Jewellery is not just an accessory, it’s a statement of style and personality. And in the 1960s and 1970s, Modern Jewellery transcended from being just a piece of metal to something that represented more significant ideas like freedom, individuality, and self-expression.
This era saw some of the most iconic creations that still inspire jewellery trends today. From bold, chunky pieces to delicate geometric shapes, the revolution of modern jewellery design transformed the fashion industry for good.
So fasten your seatbelts because we’re about to delve into a dazzling world of rebellion, experimentation, and bold statements!
1960s Jewellery — Rebellion and Experimentation
Ah, the swinging sixties! The decade that introduced us to mini skirts, the first supermodel, and the counterculture movement. This era was a melting pot of social and political change that ignited a fashion revolution known as the Modern Jewellery period. The post-war air and rebellious vibes led by the young and wild generation inspired many iconic designs. New freedoms and a more relaxed atmosphere resulted in jewels gradually departing from the conservative 1950s styles, which emulated fine jewellery in both design and price range. Mechanisation and mass production gave birth to a growing consumerism promoted by lower prices. With the status quo in steady decline, a new era of individualism was on the rise.
As people rebelled against traditional norms, modern jewellery designers embraced new materials and techniques to create avant-garde pieces that pushed boundaries. Innovators like Andrew Grima and Georg Jensen introduced unconventional forms and used textured metals to capture the zeitgeist of the times. Following the hippie culture and Flower Power movement styles, free-form jewellery was worn long and loose. Native American and handmade jewels became popular, and, of course, the peace symbol went viral! The first satellite launch and subsequent moon landing also inspired what many call “The Space Age” of jewellery, defined by geometric forms and cosmic motifs.
Hollywood continued to influence styles, with Marilyn Monroe and the James Bond girls epitomising the sexual revolution. For more classic tastes, people looked to the world’s most influential couple at the time, the Kennedys. Whatever the inspiration, the aspired image was glamorous, sophisticated, and attainable. Women wanted more fashion jewellery they could wear every day at affordable prices and did not fear mixing fine with costume pieces in bold designs and styling.
1960s Jewellery Characteristics
This decade was all about heavily-beaded statement jewellery and vibrant colours. Costume pieces featured strongly in 1960s jewellery styles and showcased an explosion of creative designs. Low-cost goods like base metals and plastics were used to take risks, expand to the full spectrum of the colour palette, and create innovative works of wearable — and affordable — art. With a lot of experimentation on shape and texture (like hammered or gritty), Modern jewellery became multifaceted and dynamic.
There was a return of enamelling in some designs, such as Trifari’s popular enamelled base-metal jewellery sets. Acrylic and glass beads were imported from Japan and Hong Kong to create the era’s favourite multi-strand necklaces popularised by the hippie movement. Colour contrasts in fashion called for the same in jewellery, with opaque gemstones like coral, onyx, and lapis lazuli becoming a hit. Malachite, cabochon turquoise, agate, baroque pearls, and crystals were also widely used. The period’s staple, however, were chunky, oversized faux pearls.
Cultured pearls were widely accessible, and the mass manufacturing of imitation pearls meant that all women could afford a triple-strand pearl necklace, similar to Jackie Kennedy’s — who never seemed to take hers off.
Fun fact: Jackie’s iconic pearls were actually faux pearls made of painted glass!
With costume jewellery designers being at the forefront of change, fine jewellers slowly followed their lead. Yellow gold was the metal of choice in fine 1960s jewellery, with silver also becoming widespread. Mining advances resulted in an abundance of diamonds, making them larger and more impressive. Solitaire rings gave way to clusters, usually with a raised sizeable central stone surrounded by a group of gems. Pear, marquise and brilliant round-cut diamonds became popular, as did Ballerina mounts. The other cardinal gems — sapphires, rubies, and emeralds — also regained some popularity during this decade.
The time’s iconic short hairstyles placed an emphasis on large earrings, and generally, statement pieces that stood out were a must. Bib and fringe necklaces, chunky gold chains, and Egyptian revival jewellery were big Modern jewellery trends. Likewise, quirky animal jewellery was in high demand, particularly David Webb’s gem-encrusted animal pieces. Music’s influence on the hippie scene was reflected in jewels that featured bells or jangled when moved. Recurring themes included stylised leaves and flowers, as well as organic abstract designs with lively colours.
