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Fashion history: Jewels that capture their era

From Art Deco to ‘70s chic, specialist Daphne Lingon introduces a jewellery collection that spans decades — and discusses designs that were a direct response to their time

Featuring an extraordinary collection of designs that represent almost every decade of the 20th century, our Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby auction on 20 April is a treat both for jewellery connoisseurs and those seeking an authentic piece of fashion history — from 1920s glamour to the bold shapes and colours of designs from the 1970s.

Selected by a single collector, the designs, form and materials of the pieces below embody the stories of different eras. They are also works that show one woman’s exceptional knowledge and appreciation of colour, design history and craftsmanship — one which led her on a collecting journey that touched upon some of the most significant historical events of the 20th century.

Art Deco: 1920s and ‘30s

An Art Deco diamond and emerald bangle bracelet, by Cartier. Estimate $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
An Art Deco diamond and emerald bangle bracelet, by Cartier. Estimate: $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

This Cartier bangle designed with detachable dress clips is a rare discovery as it is uncommon to have the dress clips and bangle attachment intact — more often than not they were divided among family members over time. The dual function reflected the popularity of dress clips in the 1920s and ‘30s and the practicality of the design. It is also unique in that the emeralds were set in yellow gold and not the platinum favoured during the period, presaging the all-gold look of the 1940s. Originally sold at Christie’s New York in December 1977, this exceptional bangle bracelet returns to auction on 20 April.

An Art Deco diamond and emerald bow brooch. Estimate $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
An Art Deco diamond and emerald bow brooch. Estimate: $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

Another example of the Art Deco aesthetic is seen in this diamond and emerald bow brooch. Executed with a care and precision which is not easily replicated today, it truly captures the storied era in both its quality and design — with the popular bow motif — yet is unusual in its larger size. The piece is remarkably similar to a bow brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels that was sold in the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor at Christie’s for $662,500 — over eight times its high estimate — in December 2013.

Retro and post-war glamour: 1940s and ‘50s

A diamond bangle bracelet, by Jean Schlumberger. Estimate $30,000–50,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
A diamond bangle bracelet, by Jean Schlumberger. Estimate: $30,000–50,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

Stylistically speaking, the post-war years experienced seismic shifts in fashion; most notably Christian Dior launched his revolutionary ‘New Look’ which was a response to the sartorial restrictions of earlier years. Platinum had been rationed during World War II, making it extremely rare to find jewellery composed of diamonds and platinum from this time. 

A standout piece for its uncommon use of materials for the time, this bracelet is also a rare example of Jean Schlumberger’s early work dating from the early 1940s. The asymmetrical bracelet featuring diamond flower blossoms displays the complicated construction and fanciful abstractions of natural shapes that the jeweller came to be renowned for.

A diamond flower necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate $40,000–60,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
A diamond flower necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate: $40,000–60,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

Inextricably linked to fashion, the jewels of Van Cleef & Arpels of this era celebrated femininity, glamour and opulence. The storied house created pieces such as this example in which the three circular and baguette-cut diamond flowers detach to be worn as clip brooches, offering flexibility on how to wear them.

A diamond brooch, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
A diamond brooch, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate: $20,000–30,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

An excellent example of 1950s stylized design — in this case, a flower — the brooch is composed of flexible petals of baguette-cut diamonds that move with the wearer. It highlights Van Cleef & Arpels’s signature expertise in engineering and technical prowess, as well as the house’s attention to design and wearability.

Revolutionary and radical: 1960s and ‘70s

A Tiger’s eye quartz, diamond and gold cuff bracelet, by David Webb. Estimate $10,000-15,000. These pieces are offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

A Tiger’s eye quartz, diamond and gold cuff bracelet, by David Webb. Estimate: $10,000-15,000. These pieces are offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York


Gold dominated the 1960s and 1970s, with the precious metal coming back into favour after a decade-long hiatus. In sharp contrast to the formalities and restrictions of the 1950s, gold represented the desire to break from tradition in an era that brought the civil rights and women’s movements to the fore. 

This suite showcases the use of semi-precious stones in yellow gold, featuring the bold shapes and colours that are highlight of any distinct David Webb design. David Webb’s sautoirs were very much a part of his aesthetic, more so than any other jeweller during this period.

A suite of diamond and gold jewellery, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate $35,000–55,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York
A suite of diamond and gold jewellery, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate: $35,000–55,000. This piece is offered in Magnificent Jewels & the Jubilee Ruby on 20 April at Christie’s New York

During the 1960s and 1970s, the use of unconventional styles and designs were popular, signalling the rebellious mood of the era. This suite features textured gold that mimics the surface of the moon — an element inspired by the advent of space travel.

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