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Oppenheimer brooch | vintage jewelry at minusOne jewelry

Mid Century 1950s Jewelry: Atomic Age Design

Jan 11, 2024 | costume jewelry

The atomic era inspired 1950s jewelry with new geometric patterns, starbursts, and an introduction to the space age.

1950s jewelry was inspired by the Atom

Post WWII was called the Atomic Age for a reason: 1950s jewelry designers found inspiration looking in a microscope.

Jewelry and home decor both reflected the microscopic geometry of atoms, with their covalent bonds, and elliptical proton trips around a center nucleus.

A great example is the LAX Theme Building. Started in 1960, finished in 1961, and still standing today, this LA airport architecture mimics the loops of atomic particles.


Georg Jensen Atomic Brooch, Henning Koppel
Georg Jensen by Henning Koppel, 1960s, sterling

Other microscopic 1950s jewelry motifs

Like the microscopic atom, microbiology also inspired 1950s jewelry design.

Perhaps the best example is the amoeba.

In case you milked your hall-pass for most of 6th grade science class, an amoeba is a single-celled organism, with an irregular, blobular shape.

(Shame on your hometown school district if you can’t immediately draw one now better than any jpg I can insert here.)

Danish brand jewelry Georg Jensen loved the amoeba and used the word to title his 1950 designs. (Click the images to be taken to the original listing on 1st Dibs.)

Georg Jensen Sterling Silver "Amoeba" Brooch No. 325 by Henning Koppel
Georg Jensen, Sterling Silver “Amoeba” Brooch NO. 325

The microscope wasn’t new, but the idea that the shapes seen under its lens might inspire home decor, furniture design, and even jewelry, was innovative.

Georg Jensen #88 Henning Koppel Midcentury Amoeba Large Silver Bracelet
Georg Jensen Henning Koppel Sterling Silver Bracelet, Amoeba No. 88
Georg Jensen Henning Koppel Sterling Silver Bracelet, Amoeba #89
Georg Jensen Henning Koppel Sterling Silver Bracelet, Amoeba No. 89

Not always pretty, 1950s jewelry often had a decidedly Brutalist influence.

Sigfredo Pineda Sigi Mid Century Sterling Brooch Pendent
Sigfredo Pineda Sigi 1950s Sterling Brooch Pendent

1950s jewelry was space age

1950s jewelry design was inspired by outer space.

Mid century followed in the footsteps of Art Deco design, and continued the 20s and 30s Art Deco era fascination with speed and transportation.

Ring and bracelet in frosted rock crystal with amethysts and moonstones by Jean Fouquet (1931). Primavera Gallery Collection, NY.
Jean Fouquet (1931)

Although the first moon landing wasn’t until 1969, the futuristic thinking that created the Jetsons (launched in the early 60s), brought outer space into the public imagination.

vintage jewelry | pewter rocket ship brooch | minusOne jewelry

But it wasn’t just space travel and rocket ships. It was also stars, solar systems, planets, and planetary orbits.

This motif was represented by curved lines and spheres, repeating lines, and ellipticals.

Space Age Pin/ Atomic Brooch/50s Gold Brooch/MODERNIST Brooch/boomerang//Vintage Brooch/Space Age Brooch/Mid Century Brooch

Think The Jetsons turned into a brooch and earrings demi-parure.

Atomic Art Deco Silver Statement Earrings | Vintage Gripoix-style glass clip-ons | minusOne Jewelry
Atomic Art Deco Silver Statement Earrings | shop at minusOne Jewelry



Visit the Shop at minusOne to see these MCM blue and gold and black and gold dangle earrings for sale.

Asymmetry: a 1950s jewelry and decor hallmark

Mid century jewelry in the 50s was as unconcerned with mathematical precision as were their 1890s Art Nouveau predecessors.

1950s jewelry featured a lot of modernist, often Brutalist asymmetry.

Margaret De Patta Modernist Sterling Silver Ring with Pearl
Margaret De Patta, late 40s-early 50s, sterling

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the design, beyond Artist’s whim.

After decades of Art Deco’s strait-line geometry, the 50s opted for an organic absence of pattern.

Maybe the closely matched lined and mathematical precision of Art Deco era gave way to the mid century’s quest for the unknown.

1950s boomerang jewelry

The boomerang is a sublime example of asymmetry, and 1950s designers loved the boomerang.

See if these boomerang earrings are still available in the vintage jewelry section at minusOne.

Boomerang earrings at minusOne jewelry with iridescent geometric grid

The boomerang shape, resembling its own flight path, also reminded the world of space travel.