Emblematic 1960s Jewellery
Parures (jewellery suites) saw a comeback in 1960s jewellery, both in colourful and grand manner (all-white) forms.
Ankle bracelets or anklets gained popularity among hippies who embraced a barefoot lifestyle, often displaying their ankles.
Harry Winston, the era’s most famous luxury jeweller, crafted exquisite pieces for the world of celebrities. Prominent jewellery houses of the time had affiliations with famous personalities, lending them jewels for special occasions. Marilyn Monroe, among others, was a recipient of Harry Winston’s magnificent loans, and her endorsement proved highly beneficial for his brand’s success, famously quoting, “Talk to me, Harry Winston. Tell me all about it.”
Audrey Hepburn was one of only three people to wear the famous “Tiffany Diamond” in 1962 when promoting Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, Lady Gaga took the 128.54ct diamond with the distinct yellow hue to its first red carpet appearance in 2019. Tiffany gained fame for promoting coloured gemstones, which became a common trait of 1960s Modern jewellery.
Cartier, the renowned Parisian high-end jewellery brand, was admired worldwide. Reflecting the era’s love for whimsical animal-themed jewellery, Grace Kelly showcased their 270 diamond-encrusted poodle brooch on her iconic Mondrian-inspired dress by Yves St Laurent in 1965.
In 1968, Van Cleef & Arpels crafted the inaugural Alhambra long necklace, blending the elegance of the delicate motif with yellow gold. Beyond its role as a piece of jewellery, Alhambra has become an enduring symbol of luck and a timeless collection, representing the Maison’s iconic legacy.
Since its inception in 1968, the Serpent Bohème collection has gracefully transcended the years to establish itself as a timeless Boucheron classic. It captures the Maison’s artisanal expertise and embodies a spirit of freedom. This versatile design, adorned with a distinctive teardrop shape, has continuously evolved and remains beloved in contemporary jewellery styles.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were renowned collectors of exquisite and expensive fine jewellery at the time. In 1969, Burton purchased a stunning Sapphire and Diamond Sautoir as Taylor’s 40th birthday gift from their go-to designer, Bulgari.
One of the era’s most magnificent jewels, this statement necklace featured a large octagonal pendant festooned with a 65ct Burmese sapphire and encrusted all over with diamonds and smaller sapphires. The necklace, now part of the Bulgari Heritage collection, was acquired in a high-profile auction for a whopping $6 million in 2011.
1970s Jewellery — From Flower Power to Disco Fever
The 1970s arrived with a burst of feminist energy, propelling women to new heights of empowerment. As mentioned in a Vogue article of the time, “New Freedom” was all about self-fulfilment and rejection of old conservative values. This seismic cultural shift against social taboos profoundly impacted Modern jewellery design. The second-wave feminism movement that had started the decade before only grew stronger, inspiring the creation of bold and symbolic pieces that celebrated women’s liberation. Statement necklaces, chunky bracelets, and large hoop earrings encapsulated the era’s mantra of “more is more.” People decorated their bodies with oversized trinkets while modern jewellery trends were inspired by the time’s pop art and bohemian fashions.
Undeniably, 1970s jewellery was highly influenced by the decade’s music scene. Legendary artists such as the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles gave birth to a rock and roll culture that left its mark and paved the way for contemporary jewellery. Bright, colourful, and dazzling gold jewels perfectly complemented the period’s iconic vibrant suits, flared trousers, laid-back shirts, and bright psychedelic patterns. The arrival of disco music in the mid-1970s, with hitmakers like ABBA and the Bee Gees, further fueled this obsession.
And thanks to the introduction of colour television in the Western world, people could easily replicate their favourite celebrities’ fashion choices, including colour schemes, patterns, and accessories. As blue jeans gained popularity, Modern jewellery adapted to a more casual look. With more women working, pieces were designed for everyday wear that could be transformed for evening outings. As a result, layered necklaces and bracelets became highly sought-after.
