What is Retro Vintage Jewelry?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Retro as: “relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned” which indicates that all vintage jewelry could be called retro. In vintage jewelry circles, however, Retro has a more specific meaning relating to the jewelry of the 1940s and early 1950s.
What Makes Retro Vintage Jewelry Different?
World War II had a tremendous impact on society, culture, and politics worldwide. Its effects were also felt in the fashion of the era. Materials were rationed, so women’s clothing became more streamlined and simple, in keeping with the times. In the jewelry industry, this meant that the base metals commonly used in costume jewelry were not readily available, as they were needed for the war effort. As a result, jewelry manufacturers produced many Sterling Silver pieces. When a gold color was desired, Sterling pieces were coated with a Gold Vermeil finish.
Because the Retro jewelry era followed the Art Deco era of the 1930s, some Art Deco style elements are visible in Retro vintage jewelry, such as angular shapes, sparkling rhinestones, and some colored glass stones. Earlier Retro vintage jewelry pieces were dainty and delicate, but those soon gave way to designs that were larger and bolder than Art Deco pieces with bright, colorful stones. A few bold jewelry pieces could really dress up a wartime wardrobe.
Lots of Flowers
Floral themes were very popular, and can be seen in many Retro vintage jewelry pieces. Often large colored glass stones were used to simulate the flower petals, while the Sterling served as the leaves and stems. Sometimes smaller, clear rhinestones were used to embellish the larger, more colorful stones.
This video shows a vintage flower brooch from the early Retro era. Notice how feminine and delicate the brooch is, contrasted with the heavier, bold designs of later Retro pieces.
How to Identify True Retro Vintage Jewelry
Most, though not all, Retro vintage jewelry pieces were made of Sterling Silver and are stamped “STERLING” or “STER.” The “925” stamp did not come into use until much later. Although some artisan designs were engraved by hand, most pieces were stamped and machine made, reflecting the simplicity and economy of the times. Design standards, however, were very high. Manufacturers took great care that the quality of the jewelry reflected this, despite the scarcity of materials.
Since Retro vintage jewelry was produced so long ago, most pieces will show some “patina” – aging or tarnishing of the metal. It’s been said that studying the genuine is the best way to recognize an imitation. For that reason, I’ve included several photos of Retro vintage jewelry in this article. As you become more familiar with jewelry from this era, it will be easy for you to recognize a Retro vintage jewelry piece when you spot it at the garage sale, flea market, estate sale, or thrift shop.
Retro Vintage Jewelry in My Etsy Shop
If you’d like to familiarize yourself with various Retro vintage jewelry pieces, have a look at the collection in my Etsy shop. Just click the image below. Each listing has a detailed description and several close-up photos.
If you are interested in learning more about vintage and antique jewelry, check out the book Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry, by C Jeanenne Bell. It covers jewelry from the mid-1800s through the 1950s, with a chapter on the 1940s to 1950s Retro era. There are many beautiful color photos with information about how jewelry pieces were constructed during the various periods. View and/or purchase it here: Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry
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Thank you, Christine 🙂