Retro Jewelry: An Overview

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Retro Period – Late 30s-1940s

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1940s Women Wearing No-Frills Fitted Suits.

In 1937 the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life was held in Paris, and on display were jewels designed with bright gemstones and motifs—scrolls, volutes, flowers, animals—that we associate with the fabulous Retro period. In 1939, The Great Depression ended and WW II began.  After the war, things began to boom in every way— from babies to beautiful jewelry.

Retro Blog Image Notable Jeweler.
Trabert-Hoeffer, Mauboussin Gold Brooch with Rubies.

Influences/Advancements of the Era

During the war, the rationing of precious metals and fabric influenced fashion and jewelry design. 

Notable Jewelers

Boucheron, Boivin, Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Traebert and Hoeffer Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels.


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Rose and Yellow Gold Link Bracelet.
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Rose and Yellow Gold Ruby Bracelet with Platinum-Set Diamonds.
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Diamond Palladium Engagement Ring, Granat Brothers.

Because platinum was used for the war efforts, Retro jewelry was fashioned mostly with gold—yellow, white, green (gold alloyed with nickel), and rose (gold alloyed with copper).


The metal was designated for military purposes during WW II and was rarely, and sparingly (often for diamond settings), used for jewelry.


A rare and lustrous white metal in the platinum family of metals, it was sometimes used as a substitute for platinum.


Due to the decreased flow of precious gemstones from Africa, India, and Burma during the war, jewelers used what rubies, emeralds, and sapphires that they did have in creative ways, and sometimes used synthetic and faux substitutions.

Citrine, amethyst, topaz, moonstone, and aquamarine were favored gemstones and were used as focal stones, often in very large sizes with precious stones as accents. Rubies and diamonds with aquamarines or moonstones were characteristic pairings.

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Cocktail Ring with 44.00 ct. Aquamarine, Rubies and Diamonds.
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Citrine and Ruby Ear Clips.
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Large Heart Pendant/Brooch with Moonstones, Rubies and Diamonds
Retro Blog Image Gemstones.
Rose Gold Bracelet with Emerald-Cut Amethysts.


Invisibly-Set Sapphire and Diamond Brooch, Front.
Invisibly Set Sapphire and Diamond Brooch
Invisible Setting

Van Cleef and Arpel’s unique setting was perfected in 1935. Stones in a myriad of shapes were precisely cut to fit a lattice-type backing that was used to fill spaces on a piece, creating a seamless surface of glimmering gems.

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Diamond and Ruby Double Clip Brooch.
Convertible Jewelry

And just like that, by the magic of jewelry engineering, necklaces are converted into bracelets or into a necklace with matching earrings. As in the Art Deco Period, clip brooches were worn singly or as two separate clips.

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Forstner Double Twist Gas Pipe Necklace.
Snake Chain

Also called “gas pipe” or “tubogas,” this chain was formed from a pair of interlocking gold strips wrapped tightly together, creating a flexible and hollow tubular chain that requires no soldering.


Big, bold, wonderful and whimsical—Retro jewelry was both playful and ultra-glamorous. Cocktail rings with enormous juicy gems, power cuff bracelets, and gleaming, expansive brooches accented with precious stones added fabulous flair to the fashion of the era. Fanciful jewels from menageries of gem-studded critters to comical clowns, to graceful ballerinas brought a delightful touch to any ensemble, while neck-nestling gas pipe, bib, and diamonds necklaces graced the décolletage. And if one wore nothing else, the swirling, dimensional
earrings, sparkling with bright diamonds and gleaming with vibrant colored stones would have been enough.

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Aquamarine, Ruby and Diamond, Bracelet.
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Ruby Bird Pin
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Pink Sapphire Ring with Diamond Halo.
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Fringe Necklace in 18k Rose Gold

Shop at Lang

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