1970s Jewellery Characteristics
In the 1970s, Modern jewellery trends embraced bold, eye-catching statement pieces. The early part of the decade drew inspiration from ethnic patterns, reflecting the bohemian style of the time. These designs incorporated natural materials like stone, ivory, and mother of pearl, often featuring earth-tone colours like brown, green, cream, and dark orange. Following the free love and hippie movements, there was a strong preference for jewellery made from natural and organic materials like puka shells, coconut, amber, and wood. Bright and colourful gemstones such as turquoise and lapis lazuli were also favoured.
Another prominent trend of the 1970s was disco-inspired jewellery heavy on bling and sparkle. These designs were meant to reflect and shine in the vibrant atmosphere of the newly opened discos. Long chains and layered necklaces adorned with medallions or charms were popular, as were cuffs, chokers, and oversized hoop earrings. Massive hoops, swinging in sync with the music, became a must-have for disco dancers, with some even reaching shoulder length. This era also saw a shift away from specific motifs like animals or flowers. Instead, the focus was on conceptual designs, rich textures, and organic shapes. Due to the experimental nature of the era, many 1970s jewellery pieces are quirky and unusual.
The period witnessed an abundance of long gold jewellery, including gold beaded necklaces, tassels, chunky chains, and chain belts. Fine jewellery designers ventured into yellow gold set with diamonds, breaking away from the traditional white jewels perceived as too conventional and cold. Costume designs usually featured intriguing curves with colourful plastic elements, as, during this time, plastic was fantastic! With the material revolutionising the idea of wearable art, several artists created conceptual pieces solely for museums. On the other hand, mass production methods coupled with plastic’s versatility brought an unprecedented note of fun to Modern jewellery fashion.
Emblematic 1970s Jewellery
Puka shell necklaces became popular for their edgy charm derived from the natural grooves and contours of the shells. American actor and musician David Cassidy played a significant role in skyrocketing the demand for puka shell necklaces worldwide during the 1970s.
Mood rings originated in the 1960s and were a popular style of novelty jewellery in the 1970s. They contained liquid crystal that changed colour based on body temperature. This colour change was believed to reflect one’s mood, ranging from love to anger and anxiety. The concept of understanding and embracing emotions resonated with the free love hippy movements, further emphasising the departure from the previous generations’ reserved nature. Today, these rings are widely available and affordable.
Predictably, the 1970s also witnessed a surge in the popularity of birthstones. This coincided with the rise and fall of new-wave crystal healing, where jewellery was sought after for its aesthetic appeal and its believed talismanic properties. While the first birthstone chart was introduced in 1912 and had its roots in biblical and ancient zodiac traditions, it was during the 1970s that it truly became the cultural phenomenon we still acknowledge today.
Italian Modern jewellery designer Aldo Cipullo designed the elegant Love bracelet for Cartier and created the classic Juste Un Clou and the Nail Collection in 1971.
Debuting in the 1970s, the sensuous Elsa Peretti® Bone cuff showcases the designer’s inquisitiveness and artistic vision. The cuff’s organic design and distinctive shape take inspiration from her childhood visits to a Capuchin crypt in Rome and her lasting impression of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà in Barcelona. And if they look familiar, it’s because they adorn the wrists of the world’s strongest female character – Wonder Woman!
Modern Jewellery - The Groovy Era That Rocked the Decades
As we take a look back at the evolution of Modern jewellery from the 1960s-1970s, it’s clear that this era was a time of creativity and experimentation. From bold geometric shapes to unconventional materials, designers pushed boundaries and challenged traditional notions of what jewellery should be.
But what’s even more inspiring is how these trends have continued to evolve and influence contemporary jewellery designs today. So next time you slip on your favourite statement necklace or pair of hoop earrings, remember that you’re not just accessorising – you’re carrying on a legacy of innovation and artistic expression.
Ready to discover your own little piece of history?
Visit YazJewels to explore my stunning antique, vintage, and modern jewellery collection and find the perfect jewel for your signature style.
Until next time, keep shining bright!