Jewelry of the 1990s: A Transitional Era

by Sasha t on Apr 06, 2023

Jewelry of the 1990s: A Transitional Era - Jack Weir & Sons

The transition from decade to decade always sees  a sharp contrast in style, but no more so in recent history than the shift from the opulence of the 1980s to the grunge and minimalism of the 1990s.  ​​The 1980s were known for their maximalist style, characterized by bold colors, patterns, and textures, as well as luxury and opulence. This style was reflected in fashion, art, architecture, and design. However, by the end of the decade, there was a growing sense of exhaustion with this style, as people became increasingly disillusioned with the excesses of the era.

The 1990s saw a shift in overall aesthetic from the bold and extravagant styles of the 1980s to a more understated and minimalistic feeling.  This style was characterized by simplicity, purity, and restraint. Like other evolutionary points in culture, the 90s was a reaction to the actions of the 1980s - a reaction seeking to create a sense of order from the previous decade’s chaotic excess. Overall, the 1990s minimalist movement was an attempt to create a new aesthetic that reflected the changing values and priorities of the time. 

Outside of style alone, there were several factors that contributed to the emergence of minimalism in the 1990s. One was the economic recession that hit many parts of the world in the early 1990s. This led to a shift away from consumerism and excess, as people became more frugal and practical in their spending habits. Another factor was the rise of new technologies, which brought about a new sense of efficiency and functionality. This led to a demand for products and designs that were streamlined and simple, rather than ornate and complex.

French GIA purple pink sapphire diamond cluster ring on a gold setting

Looking back today, we know that the 1990s were a critical decade in bridging the world before and the world after the democratization of the internet, arguably the most single impactful thing that has happened in the  last 100 years. But at the time, the 1990s represented an opportunity to mellow out, to take life down a notch, to embrace craft and intellect over money and labels. 

Today, we see the trends of the 1990s coming back into fashion in sleek and stylish ways. Sasha Nova, Director of Sales here at Jack Weir & Sons, has a theory on why and says “The 90s were all about simple, classic, and timeless designs that highlight the natural beauty of the gems. Trends come and go. Our personal style changes several times in a lifetime. Even though people adore eclectic designs and bohemian aesthetics, simple and classic are what lasts through the decades. It's something you can't go wrong with. I think this is why 90s jewelry has made a comeback. Especially after covid, people are more willing to invest into timeless classics or really coveted antiques.”

So let’s take a look at the jewelry trends that defined the era and think about how you might style some of these exquisite pieces today. 

The 1990s: Minimal but never boring 

Jewelry in the 1990s took all of its cues from the greater world of style. It was minimal, it was chic, it was understated, but it was never boring. 

Take for instance,  Elsa Peretti for Tiffany in the 1990s. A peer and longtime confidant of Halston’s in the 1970s and 80s, Peretti went on to have her own very successful career designing jewelry for the famed jewelry house from 1974 on. Though not new designs, the minimalism and clean lines of her jewelry were very resonant in the 1990s, with her iconic bone cuff and open heart pieces making Tiffany silver accessible for people of all generations.  In 1996 she was named the Accessory designer of the year by the CFDA. 

GIA 1.23 carats round brilliant cut diamond on a 14k gold bezel setting


Or think about another iconic Tiffany & Co. design - The Return to Tiffany chain link collection. Though this collection debuted in 1969, it gained a lot of traction in the 1990s as it captured the minimalism that was so popular and the grunge subculture at the same time. It was a way to explore minimalism with significance as opposed to delicate minimalism.

The 1990s: A Change of Color 

The 1990s was a silver renaissance. While gold was a popular choice in the 1980s, silver emerged as a popular metal choice in the 1990s. The cool, sleek look of silver was favored over the warmth of gold, and many designers created jewelry pieces exclusively in silver.  The minimalist aesthetic that emerged in the 1990s favored simple, clean lines and unadorned surfaces, which made silver a natural choice. Says Nova, I believe that in the 90s, women really embraced their sexuality and femininity. Especially with the rise of Madonna and other pop-culture idols. Clean aesthetics made rise and now it's back. The iconic 90s runway models made a statement that still inspires people today.” 

GIA Zambian emerald with 2 baguette cut diamonds on the side on a platinum setting with gold prongs

Silver's luster and reflective qualities were ideal for the pared-down designs that defined the era, and its cool, understated elegance was a perfect complement to the simplicity and sophistication of the period. Silver was also seen as a more affordable alternative to gold, which had been the dominant precious metal of the 1980s. 

With the economic recession of the early 1990s, people were looking for more affordable luxury options, and silver filled this gap perfectly. Additionally, silver was easier to care for and maintain than gold, which made it a more practical choice for everyday wear. There was also a growing interest in handcrafted and artisanal products in the 1990s, and silver's malleability and versatility made it a popular choice for jewelry designers and artisans. The trend towards individuality and personal expression led many people to seek out unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of silver jewelry that reflected their own sense of style and identity. Overall, the popularity of sterling silver in the 1990s was driven by its simplicity, affordability, and versatility, as well as by the changing values and priorities of the era.

The 1990s: Sleek Lines 

Simple, sleek lines were a hallmark of the 1990s. You can see this in both the shape of the stones utilized and the way pieces are crafted. Princess cut diamonds were very popular in the 1990s - their sharp geometric lines, very of the moment. Another thing about princess cut diamonds that is very much a testament to 1990s minimalism is that they are actually less wasteful to cut than some of the other modern diamond cuts because of the way a rough stone is shaped and how a princess cut is cut. Princess cut diamonds also tend to be a bit less expensive than their round counterparts because of this. 

1.04 carat oval cut diamond on a white gold setting

Of course, princess cut diamonds are not the only cuts with sleek and modern lines. Though not as popular in the 90s, emerald cut diamonds can also have that geometric minimalism that was so sought after in the era. 

2.04 carats emerald cut diamond on a platinum setting

You can see this sleek, minimalist feel come to life in one of the most important pieces of the era - the tennis bracelet.  Now, you could argue that the tennis bracelet is absolutely timeless and you would be correct. But the 1990s saw a real renaissance - these chic pieces added a glittering minimalism  to just about any style of the era. Today,  like the 90s, it’s not about the biggest bling, but being able to wear something that adds something extra to an everyday outfit - and having it feel both timeless and completely modern.  That’s the beauty of a tennis bracelet. 

The 1990s:  The Choker 

You cannot mention the jewelry of the 1990s without mentioning chokers. Part of the larger trend towards grunge fashion, chokers had a choke hold on the fashionable elite. Though the chokers of the grunge scene were a little more anti-fashion and rebellious, made of black leather, metal chains and other unconventional materials, chokers were actually extremely versatile and could be worn differently, made of different materials depending on your own personal style. 

They could be dressed up or down, and they added an edgy, alternative vibe to any look. Chokers looked just as at home with ripped jeans, band t-shirts, and other grunge-inspired pieces as they did with more formal outfits for a touch of rebellion and nonconformity.

Here at Jack Weir & Sons we’ve spent the last 40 years traveling to Europe and all over the world, curating extraordinary estate jewels. JWS is where the old world meets the new world. Celebrate life, preserve history, discover your own priceless heirloom jewel. We are extremely grateful for our clients and the ability to help people to celebrate their special moments through one of a kind jewelry. To share that gratitude and our strong family values, we chose to partner with Baby2BabySince the beginning of the partnership, we've donated $125,000. A portion of every sale goes towards children living in poverty to provide them with diapers, clothing, and all the basic necessities that every child deserves. 

We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel. 

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