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As printed in Jewellery Business, December 2010 issue, p. 26-29
By Ronald R. Dupuis, FGA, GJ


Trends in jewellery design are so closely linked to changes in fashion that it’s well worth recalling the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship has powerful impact on the bottom line and inventory of retail and resale merchants, and this symbiosis contributes to the growth of the economy. It’s all about the relative fickleness of the public’s desires, and yes, we’re talking mainly about the fairer sex in whose eyes, change is good. This willingness to accept variety can be converted into better, more lucrative sales for you in the resale market.

From ancient Roman and Greek toga pins or Celtic and Viking torc necklaces, jewellery embellishes accoutrement. When clothing designers shift the erogenous zone from the ankle to the waist, wrist or bosom, neck or eyes, the changes in hemline and sleeve lengths and the depth of the décolletage provide new placements for jewellery on the body most flattering to the female form. We’ve come a long way, baby, from the Victorian era when a well-turned ankle was considered the epitome of sensuality.

Through different eras, styles and silhouettes morph from tight to loose, long to short, and back again; jewellery designers either follow suit or use contrast to best effect. Glossy pictorial magazines, such as Vogue and Glamour, and Hollywood awards ceremonies showcase the latest possibilities.

Saluting the ‘S’ silhouette
Previous eras saw clothing deliberately designed to accentuate the bosom and rear. Edwardian day gowns were shaped by interior corsets and bustle padding, with massive leg-o-mutton sleeves; high necklines that tucked just under the chin were decorated with narrow, elongated brooches, often made from diamonds and pearls.

For the evening, diamond and platinum pendants of ethereal and lace-like design were proudly arrayed on an almost-bare bosom delineated by a high empire waistline. The Belle Epoque at the turn of the century saw delicate fringe necklaces with hanging garland swags of small diamonds often highlighted by colourful repeating gemstones, such as a series of pink conch pearls or various shades of pale sapphires. Wide colliers with strands of tiny pearls or black velvet ribbon chokers woven through with multiple openwork diamond plaques accented the expanse of chest below the neck.

Victoriana rules
Mono-bosoms without differentiation and rear-view bustles were still the norm in the Victorian era, but the overall look was leaner than previous. For everyday wear, moss agate stones were popularly used in brooches and drop pendant earrings. Half-pearls and Greek key patterns decorated yellow gold lockets and wide bangle bracelets with buckles. Longchains were wrapped around the high necklines and chatelaines hung from the natural waistline. Mourning jewellery was comprised of jet, onyx, amethyst, and garnet.

Art nouveau plique-a-jour enamel brooch set with diamonds and emeralds, circa 1905.

Art deco onyx and diamonds ear pendants, circa 1925.

Snake motifs were accented by carbuncle-cut red garnets on necklets and bracelets. Short puffed sleeves for evening and demi-parures set with citrines or amethysts were nestled on the off-the-shoulder neckline above an empire bodice. Three, four, five, or even sometimes as many as 10, in a series of diamond corsage brooches mounted en tremblant with floral, ivy, and grape-leaf motifs would be dramatically arrayed from the top of the shoulder curving down to the waist.

The scoop on art nouveau
Flowing dresses of deep, so-called jewel-coloured silks and velvets were scooped-necked and sleeveless, and had softer bell-shaped skirts with tight, low waistlines, perfect for a pin. Jewels from Lalique, Vever, and Tiffany & Co. were designed in yellow gold with naturalistic themes in plique-a-jour enamel brooches worn on hats or scarves, and pendants were decorated with sinuous nymphs, insects, and whiplash-like tendril vines. Multiple bangle bracelets adorned the bare upper arms in the Greco-Roman style and foliate motifs created in silver by Georg Jensen graced the wrists of many a lady.

The flap about art deco.
A momentous change in silhouette would eventually segue into the almost shapeless drop-waisted shift dresses worn by the flappers of the ‘Roaring 20s’. The lightweight diaphanous material was cut on the bias for maximum flowing capability with absolutely no corset or girdle definition of the female figure. Quite shocking for the times, the dropped waistlines could be gathered by a brooch designed with an architectural shape of stepped ziggurat and geometric angles, very linear and streamlined moderne, set with edgy baguette-cut diamonds, or the extreme contrasts of rock crystal, black onyx, red coral, and jade.

