Overview of 20th Century Jewelry Periods

With the industrial revolution of the 19th Century arrived an age of expanded productivity and wealth.   In the 20th Century, modern civilization benefited from a wide variety of material options and manufacturing techniques to offer a wide array of options for the consumer.  

Listed below are some of the more popular jewelry movements…

Edwardian Era 1900-1915

This era was named after King Edward, son of Queen Elizabeth of England.  The Edwardian era ushered in the proliferation of platinum used in jewelry.  Prior to this, the white metals of choice were silver and white gold.   In this period, advanced tools allowed jewelers to forge this precious, rare material. 

Also referred to as the Belle Epoque Era, the Edwardian period was known for ornate designs full of flowery designs with common themes that included nature (flowers, leaves, etc) and the delicate creatures of nature (butterflies, dragonflies, etc).  These designs were executed with unprecedented precision in platinum, which allows for fine wires to be forged into patterns known as filigree. Think of an iron fence with the finer scrolls that are decorative yet serve as part of the structural integrity.  Platinum served as the perfect metal with the durability required to provide lasting strength to the intricate details that displayed the sophistication of this period in modern civilization. 

Art Deco 1915-1945

Art Deco is easily the most impactful design period in jewelry history.  This movement started in France, with a distinct departure from the traditional looks and feels of the design world and into ultra modern looks that were bold with contrasting colors, and shapes that were angular and geometrical. 

The roaring 1920’s was filled with opulence and displays of wealth.  Cocktail parties and grand ball evening events were in full swing.  The Old European Cut diamond (as we know it today) was seen in much of the jewelry.  Rubies, sapphires and emeralds were used to show contrasting colors to diamonds and white metals (including platinum and white gold).  The designs of the 1920’s had more soft curves compared to very angular designs of the 1930’s. 

Retro 1940’s-60

The retro movement was the first American art movement.  Started from the restrictions brought upon by WWII (namely use of platinum for decorative purposes), platinum was not allowed to be used in jewelry.  American designs displayed their ingenuity and imagination with a continuation of bold designs while using yellow, pink and white gold. 

Retro jewelry is as easily distinguishable as is Art Deco jewelry.  This movement shows America’s pride and ability to lead the world.   Retro jewelry encompasses expanded use of colors to include all colors of the rainbow.  Designs included elements of nature along with abstract expressions.  A truly dynamic jewelry period that catapulted design into a post modern period.

Post War Deco 1950’s-1980’s

This is not an academic term or assessment of a period in jewelry.  This is simply a term acknowledging the strength of the Art Deco movement, the nostalgia among designers and the consumer to return to it, and the lasting impression that has been left behind by the Art Deco movement.

At the end of WWII, and with the re-emergence of platinum, many designers reached back to the Art Deco era and continued some of the designs that has abruptly been put on pause.  The pent up demand of Art Deco jewelry continued for decades and in many ways, to this day we see many designers interpret Art Deco designs in pure interpretations, use of original materials in more modern designs, or pure modern design using plenty of inspiration.

Modern 1960-2000’s

Modern jewelry is a combination of the post modern art movement.  A wide variety of art movements from the past are utilized for inspiration and new inspirations are brought about year after year. 

Diamonds have sustained their impression in the imagination of the modern woman.  Color gemstones and a variety of precious metals are used to express individuality and creativity.  Many American designers have emerged in this era to satisfy the thirst for unique design.