The Hidden Undercurrents of Jewelry Trends
What causes jewelry trends to take hold? There are the obvious answers, such as a beloved celebrity taking interest in a particular style, or a bold designer pushing the limits of jewelry fashion, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems, is it? An innovative new mining technique, growing political tensions between countries, and million-dollar marketing plans can all influence the trends a decade, or century, becomes known for. If you dig deep enough, you start to realize that even something as benign as jewelry trends are a reflection of multiple worldwide factors all coalescing.
Similar to clothing and hairstyles, jewelry trends can reflect the culture of the time period. For example, the stiff coifed hairstyles, neatly tailored outfits and delicate jewelry of the 1950’s reflects a period of conservative social ideals. In the 1960’s-1970’s, as individual freedom of expression became popular, styles became less restrained, incorporating long tousled hair, flowing clothes, and big bold jewelry designs. Jewelry went from a single strand of white pearls to big vibrantly-colored plastic beads. The grandmothers of the late 60’s must have been horrified.
Unlike clothing and hairstyles, fine jewelry is comprised of precious resources which are subject to fluctuations in politics, extraction processes, and availability, which makes them even more susceptible to the whims of the world.
Let’s take platinum, for instance. Platinum is a very rare and strong metal and the majority of it comes from mines in South Africa and Russia. It also has an astounding number of industrial uses. All of these factors has played a part in platinum’s popularity, and unpopularity, over the past century.
During the Edwardian Period (1901-1915) fashion reflected French influences and was inspired by ultra-feminine materials such as lace and feathers. Because of its superb strength, jewelers could craft intricate lacelike filigree designs using platinum, and this style of jewelry became very popular. Then from 1914 to 1918 WWI hit. With platinum’s potential wartime uses, it took precedence over jewelry and consumer use was restricted. Its popularity plummeted since jewelers could no longer use it and because no one wanted to promote a metal whose future was unknown.
After the war, the world’s largest platinum deposit was discovered in South Africa and it regained its popularity during the Art Deco period (1925-1935). It was back as the hot new metal! Platinum jewelry flourished once more! That is, until WWII put a stop to these frivolities. During WWII (1939-1945) it was officially labeled a strategic metal, partially because of its rarity, its lack of large stockpiles, and its many uses, including its use in the Manhattan Project – a government research and development project that created the first nuclear bomb.
As a strategic metal, its non-military use was prohibited during this time and platinum jewelry fell out of style once more. Slowly, it faded from people’s minds until the public completely forgot about it. It wasn’t until decades later, that the Platinum Guild began heavily marketing platinum, causing its huge revival in the 1990’s. Consumers were excited about this “new” high-end metal option - another exclusive material for which to yearn.
Marketing also plays heavily into which stones and metals become the public’s favorites. Diamonds are another prime example of a jewelry trend exploding onto the scene due to these behind-the-scenes factors. Diamonds were once very rare stones, but in 1870, massive diamond mines were discovered in South Africa, which threatened to saturate the market and drive diamond prices way down. The British financiers involved in mining these diamonds quickly realized this was bad for business, so they created De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. to monopolize the diamond market and keep the release of diamonds to consumers as a slow controlled trickle, rather than a torrential gush.
They then hired an ad agency to create a brilliant marketing plan to convince the public that diamonds are “a very big deal.” Because of this large-scale marketing, a diamond has been, for decades, THE stone to adorn the left hand of nearly every married and engaged woman in the country. Of course, diamonds are truly beautiful stones and sparkle in a way that few other gemstones do. In addition, diamonds are very durable, making them quite ideal for use in an engagement ring. The point of the heavy marketing wasn’t to convince people that something ugly is beautiful, it was to convince people that to become engaged or to really show your love, a diamond needs to be involved.
Nearly Everything is a Trend
It is worth noting that just about everything in the jewelry world is a trend of sorts. It may be a trend that lasts 10 or 100 years, or a trend that will exist your entire lifetime, but it is still a trend that will disappear once the resource becomes too scarce, or too abundant, too useful for more important industries, or simply replaced by a different trend. This is why we believe people should focus on the jewelry they love, and not simply stick to the status quo for the sake of playing it safe and keeping in line with their friends. If you love ‘Different,’ go with ‘Different.’ Chances are, in your lifetime, your brand of ‘Different’ will become the hot new trend anyway, for better or worse!