Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Free spirits


From flower power to love beads, the motifs and rebellious looks of the 1960s have returned to the forefront of jewelry.

By Beth Bernstein


It started on the spring 2021 fashion runways, an homage to the Swinging ’60s in London and the rebellious “make love, not war” protests and counterculture in the US. A lot was going on back then — a “youthquake,” as then-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland dubbed the phenomenon in 1965. The term now appears in dictionaries as “a significant cultural, political and social change from the actions or influence of young people.”

While the world has seen much turmoil recently, we are embracing hope and optimism for the future while rejecting and rebelling against certain aspects of our past, and it has led to an explosion of joyful hues and free-spirited jewelry. From flower power to colorful love beads, bold brights and alternative materials, designers are inspired by British supermodels of the day such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, shops such as Biba and Mary Quant, and the fashions of London’s Carnaby Street and King’s Road. We are also seeing a nod to the peace signs and other symbolic jewelry that Americans wore as they marched for the Civil Rights Movement and freedom from war. Looking back with nostalgia, we are seeing a kaleidoscope of color. Art, fashion and accessories are merging into fine jewelry that aims to boost our spirits.

Transformative vibe

The list of progressive designers leading this jewelry trend includes — but is not limited to — Bea Bongiasca, Brent Neale, Dima and Tania Nawbar, Eden Presley, Emily P. Wheeler, Harwell Godfrey, Jennifer DeMoro, Melissa Kaye and Mark Davis.

“I think the ’60s were a really special time in history, and the style was a reflection of much-needed transformation,” says Bongiasca, an Italian jeweler who sells to shops in the US. “American women [were coming] from the cocktail-party ’50s, where they made lovely homes and took care of the children. It was very suburban and safe in lifestyle and jewelry choices. But then the world changed, and the styles had to change with it, very much like today.”

California-based DeMoro echoes this sentiment, describing 1960s jewelry and fashion as “unexpected, playful and liberated from the pearls and cocktail rings that were worn during the previous decade.” The period, she says, was one “of self-expression and individualism, and it is even more so today. We are designing jewelry that projects this feeling.”

Kaye, who works in neon-bright enamels and diamonds, points to the importance of color both then and now. “Everything back then felt pop-art-inspired, and day-glow was omnipresent. In a similar vein today, everyone is looking for a mood boost by way of fashion. In jewelry, they’re choosing high-octane color alongside their diamonds as a way to show hopefulness, as well as a free and fun approach to jewelry.”

This is especially true in the wake of Covid-19, observes Wheeler. “The world is starting to come out of a year in lockdown, and what they are craving is color and exciting, cheerful pieces. I began working on a collection to mark this period about a year ago and have been waiting for the right moment to launch it as part of this celebration of beating down this pandemic and getting back to normal.”

She’s a rainbow

The materials and details may have changed since the ’60s, but designers are producing similar looks that contemporary women can wear with ease and versatility.

New takes on iconic ’60s designs include “ubiquitous hoop earrings in a range of silhouettes, bolder pieces such as large medallions, and rings finished with colorful translucent and opaque healing stones like agate, malachite, lapis, onyx and turquoise to create that ’60s palette,” explains Dima Nawbar of Lebanon-based brand L’atelier Nawbar. “In today’s market, ’60s-style pieces are also being reimagined in diamonds and other precious stones.”

There’s been a resurgence of some materials as well. “Back then, there was a lot of PVC and lucite, which we’re seeing again today,” says Kaye. Jewelers are also employing a saturated color palette that pops in a combination of vibrant enamel and vivid cabochon gemstones, offering “a relaxed sensibility when accented with diamonds.”

And of course, says Harwell Godfrey founder Lauren Harwell Godfrey, “let’s not forget the inlaid styles and love beads of that decade. Today, in my collection, this translates into a rainbow of colored gemstone beads [making up] the necklace, which can be worn with my lapis, malachite or onyx pendants that are round and inlaid with precious gems.”

Contemporary counterculture“Expressive,” “meaningful,” “hopeful” and “vibrant” have become the jewelry buzzwords of 2021, and 1960s jewelry taps into those feelings.

“We mostly see self-purchasing women in their 30s and 40s buying these [pieces],” reports L’atelier Nawbar’s Dima Nawbar. “Since they did not live through the ’60s, these styles are especially exciting to them and feel fresh and full of life”

Designer Mark Davis has noted a similar trend. “A younger generation is discovering and embracing the aesthetic of the 1960s. It is novel to them and fits the current mood. Clients are layering and wearing substantial pieces in multiples. Larger pieces of jewelry abound, and rather than jewels accenting an outfit, the jewels dictate what the outfit will be.”

Lauren Harwell Godfrey, meanwhile, highlights the freedom these styles embody. “The ’60s for the US was about unrest and bringing about change,” she comments. “The time is right to wear and layer and mix your colors and shapes with abandon. There are no rules when it comes to wearing jewelry, which is [an attitude] very much inspired by the ’60s.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2021. To subscribe click here.

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