The term Mid-Century generally covers the design style of the 1950s. It received its name in 1984 from a book called “Mid-Century Modern : furniture of the 1950s”. Suburban California in the 1950s pretty accurately sums up architectural and interior design of the time. Low flat roofs with lots of large windows and an emphasis on horizontal lines. This was a clean almost minimalist look which was common throughout all areas of design during the 50s. Designers wanted their work to become affordable and available to the average person. As opposed to being available just to the wealthy as in previous generations. This requirement of designers lead to the mass production of quality designs. These iconic goods were snapped up by a postwar prosperous middle class. Making items such as the television commonplace in the home for the first time. Mid-Century jewellery also reflected this change, with new modern designs being produced.
Mid-Century jewellery tended to take two very different paths. The established jewellery houses such as Van Clerf & Arpels, Tiffanys, Cartier and Harry Winston. Produced jewellery with more traditional designs and with an emphasis on the quality of the gems used. DeBeers at this time were promoting the slogan “Diamonds are Forever” and aiming to provide diamonds to every income level. The other path which fifties jewellery took was more “modernist”. This style was dominated by clean lines and geometric shapes. Designers were rejecting the bold and colourful statement pieces of the previous Retro era. Crafting most of their designs in silver partly because of the Scandinavian influence which was prevalent at the time. But also because of the designers wishes to have their work affordable, which was in keeping with the Bauhaus movement. Costume jewellery or fashion jewellery as it is now known, was quite popular during the fifties. Large polished stone beads, faceted plastic beads and faux pearls. Along with carved bakelite, diamante and lucite jewellery were commonly seen in Mid-Century jewellery. Louis Kramer of New York was one of the best known costume jewellery designers of the 50s. With his two brothers Harry and Morris he not only designed costume jewellery but also manufactured it. Their work was hallmarked “Kramer”, “Kramer N.Y.” or “Kramer of New York”. Louis designed beautiful floral designs with bright vibrant colours. He also produced designs for Christian Dior which were hallmarked “Dior by Kramer”. The complete sets of jewellery called “Parure” which he designed for Christian Dior. Are considered to be his finest work and are highly collectible today.
How To Date Mid-Century Jewellery
To date Mid-Century jewellery it is best to start with the findings (clasps). These findings will help to narrow the time period which the item in question is from. Clip on earrings were widely used during the fifties, as were push in box clasps for necklaces. Hallmarks or signatures on a piece can also yield a lot of information, which will help to narrow the date even further. After this the next step would be to examine the style of the item. Contemporary designs made from silver were a common theme of Mid-Century jewellery. These pieces were dominated by clean sharp lines and symmetrical patterns. Jewellery designs were more reserved than those in the previous Retro era, which favoured bold colourful displays. Motifs of animals, plants, flowers, butterflies and stars along with geometric patterns were a mainstay for 1950s jewellery. Enamel and semi precious gems such as Lapis were widely used, giving a splash of colour in silver items such as butterflies and floral displays. Short choker length necklaces, usually single strands were the height of fashion. Costume jewellery also featured strongly in the fifties. With designers Trifari, Coro and Miriam Haskell being some of the better known. Trifari produced their iconic fruit and veg brooches during the 50s, along with their ever popular crown shaped designs. Coro are remembered during the 50s for their stunning duette brooches, which are highly prized today. Miriam Haskell created beautiful filigree pieces with faux pearls and crystal beads. It was only in 1950 when her brother took over the company did her work begin to be signed. Complete matching sets of jewellery known as “parure” or sets of two matching items called “demi parure” were also a common feature in Mid-Century jewellery.
Illustrated below are some of the important dates of Mid-Century Jewellery.
1954 – GE produced first synthetic diamonds.
1955 – Oval cut diamonds popularized.
1955 – Aurora Borealis coating for beads introduced by Swarovski.
1960 – Opal triplets invented.