Retro jewelry was first seen in France around 1935 with a collection of designs from Van Cleef & Arpels. Exhibiting their collection at the 1939 World's Fair, jewelry designers, American designers in particular, quickly embraced the bold new look.
Platinum and other white metals were being rationed for military use, so the obvious emphasis on gold designs was revived from its last reign of popularity in the early 1900s. Enter the era of woven, braided, and coiled gold forms. Convertible jewelry was emphasized in the Retro era, with necklaces that could be worn as bracelets or brooches, and brooches that could double as pendants or charms. Motifs of bows, flowers, and animals came into vogue, most often in the form of pins and brooches. These forms balanced the more masculine pantsuits for women that became popular as women joined the workforce. Clever effects such as trembling petals and fluttering butterfly wings brought bejeweled creations to life.
Many jewelers began to utilize synthetic, or lab-made gemstones instead of naturally occurring ones, due to war-time mine closures. Clusters of small diamonds and sparse settings of jewels like rubies and light-colored sapphires were especially popular over the use of fewer, larger gems. With many pieces being sold for scrap or melted down and reused before the 1970s, not many examples from this era have survived, making Retro jewelry both valuable and collectible.