The 'Retro' jewellery period covers the late 1930's to the early 1960's. Retro jewellery is sometimes known as 'Cocktail Jewellery' and was heavily inspired by Hollywood and is characterised by colourful, bold and elaborate designs. It originated in France with designs by Van Cleef & Arpels. They produced a collection of jewellery that was exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, the jewellery remained in New York, serving as a great influence to American jewellery designers throughout the remainder of the war. Oversized emerald cuts are often seen, sometimes accented with smaller stones. Clips, brooches and rings were often swollen to spectacular sizes. Large gems were often used to reflect the scale of the jewellery. Huge deposits of gems were discovered in Brazil in the 30's resulting from geological excavations searching for industrial minerals to fuel the war. Hundreds of localities became known for Brazilian deposits of citrine, aquamarine, kunzite, topaz, chrysoberyl, tourmaline and amethyst. Gold was the metal of choice rather than platinum, platinum was not available to goldsmiths because of its value to the war effort. Goldsmiths were known to have worked with over 20 different shades of gold.
Common design themes from this era include big flowing ribbons and bows, as well as the use of flowers and even animals. Wide gold bracelets, oversized dress clips and earrings that were worn high up on the ear were all popular styles. Notable designers of this time were Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura, Oscar Heyman, Buccellati, William Russer, Boucheron, Chaumet among many others. Retro jewellery has become very collectible. Until 1970, jewellery from the forties and fifties was often sold for scrap value and melted down. The examples of Retro Jewellery that survive today are highly coveted. The value of Retro pins, clips, bracelets and rings has seriously appreciated in recent years, and the trend is not expected to crest in the foreseeable future.