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Dorothy's Designer Notes

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Dorothy has been taking notes on some of the talented designers, makers and design styles of vintage costume jewelry while she's been skipping down the yellow brick road in Emerald City Enjoy this information and the jewelry examples!
[most images are linked to full size views]


~ Retro Moderne ~

The history behind the designs of any costume jewelry era is fascinating and often brings insight into the styles themselves.  This is especially true for the Retro pieces of the 1940s.  Rather than the designs leading production of the jewelry, the production limitations seemed to be the driving force behind the designs.

War was raging in Europe, making it difficult or impossible to obtain the rhinestones and other glass stones used by American manufacturers.  Designs swung over from the pavéd pieces of the 1930s to the use of small clusters of stones or a few very large stones.  Emphasis was placed on the metal findings and swirling, curling designs such as large florals and curling ribbons.  The combination of these fluid designs with large, angular stones seemed to marry Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences into something filled with panache and energy.  Retro pieces were often very dimensional and charmingly asymmetrical.

Coro Floral
Brooch 1942
Trifari Sterling
Fur Clip
McClelland Barclay
Leaf Brooch
Retro Modern Aqua Rhinestone Brooch

Once the US entered the war, restrictions on the use of metals led to a dramatic decrease in costume jewelry production.  Silver was used as the basis for the findings, often coated in either a yellow or rose gold plating or a thinner gold wash.  Combining rhodium and gold plated portions again drew attention to the core design with minimal stone usage. 

Mazer Ruby Cabochon
Floral Spray Brooch
Napier Sterling
Gift Bow Fur Clip
Mazer Sterling
Patriotic Brooch
Reinad Sterling
Bow Set

History may also have played a role in the production of a number of whimsical figural pieces – as if designers knew that the public needed some cheering up.  Like other manufacturers, Reja produced fanciful florals and some darling figurals:  butterflies, leaping gazelles, birds and even a “moon man”.    Many featured huge pear shaped stones made especially for the company.

Reja Sterling Aqua
Butterfly Brooch, ca 1944
Coro Sterling Bow
Brooch, 1944
Reja Sterling Ruby
Arrow Brooch

The war era influenced designs more directly in the form of patriotic jewelry such as flags, eagles and sweetheart jewelry, as well as chunky designs with an industrialized feel.   Although these pieces were not Retro per se, they were contemporaneous and were influenced by the same historical events.  Wearing patriotic pieces made both a heartfelt and a fashion statement.

Cranberry Stone Bracelet
[machine age links;
attributed to Marino]
Trifari Eagle Brooch Trifari Green Set, 1948
[Retro influence plus "tank track"
or brick findings.]

Although not as clearly defined as Art Deco or Art Nouveau jewelry, most collectors have come to think of the large pieces with few rhinestones as Retro Moderne, or simply Retro.  Seemingly an oxymoron, the styles did seem to look back to other eras while also presenting a fresh modern approach to jewelry.

Rose Sterling Bow Brooch
[signed Sterling only]
Unsigned Sterling
Amethyst Bow Brooch
Sapphire Retro Floral Brooch
[signed Sterling only]

Retro Moderne pieces from various makers can be found throughout Emerald City





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This website was designed and created by Elizabeth M. Rowlands, proprietor of Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

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