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1940 - 1970

A Purely American Style.


  • 1939-1945 World War II.
  • 1940 Peter Goldmark invents modern color television system.
  • 1941 Pearl Harbor bombed by Japan, America enters World War II.
  • 1942 The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction is achieved by Enrico Fermi.
  • 1944 Invasion of Normandy.
  • 1945 Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
  • 1947 Christian Dior introduces his New Look in Paris.
  • 1948 Velcro is invented by George de Mestrel.
    Pop-it Bead necklaces, United States, 1950-1960, plastic.
  • 1950-1953 Korean War.
  • 1952 Ascension of Queen Elizabeth II.
  • 1952 Edward Teller and team build the hydrogen bomb.
  • 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturns Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • 1955 Dr. Jonas Salk proves his vaccine against polio virus is safe.
  • 1957 Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is first published.
  • 1961 John F. Kennedy elected president.
  • 1961-1975 Vietnam War.
  • 1962 Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition in New York.
  • 1963 President Kennedy is assassinated.
  • 1963 Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gives “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • 1969 Neil Armstrong becomes the first man on the moon.
  • 1969 Woodstock Festival and Concert.

Jewelry design in the 1960s featured geometric shapes, bright unnatural colors, and space-age materials. These earrings were owned by Ise Gropius, the wife of the modernist architect, Walter Gropius.

Toward the end of the 1930s, the rigid symmetry of Art Deco began to soften. With the outbreak of World War II and America’s entry into the conflict, the jewelry industry was forced to adapt to the changing marketplace. After platinum and other white metals were rationed for military use, jewelers began to use colored gold, once thought old-fashioned. While they maintained geometry, their new designs introduced an exciting sense of movement through bold curls, volutes, and other dimensional forms. To complement the warmth of gold, colored stones, including rubies, sapphires, aquamarines, and amethysts took the place of expensive diamonds. In the 1970s, when this style regained popularity, this period was dubbed “Retro Moderne” by the jewelry specialist at Christie’s in New York.

It was easier to justify the purchase of decorative jewelry during the wartime economy if the piece could perform multiple functions within a woman’s wardrobe. Developed in the early 1930s, the convertible brooch gave fashionable women many options. When the pieces were assembled, they formed a brooch to be worn on a lapel, jacket, or dress. The two detachable clips also could be worn together or on opposite sides of the neckline of a dress. In addition, a beautiful single or double strand of pearls was a smart investment. The development of cultured and quality simulated pearls gave every woman a chance to own this classic look.

During the war, there were a variety of other jewelry forms that came to the forefront in addition to decorative Retro Moderne designs. Since almost every American knew a loved one fighting overseas, one of the most popular types was patriotic jewelry. Women showed their support by proudly wearing the insignia of the armed forces branch of their son, husband, or sweetheart. An American flag or “V” for victory were fashionable designs and were often encrusted with gems or colored with enamel.

Victory Pin, United States, 1941-1946, painted metal.

The American costume jewelry industry followed the lead set by the fine jewelry leaders, Tiffany & Co., Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, and Black Starr, & Gorham. By using the finest materials, talented costume jewelry designers created fashionable jewelry that was often confused with “real” pieces. The demand for affordable and beautiful jewelry provided the opportunity for the American costume jewelry industry to gain prominence and respect. No longer simply imitative, the use of unexpected materials and innovative designs ensured that American jewelry was recognized throughout the world. Due to the rationing of white base metal, gold-washed sterling silver gave the jewelry an elegant, timeless look.

Gold, opal, diamond and pearl brooch by Edward Everett Oakes, Boston, Massachusetts, 1940-1950.

While European costume jewelry was primarily created in small runs to coordinate with a specific couture line, the large American companies, such as Coro, Trifari Krussman & Fishel, Napier, and Monet produced jewelry in a variety of styles and price ranges to suit any woman’s style and budget. During the 1940s and 50s, many new companies joined these established firms in Providence and Attleboro. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the Providence area was known throughout America as the center for jewelry manufacturing. Beginning in the late 1920s, costume jewelry firms originally located in New York began to build factories in this historic jewelry hub. By the 1950s, there were hundreds of companies and thousands of workers employed by the costume jewelry industry. Although colorful, inventive jewelry continued to be produced, the changing attitudes of the 1960s and new fashions eventually led to a decline.

In Boston, there was a movement in jewelry design that was removed from both Retro Moderne and other wartime jewelry styles. During the 1930s and 40s, the artisans of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts created beautiful, nature inspired jewelry in the tradition of William Morris. Edward Everett Oakes, a leading jeweler in the Society, crafted one-of-a-kind pieces featuring his signature stylized oak leaves, studded with opals and diamonds. After avidly studying historical forms in museums, Oakes apprenticed during the early 1920s under the original jewelers of the Society. His technical and design skill was recognized throughout America and led to many commissions. Oakes and his peers in the Society gradually moved away from strictly Arts and Crafts decoration and helped found the studio jewelry tradition. American goldsmiths of the 1950s and 60s, thoroughly trained in the traditional techniques of the eighteenth century, established small studios where they created one-of-a-kind art jewelry.

1940 - 1970