T he economic stability and social order of the 1950s was soon replaced by a period of political questioning and rejection of the status quo. A younger generation was seizing the cultural reigns, and the impact was felt everywhere. In fashion and jewelry, the Dior look and naturalism no longer held sway, but were fast being replaced by 1960s hot pants, vinyl coats, and checkered patterns on the catwalk; and geometrical, splintered, textured, and Op Art forms in haute joaillerie.
Gemstones and crystals were selected no longer for their conspicuous price-tag, but for their color alone—and often set uncut. Striking effects were realized by combining uncut stones with faceted gems, such as aggregates of amethyst with diamonds, or chalcedony nodules with glistening pearls.
In the 1960s, designers also experimented with precious metal, molding it into dramatic, imaginative shapes. Careful symmetry was replaced by irregular cascades, jagged clusters, and flaming star motifs. Nature’s often abstract, stylized balance triumphed over the mathematical precision of geometry. Anomalous shapes were highlighted by setting colorful stones in large beaded prongs. Finger-rings gained in popularity and were accompanied by modest-sized necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and brooches throughout the decade.
The precious metal and gemstone distinctions that separated evening jewelry from day-time jewelryduring the ‘40s and ‘50s were waning. For daywear, ‘60s women favored less expensive jewelry that still showcased craftsmanship, style, and imagination. While for eveningwear, many women chose to show off one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces made locally. A driving force behind the shift was a new class of working women who bought their own jewelry, and were looking for beautiful pieces at an affordable price. Van Cleef & Arpels was the first major jeweler to directly appeal to this new market of buyers, with their boutique store of moderately tagged items.
As the ‘60s glided into the ‘70s, a new sense of spirituality gripped the culture, and likewise the fashion and jewelry industries. Fluid, flowing tops and skirts; fringed shawls and caftans; Indian iconography; and 19 th century-like ruffles and lace were all popular textile motifs. Jewelers also took their inspiration from India, as well as other ethnic cultures. A variety of interesting materials were utilized, including tortoise-shell, oriental hardwoods, coral, and ivory—along with colorful stones such as lapis lazuli, citrine, and chalcedony. Arabesque motifs of Mughal inspiration were a celebrated new design introduction, as well as Jaipur enamel-work.
he extreme popularity of long chains and sautoirs rang the death knell for brooches in the 1970s. But rings and bracelets remained in vogue, particularly bangles and Islamic inspired bracelets fashioned from articulated bands. Yellow gold, while always popular, took on a new fashionable look, being set for the first time with fine quality diamonds. This break from the tradition of setting diamond jewelry in white precious metal can be attributed to the influence of Indian jewelry. Since yellow gold had always been tied to daywear jewelry this signaled a significant shift in trends. From the ‘70s on, diamondjewels were no longer the sole province of platinum studded evenings. They could now be worn anytime, day or night.