Retro Modern jewelry was made from the mid-1930s through the 1940s. The name of the style is somewhat contradictory, as it suggests looking both backwards and forward at the same time. Jewelers at the time were were influenced by the sentimental, natural designs of the Victorian era – the “retro” part – but updated these designs to be bolder and more elaborate — the “modern” part. Retro Modern jewelry is sometimes also known as “costume jewelry” or “cocktail jewelry.”
Retro Modern jewelry was influenced by the cultural changes and restrictions of World War II. Because Europe was at war, American designers could not look to French fashion houses for influence, and so it was primarily an American style of jewelry.
Due to wartime shortages, traditional jewelry materials were scarce, so most Retro Modern pieces were made with rhinestones, crystals, and plastic. Gemstones were rare, and many necklaces or bracelets were made of decorative lucite, wood, woven mesh, or ornamental fabric tassels.
During World War II, women worked in traditionally male positions, while men were away at war. To counteract these masculine roles, and the more masculine clothing that came with them, jewelry became highly feminized once again. Pieces often featured delicate, natural symbols, such as stars, bouquets, birds, hearts, and bows. More modern designs, such as fireworks, were also popular.