Retro jewelry, sometimes called “cocktail jewelry,” refers to the style of jewelry that became popular beginning in the mid-1930s and continuing through the end of the 1940s. With the twin crises of economic depression and war, it might be expected that Retro jewelry would be minimalist and restrained. In fact, jewelry from the era was bigger, bolder, and more exciting than ever. In the midst of hard times, women sought jewelry that was eye-catching and extraordinary. This was also Hollywood’s golden age, and women wanted jewelry that reflected the glitz and glamour they saw on the big screen.
Retro jewelry was dazzling, almost larger-than-life. Cocktail rings, bracelets, and necklaces tended to be oversized, lending the jewelry a playful and whimsical dimension. However, larger did not mean less feminine. As World War II brought women into the work force and required them to adopt straight-fitting business attire, they chose jewelry that allowed them to express their femininity. Retro jewelry is characterized by curved designs and feminine motifs such as bows, ribbons, ruffles, and flowers—but almost always on a grand, Retro-era scale.
Creativity went hand-in-hand with Retro boldness. Partly this was due to war-time realities. A scarcity of platinum led jewelers to use more gold, but when they did so they experimented with exquisite new alloys. By mixing yellow gold with other metals like silver and copper, they produced gold with beautiful shades of rose and green. Budget-conscious jewelry shoppers as well as a limited supply of precious stones during the war fostered greater use of synthetic rubies and sapphires. Semi-precious stones such as aquamarine, citrine, and topaz were also prevalent in Retro rings and jewelry.