From fashionable to funky, the sixties saw a range of change in
culture and fashions. And the equally eclectic jewelry from that era
is finding a new audience today.
By Phyllis Schiller
With the cable television show "Mad Men" garnering awards and
critical attention, the sixties are alive and well and playing on the
small screen. The jewelry from that time has found its own niche in
the estate jewelry market, but exactly what defines the look from
that ten-year span is not easy to pin down. "A lot of people break
the decade up into early sixties and late sixties," explains Malcolm
Logan, one of the owners of Nelson Rarities, Portland, Maine. And the
jewelry that estate dealers stock proves the point.
"Everything happened in 1968 and before that, it looks like the
1950s," observes Jessica Falvo, retailer, principal of Chartreuse,
New York City. For her, "sixties jewelry is basically lady jewelry.
Really great, classically proportioned, beautifully made jewelry."
Diana Singer of D & E Singer, Inc., New York, defines the sixties as
"Schlumberger and the Winstony sort of look. I have a Tiffany catalog
here and there is lots and lots of yellow gold. It's that whole
Jackie Kennedy thing: elegant, ladylike, refined, beautiful, tailored."
Benjamin Macklowe, of the Macklowe Gallery, New York City, on the
other hand, sees the sixties as "bold, confident and more playful
than jewelry from the forties and early fifties." Women, he says,
were opting for larger jewelry and wearing it in different ways.
There was a move to "more whimsical jewelry, when you think of people
like Donald Claflin and David Webb," as well as "larger, out-of-scale
jewelry. With sixties jewelry, you get a lot more work on the surface
of the pieces, a lot more hammered looks and still a good bit of
engraving and florentining." Gold jewelry, says Logan, "was massive,
just the sheer size of the jewelry created drama." In men's jewelry,
particularly, he adds, "it was the era of the big, yellow-gold
wristwatches and big cufflinks."
Alan Levy, principal, J. & S.S. DeYoung, Inc., New York City, sums up
the decade as "Everything was very modern." Van Cleef and Winston, he
says, "made some fabulous jewelry during the sixties. Bulgari made
some of the best things and Tiffany."
Designers with a Difference
When asked for designers associated with the sixties, Macklowe names
Andrew Grima, who had a shop in London. "He used a lot of
semiprecious and underappreciated materials in a novel fashion. We've
had pendants from him in amber. He used baroque Tahitian pearls and
Mexican fire opals and instead of having them as cabochons, he would
facet them. The sixties is when you start to see a lot of the freedom
that we associate with contemporary jewelry design, where pretty much
every stone could be used in the same piece, just based on the same
Grima, says Logan, was the "English version of David Webb and would
make huge, dramatic pieces of jewelry." Also known for big jewelry,
Logan says, was New York City designer Arthur King. "He did big,
clunky dramatic jewelry in a naturalistic style. The shank of the
rings would have yellow gold in the form of bark and then the ring
would emanate from it."
West Coast wholesaler Deborah Wilson, owner of Vendome, Inc. in Santa
Barbara, says rather than "fancy sixties jewelry," she is selling a
lot of what she calls sixties modern artist jewelry "in sterling and
copper like Ed Wiener. I think these have become very collectible and
they're in an affordable price range, from $500 to $3,500. They're
really fun; they're very clever. They were made not for their
intrinsic value but more figurative. I've been wearing them and
getting a lot of attention…they're statement pieces."
The Dazzle of Diamonds
"It was still very much of that Harry Winston sort of fancy-shaped
stones piled on top of each other in these asymmetrical
arrangements," says Singer, in describing the decade's diamond
styles. Logan, too, notes, "In my opinion, fifties morphed into the
sixties with the continuation of the Harry Winston look of platinum
and diamond wirework jewelry diamond bracelets and necklaces."
Canary diamonds, he adds, were popular.
Macklowe points out that "diamonds were set in yellow gold much more
in the sixties than was ever done previously. You see it set with
lots of marquise and pear-shaped diamonds around it in platinum, as
well. I think those are the two things." It was the time, Levy notes,
of "free-flowing, big diamonds."
A Variety of Looks
The sixties saw fun animal jewelry, says Macklowe, "in bracelets and
brooches, often very oversized, sometimes with really good enameling.
In particular, the Italian enamel pieces are quite good."
Brooches were still a big part of women's wardrobes, explains Falvo.
"Women wore suits, so they wore brooches."
One area of sixties jewelry, Macklowe says, that"was different from
anything that came before are the sautoires. In the Edwardian period,
you have really fine seed pearls and platinum and diamond sautoires,
very ladylike and very petite and long and very slender. In the
sixties, you get these big, chunky gold ones, with gigantic
medallions at the bottom, done by Van Cleef and Cartier and Webb and
everyone who really got into fashion."
Cocktail rings of that decade, Falvo points out, have a modern
appeal. "The last two engagement rings I did were sixties cocktail
rings. One was a pierced parasol of diamonds with a paler, round
sapphire in the center. The other was also sapphire, a cluster of
pale and darker sapphires and diamonds."
Sixties looks, sums up Falvo, "appeal across the age groups. These
are very wearable things. Women can give them to their daughters."
Macklowe is finding that the sixties and seventies jewelry "is very
popular, that sort of big, bold look. And gold has been very popular
for us relatively unadorned gold, 1940s through '60s, has been very
popular for us in the past year." Levy cites the "fun, happy" appeal.