Rapaport Magazine

Disco Diamonds Rediscovered

The resurgence of Yellow Gold

By Lori Ettlinger Gross
RAPAPORT... Yellow gold has made a fashion comeback and with it comes a resurgence in the popularity of jewelry from the 1970s and 1980s.

What is it about yellow gold and diamonds that answers to the rhythm of fashion’s heartbeat? Gold has a casual attitude and sunny nature that lends itself to day wear and yet provides evening wear with enough glamour to light up a formal occasion. Motivation notwithstanding, the color play of white gemstones against warm-hued metal has always been hypnotically inviting. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, in particular the 1970s and 1980s, yellow gold and diamonds became increasingly popular.


These decades laid down signatures that many jewelry collectors find exciting. While not all the jewelry from these periods merited praise, as with any vintage, there are pieces that were finely crafted and well designed. They are also comparably more affordable than the steep prices seen for jewelry from the first half of the twentieth century. The 1970s was a time of disparate clothing trends; granny dresses, glam-rock, the Annie Hall look and disco were a patchwork of meandering styles that became something of a crazy quilt. When the 1980s followed, the response was unyielding; couture straightened up and flew right into concrete perspectives. Aggressive, tailored or provocative and cheeky, ’80s style culminated in the reality of remorseless consumerism, leaving behind ’70s eclectic, dream-filled fantasies. Today there is a whole new fan base for these stylistic jewels. The refreshing way of mixing them with contemporary trends is not only inspirational but dares the jaded eye to see this jewelry anew.

“Yellow gold and diamonds offers the best of both worlds,” says Jessica Falvo, vintage jewelry specialist and owner of Chartreuse in New York. “Gold is the most beautiful thing next to skin and diamonds definitely show up better against a backdrop of gold. It just makes my eyes leap.” Falvo raves about the sculptural and bold essence in late-twentieth century jewelry. “You just have to wear one fantastic piece; it will completely stand on its own. I occasionally leave jewelry out on my coffee table and people gravitate toward it. The pieces are so tactile, they have to pick it up and touch it.”

Texture is what best characterizes the jewelry from these periods. “There were gold nuggets, bark textures and free-form pieces,” explains Saralee Smithwick, principal of Smithwick Dillon in New York. She says that jewelry from the ’80s had a high polish and large scale that gave it an immediate importance and drama. “Bulgari and Winston were pairing cabochon stones with pavé diamonds.” Fashion exuded a brash sensuality through the use of strong colors and equally powerful shapes. “The designers of the day were Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Arnold Scassi and Christian LaCroix,” says Smithwick. “It does give you a sense of what was going on in jewelry, too.”

Recently, Alex Harris of S.H. Harris & Sons in New York discovered an excellent collection of 1970s jewelry. “All the jewelry came from a private collection. There was a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet, circa 1972, which had 22 carats of diamonds and 38 carats of rubies. It sold in excess of $100,000. There was also a fabulous 1975 sapphire and diamond bracelet by M. Jerard, who originally was one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ designers. His jewelry is extremely collectible today.”


According to Harris, jewelry with animal motifs has become a hot commodity — he sold a lapis lazuli frog by Seaman Schepps for about $5,500 and a bunny by Fred Paris for around $3,000. Vintage earrings are a perennial favorite. “We sold a lot of earrings this time. Cabochons were very popular in the 1970 and ’80s,” he says, “especially in London, and established houses like Bulgari, David Webb and Fred Paris created some of the best pieces.”

These strong designs and color combinations placed a spotlight wherever the jewel was worn. “It was a very body- conscious period,” observes Falvo. “Pendants were big and drew attention to the mid-section or décolletage. And the great thing about pendants in general is that anyone can wear them and that they can be worn in layers. I love the look of multiple chains. Jewelry then was worn day into evening and Bulgari made things to wear at lunch and then to Studio 54.”

The chunky-chain-and-coin jewelry so closely associated with Bulgari’s style is finding a new audience. Ancient coins that were framed and hung on sturdy chains were ubiquitous during the 1980s and much copied. As the look grew tiresome, even the best pieces were relegated to the dresser drawer. Of late, Harris bought a prime example and because of the renewed interest in them, he paid a premium for it, about $10,000. Chris DelGatto, principal of Circa, Inc. in New York, has seen sales of these necklaces rise as well.

DelGatto also observes an increased interest not only in name brand pieces from these periods but high-quality, unsigned jewelry, too. “We’ve sold everything from very pretty French cuff bracelets to animal pins.” Standouts include a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and bracelet suite with a complex bird motif integrated into the design. The pair was set with chalcedony and diamonds and mounted in high-karat gold with enamelwork detail. “We also sold a ring from the 1980s that featured an intense, natural 1.50- carat blue diamond set in yellow gold.”

Peter McNeal, manager of Frances Klein in Los Angeles, hasn’t yet experienced requests for late twentieth-century jewelry. “They still want platinum and diamonds here,” he notes, “although we recently set up a case with David Webb and Ruser pieces in it.” Webb, an enduring favorite among collectors, is best remembered for his wearable crystal and diamond jewelry. Webb, however, seems to be in a category all its own. The disco-flash jewelry of the 1980s is laden with large, juicy diamonds and hefty expanses of gold, which make these pieces more expensive, at least intrinsically. “And there’s a limit women are willing to pay for these fashion pieces,” says McNeal. “They won’t spend as much on it. Generally speaking, the ceiling on that seems to be $10,000, with the strongest sales in the $1,000 to $5,000 range.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2007. To subscribe click here.

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