Midcentury Jewelry: Art, Diamonds, and Marilyn
Midcentury modern style is enjoying a newfound popularity right now, as a new era of design-conscious home owners are appreciating the clean, simple lines of 1950s architecture and pieces. This timeless aesthetic is also reflected in the jewelry style of the time. Of course, along with its sleek minimalism, midcentury style also is defined by boundary-pushing creativity. Rock-n-roll became the new mainstream music, art saw the abstract creativity of Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko, and technological development brought televisions to every home in North America. On the jewelry front, economic recovery meant the bling returned with a vengeance. Post-war wealth brought platinum and diamonds back to the forefront, as the middle class recovered and an upper middle class grew.
Diamonds are Forever
De Beers launched their “Diamonds are forever” slogan in 1948, and changed the engagement jewelry game. Their campaign was established in popular culture throughout the 50s. Before the De Beers mission to crown the diamond as the go-to engagement gem, it was never the norm. Rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were more common (basically, how the royal family continue to rock gems). If this is a surprise to you, that only shows the prevailing success of this campaign. One of the reasons for its success is that engagement rings designed with many small diamonds instead of a large central one allowed for variety of budgets. Diamond rings were made desirable and accessible for couples of all income levels. It didn’t hurt that in the height of her popularity, Marilyn Monroe shimmied while singing her still-famous song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
- Besides the big highlight on diamond rings, rings in general did not evolve in style as noticeably as other jewelry (designs did show more playfulness and flair later in this era).
- Paired jewelry was popular: necklace and earrings combo, or a brooch with matching bracelet or earrings.
- Brooches in this period were all about florals, nature/animals, and bringing eye-catching gems to the neckline of solid coloured dresses, tops or outerwear. We love the way Joan on Mad Men always pulled her look together with brooches.
- Earrings were an absolute staple, and women expertly used earrings in bold sizes and skin-flattering gems to draw the eye to the face. Clip-on earrings were all the rage, and were a comfortable way to wear heavier baubles.
- The open necklines that women wore naturally contributed to the demand for chokers and shorter necklaces. Bibs and necklaces with multiple rows maintained the bold effect of midcentury jewelry.
- While big jewelry houses like Cartier and Tiffany’s were evolving as described, a simultaneous and intersecting modernist art movement also brought abstract shapes and designs into the jewelry sphere, including starburst and cluster. Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dali brought Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism into the mainstream. A modernist approach was to see jewelry as avant garde art that is worn.
- If you’re shopping for a woman who loves personalization and collecting, consider a midcentury style charm bracelet. It has a uniqueness and custom allure completely different from the Pandora or Tiffany’s charm bracelets.
- Braided rope textures, links, and texture brought a more down-to-earth feel to 50s and 60s jewelry, whereas jewelry from the 40s was more polished.
Are You a Modern Midcentury Woman?
The overview of this article should offer some points of reference for a woman who wants to begin investing in fine jewelry and wants a style to adapt for her contemporary aesthetic. Midcentury jewelry is perfect inspiration for a woman who is confident and stylish enough to pull off boldpieces and creative looks. While glamorous or classic jewelry is easy for everybody to wear, some modernist jewelry lets the woman make a distinctive statement about her personality. While art is a key influence of midcentury modernist jewelry, it isn’t bohemian but rather a sophisticated, thoughtful art sensibility. For all the boldness, the midcentury woman is never overdone. She is a careful curator, enthusiastic collector, and tasteful dresser who always looks like she thoroughly enjoys being a woman.