The social comfort and economic prosperity of the post war 1950s was called into question in the 1960s when protest and controversy was rampant in many different levels of society. Agitation and rejection of establishment by the younger generation are common themes reflected in the artwork, fashion and jewelry popular during the Modernist period.

A Multi-Colored Byzantine Domed Ring
A Multi-Colored Byzantine Domed Ring, by designer Buccellati, centering a 3.23ct peridot surrounded by round faceted diamonds, rubies and sapphires- circa 1960’s

A change in fashion

Short skirts, short shorts and short haircuts were all the rage during the Modernist period of the 1960s. By the late 60s, white boots, vinyl overcoats, leggings and hot pants were lining the shelves of all the top New York boutiques.


The transformation of jewelry went hand in hand with fashion, as designers created works of art that were amusing and unconventional. By the mid 1960s, jewelry once again became indistinguishable in terms of which pieces were worn during the day and which were worn only at night. Rings were worn on every finger and bracelets were stacked in pairs on each arm and combined with a necklace and earrings.

Eccentric mixtures of colored stones and an unprecedented attention to the texture of jewelry are representative of the modernist period. Strong colored cabochon stones were very popular, and many jewelers combined uncut and faceted stones to offer a more natural appeal. Amethysts, emeralds, turquoise and coral were among the most commonly favored gemstones by Modernist jewelry designers. New innovations by Italian designer Andrew Grima presented new ideas on how to add texture to make the metal of jewelry emulate the surface of the moon, the sea or other natural phenomena.

‘The Eye of Time’ brooch
‘The Eye of Time’ brooch, designed by Salvador Dali in 1949. It consists of platinum, rubies, diamonds, enamel and a watch movement made by Movado.

Surrealist Jewels

This boost in economic prosperity could be one reason that many artists began experimenting with jewelry who had never designed jewelry before. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, some of the most famous artists in the world: Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder and Salvador Dali, began experimenting with jewelry design. More than any other conventional artist, Salvador Dali, shocked the world with elaborate designs featuring innovative built in mechanisms.

The anniversary band

Through another wildly successful marketing campaign in the 1960s, De Beers introduced the world to the idea of a diamond eternity band, called an anniversary band. Because the most common style engagement ring was a single stone in a solitaire setting, De Beers created this campaign to avoid the stockpiling of smaller diamonds.


Tanzanite, first discovered in 1967 under the name, blue zoisite, reached international fame when it caught the attention of Tiffany and Co heir, Henry B Platt. Tiffany gave the stone a more marketable name and began a campaign stating that Tanzanite can be found in two places “in Tanzania and at Tiffany’s”. Largely in part due to the success of this marketing campaign, an estimated two million carats of tanzanite were unearthed before the mines were nationalized by the Tanzania government.

Levys on Instagram