired several trends in jewelry, including nameplate necklaces, which were usually gold chain necklaces with a center plate consisting of the wearer’s name in stylish script, often with diamonds of rhinestones.
It’s safe to argue that the single greatest influence in jewelry style from the 2000s to today is the Internet. Although the Internet was widely available to the public by the mid-1990s, the new millennium was when e-commerce took off. For the first time in human history, people could browse for, buy or sell anything they could possibly imagine without even leaving their living rooms. Auction giant eBay and online retailer Amazon introduced jewelry lovers to a world in which their tastes and ability to acquire new and used adornments wasn’t limited to their proximity to specialty shops, what they would inherit from relatives, when they were born or even their budgets. All of a sudden, every long-gone brooch and bracelet made decades or even centuries ago was resurrected for bidders and buyers in an online marketplace.
Further broadening the horizons for present-day jewelry fans is how a global, Internet-based marketplace and social media platforms have introduced the work of jewelry artists to a public that stretches far beyond the location of a business. Think about it- you’ve even been introduced to wearable art from The Jewelbox from a remote location thanks to this very site. Besides individual jewelry business websites and social media pages like Facebook and Pinterest exposing a global public to jewelry, a huge influence on the history of modern jewelry has been handmade goods sites, specifically Etsy. Thanks to Etsy, there has been what could be argued as a second Arts and Crafts Movement, with jewelry artists and hobbyists from around the world taking advantage of online exposure by posting product on the major merchant site in exchange for Etsy collecting listing fees and a small percentage of the sellers’ profit.
This brings us to today’s style. What is it? The short answer is that the large, bright pieces of the 1970s through the 1990s gave way to small, simple and understated pieces, with a surge in popularity of white and rose gold and, for a growing number of younger adults, colored gemstones in lieu of diamonds, even in engagement rings. The long answer to what modern style is? Thanks to the Internet, it’s everything. It’s Art Deco. It’s Victorian. It’s abstract. It’s rustic. It’s anything that anyone could conceive in the quest for self-expression because every type of jewelry -and its history- is alive on the Internet. For as beloved an art form as jewelry has been since the dawn of time, it seems fitting to us that jewelry has found a place where it can be loved, admired and even purchased in any incarnation and by any online human being in the world.