It’s no accident that the Star Trek emblem (called officially the delta insignia, my fellow Trekkies), is a boomerang shape.

Star Trek delta insignia

And, yes, I sell an unofficial delta insignia Star Trek necklace as minusOne.

Star trek statement necklace | Gold geometric V-shaped pendant
Star trek statement necklace | Gold geometric V-shaped pendant

Here are just a few 1950s brooches with the boomerang motif, but the shape is ubiquitous once you start looking for it.

Click the images below to be taken to the original listing on 1st Dibs.

Walter Wright Sterling Silver Double Layer Boomerang Pendant or Brooch fiund on 1st Dibs sold for $995
Walter Wright, 1950s, sterling

1950s George Faddis Copper Enamel American Modernist Boomerang Fish Brooch
George Faddis of Pennsylvania, 1950s, copper enamel

1950 Everett MacDonald Sterling Silver Wood American Modernist Boomerang Pendant
Everett MacDonald, circa 1950’s
1950s Ward Law Sterling Silver Enamel Wood Abstract Brooch
Ward Law, 1950s, sterling and wood

The uneven kidney-shape of the boomerang appeared in many different forms and fabrics.

What we wouldn’t give today for a new shape to play with.

The 1950s loved starburst jewelry

Google “vintage starburst clock,” and the prevalence of the starburst in Atomic Age design will be apparent in a flash.

Mid Century, 18 Karat Gold, Multicolour Tourmaline & Diamond Brooch Pendant
1960s, unsigned, 18K gold, tourmaline and diamond

The starburst was not only atomic energy, the burst of an explosion, it was also the excitement and optimism in an age of abundance.

Sputnik by Emil Stejnar for Rupert Nikoll, Vienna, 1950s
Sputnik Chandelier by Emil Stejnar, 1950s

Whereas some starburst designs featured symmetrical lines, many did not.

The 1950s tendancy toward asymmetry can be seen in these iconic Schreiner brooches.

1950s costume jewelry | atomic age Schreiner starburst brooch | minusOne jewelry

1950s plastic was the star in clear jewelry

The world’s fascination with plastic, begun in the 30s, continued in the 40s (see Trifari’s jelly belly brooches by Alfred Phillipe) flourished in 1950s design.

MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles
MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles

Think of the roles formica and vinyl played to get a sense of how much the 50s loved plastic.

The 80s loved clear lucite, too, and re-imagined 1950s jewelry styles with new cuts and larger pieces.

These unused old stock pendants are cut like prisms, but still lightweight, even in statement sizes.

Available for sale at minusOne, while vintage pendants last. (Click the image to be taken to the item in the shop.)

MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles
MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles

What’s so attractive about clear lucite, it that it can catch the light like the best cut glass, but remain lightweight enough to wear all day.

MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles
MCM style long clear earrings | 80s vintage prism cut acrylic dangles

Think of the roles formica and vinyl played to get a sense of how much the 50s loved plastic.

Vintage brooch in the shape of a swan made of clear Lucite and wooden wings 1940
unsigned, clear lucite & wood, late 40s

But with jewelry, it was clear plastic that reigned.

Whereas in the 20s, costume jewelry found cut glass and cabs to simulate diamonds and other precious gems, the 50s liked plastic for plastic’s sake, and big clear lucite jewelry got its launch.

Signed Miriam Haskell Clear Lucite Vintage Adjustable Cuff Bracelet
Signed Miriam Haskell

Lucite, acrylic, and resin are all just plain old plastics of varying types and best uses – whether easiest to be molded, or easiest to color, the least likely to yellow, lightest or hardest, or the type that can be made most clearly transparent.

A large lucite 'leaf' necklace and earrings, USA, late 1940s
A large lucite ‘leaf’ necklace and earrings, USA, late 1940s

Of the types of transparent plastic sheet available, acrylic is the clearest, and lucite is the highest quality acrylic.

I collect vintage clear beads and pendants, and have a clear earring collection at minusOne, handmade from vintage, unused old stock. They’re awesome.

Big clear earrings | 80s vintage colorless lucite on 925 earring backs
Big clear earrings | 80s vintage colorless lucite on 925 earring backs

Big clear earrings | 80s vintage colorless lucite on 925 earring backs
Big clear earrings | 80s vintage colorless lucite on 925 earring backs

The very cool (and more expensive) clear jewelry collection by contemporary jeweler Alexis Bittar is inspired by mid century fashion’s fascination with see-through plastic fashion.

I’m watching this one up for auction right now…

😍


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