Extremely long beaded necklaces and tassled sautoirs filled up the broad expanse between neck and hip, or hung down in very deep open backs. High boat-neck and Peter Pan collars were already detail-heavy. Instead, tight-fitting cloche hats or turbans bore jeweled pins. Bejewelled bandeaux worn across the forehead and elongated pendant drop earrings brought the focus upward to the face. Boucheron, Cartier, and Tiffany sourced popular motifs from the Orient and Egypt.

Coming up rosy
Pinkish rose gold is in common use for the broad, bold bangles, and substantial brooches from the period now termed as retro. During the 1930s, daytime suiting was tailored with broad shoulder pads, making the waist appear smaller. Colourful kimonos and other Oriental influences could be seen in backless halter dresses of sinuous draped and flowing pastel fabrics like stain, satin, silk, chiffon, and crepe-de-chine cut on a slant.

By the 1940s, daywear was comprised of boxier double- or single-breasted jackets with a matching skirt for a military-inspired look, their shoulder pads and straighter skirts fashioned with less material due to rationing. Strapless gowns had nipped-in waists and were accented by wide diamond strap bracelets, double-clip and waterfall brooches, and necklaces from esteemed companies like Chaumet, Boucheron, and Cartier.

Post-war pretties
Skinny spaghetti straps and sweetheart necklines are perfect for double-clips positioning with tight bodices attached to the widest, fullest, A-line skirt you can imagine, hiding a crinoline underslip made of stiff netting material underneath brocade or gold lame. A demure pearl necklace or a matching suite from Tiffany was considered suitable while vacuuming the house. ‘Boning’ was set into so-called ‘wiggle’ dresses to accentuate hourglass curves because they were designed to be so tight the wearer had to take slow, itsy-bitsy steps, one stiletto pump-shod foot directly in front of the other with only an open kick pleat at the rear hem to keep one from falling over. Charm bracelets are popular with three-quarter-length sleeves.

A floral bouquet brooch of variously coloured diamonds, circa 1960.

Chunky charm bracelet set with turqouoise, carnelian, and green onyx dromps, circa 1960s.

In the past, there were huge differences between what was considered appropriate for daywear and evening clothes until about the 1960s, when strict written and unwritten rules relaxed or flouting of the etiquette occurred. Propriety be damned, as it was left to let it all hang out. Clothing is designed with graphic blocks of high contrast black and white and fluorescent psychedelic acid-trippy colours like Pucci swirl prints, as if a paisley pattern indulged in a hit of LSD. Funky mid-60s morphs into the bohemian hippie free love era of the peace symbol and love beads leading to ‘anything goes’ as in mini, midi, or maxi-length cotton dresses. But more suitable at night would be a glamorous scoop neck, ornately beaded and sequined bodice with princess seaming. Think Jackie Kennedy at an official White House dinner, one perfect David Webb brooch on her shoulder and a bracelet by Jean Schlumberger on her wrist. Oversized brooches are set with real gemstones, a la Cartier, perfect for a shawl-collared outdoor coat complete with oversized buttons.

The disco years
Narrow full-length sheath dresses followed by empire waists and halter-tops make a comeback. Asymmetrical handkerchief hemlines and loose flowing caftans and muumuus vie for attention with bell bottoms leftover from the previous decade. The 1980s saw the return of the broad shoulder pads in power suits for women, reminiscent of the styles of the 1940s. Dramatic open backless keyhole dresses are worn with bold ear clips.

Today, a mix of metals is popular, with both white and yellow gold or silver pieces designed by architects who branched out into jewellery calling to mind small wearable sculptures. Similarly, chain necklaces with large oversized links are worn in multiples over day dresses, suits, or on a white blouse with a pair of designer jeans. We’re back to anything goes and rules are made to be broken.
Your clients don’t have to get stuck in a rut when adding to their jewellery collections and certainly there’s no law that says they have to have been born or lived during any particular era to appreciate the design and value aspects of mixing it up a little. You can encourage their personal, individual styles to evolve as they either resist or embrace trends. If your client seems stuck in one era, you can gently unstick them by pointing out the virtues of setting the trend, rather than following one, depending on their temperament, of course. If your client is a fashionista who just won’t wear white after Labour Day, the current trends can work in your favour. Just don’t forget some of the contrarians in the group can be encouraged to do the complete opposite and help you move the other merchandise you may have in stock. Depending on their generation, what Liz, Marilyn, Grace, Britney, and Lindsay wore on their respective necks, wrists, fingers will affect a sale.

And as long as variances occur in fashion and jewellery, change, for the sake of change, can be perceived as mutually beneficial, so the fates and futures of these two design behemoths will be inextricably intertwined.