Setting the Stage: The 1980s

by Sasha t on Apr 18, 2023

Setting the Stage: The 1980s - Jack Weir & Sons

The 1980s were characterized by more, more, more. This is the decade of Gordon Gecko, of the Dynasty, of big shoulder pads and bigger diamonds. It was post-disco and pre-grunge. The 80s brought us provocateurs like Madonna and GIa Carangi, modern day super models like Cindy Crawford and Elle MacPherson and ingenues like Molly Ringwald and Winona Ryder. The 80s were a time of unrest and opulence, of both female empowerment and continued female objectification. We saw more female purchasing power than ever, but also witnessed just how hard it was for women to get to the top. 

Overall, the boldness of 1980s jewelry can be seen as a reflection of the spirit of the era, with its emphasis on glamor, excess, and self-expression. This trend towards bold, statement jewelry continues to influence designers today and remains a popular and iconic style. The truth is - the 80s were very contrarian years - from style and culture to policy and economy. It was the beginning of more is more and greed is good. The 80s brought with it, both opulence, glamor and beauty AND  tragedy, loss and discontentment. 

Vintage bvlgari 5.36 carat sapphire ring on 18 karat yellow gold solitaire chunky ring

Take for instance - the fashion of the 1980s.  If we take a look at the most popular designers of the 1980s, they all seem wildly different - the democratized prep of Ralph Lauren, the high glamor punk of Vivienne Westwood, the architectural futurism of Thierry Mugler, the avant garde drapery of Yohji Yamamoto, the overt yet sophisticated sensuality of Gianni Versace, the stylized campiness of Franco Moschino. But if you think a bit more critically about this set of tastemakers, what they have in common is a big point of view, a story to tell and a disruptive way to do it. In the 1980s, the style was informed by those who were able to articulate beauty in a bold and disruptive way. 

But it wasn’t just about the designers, it was about the way women were seen in media. In the 1980s, we had superstars, yes - but we also got to see the rise of women in politics like Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Maxine Waters. We saw professional women like Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey show their own style. It was no longer just about the glamour of the star - it was about the glamour of the everyday woman. 

The Jewelry of the time was of course, influenced heavily by the fashion trends of the time. All of the jewelry of the 1980s took a bold approach to accessorizing, wether through the size, shape, style or color - minimalist it was not. This doesn’t mean it was lacking nuance, there is a difference between being loud and being overt. The jewelry of the era was loud, but it contained multitudes, and for those who chose to take an interest in what it was saying - the message was immense.  The 1980s were a time of artistic experimentation, and many jewelry designers saw their work as a form of artistic expression. They were not afraid to push boundaries and challenge traditional notions of what jewelry should look like, which resulted in some truly bold and innovative designs.

These bold and daring designs reflected the mood and spirit of the era. The 1980s were a time of excess and glamour, with popular culture icons like Madonna, Princess Diana, and Joan Collins leading the way with their bold, daring styles. Jewelry designers, like fashion designers, were influenced by these larger-than-life personalities and wanted to create jewelry that was just as bold and attention-grabbing.

Vintage colomobian emerald diamond cluster cocktail ring on a 14k white gold setting

The 1980s: An Era of Icons 

Our founder Jack Weir appreciates the iconic designers of the decade who celebrated the natural beauty  found even within the bold glamour of the era. Jack says, “Being a diamond enthusiast, I always enjoyed the works of Harry Winston, Graff and Oscar Heyman. They are masters of depicting the natural beauty of the gems, with very intentional craftsmanship.” We wanted to share with you some other iconic pieces and designers of the era. 

A lot of the pieces that we consider iconic today are products of the 1980s. Princess Diana's engagement ring, which featured a large oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds, was one of the most famous pieces of jewelry of the 1980s. The ring became so popular that it inspired many similar designs, and is now commonly referred to as a "Diana ring." 

The Panthère de Cartier ladies watch was first introduced in the 1980s. It’s stylized motif in gold or platinum, sometimes with diamonds was the perfect indication of the over the top opulence of the time and was worn by many celebrities of the time, including Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor.

Cartier c. 1980

The Versace Medusa necklace was a statement-making piece worn by many fashion icons in the 1980s. This bold, gold necklace featured a large Medusa head pendant, and was often paired with other bold, gold jewelry for a glamorous, over-the-top look.

Versace, c. 1980

Even the  Bvlgari Parentesi collection has it’s roots in the 1980s - a collection that took into account the changing needs of the modern woman, who needed jewelry she could wear to the boardroom, to dinner and onto the dance floor. The answer was modular jewelry, where each element could be produced in series, finished by hand and then connected to one another. For this collection, Rome was a source of inspiration and the Parentesi sign came from a detail of the Eternal City pavements, the travertine junctions used to link the stone blocks. So though it maybe modular in function, it’s inspiration is still opulent. 

Bvlgari, c. 1980

The Ralph Lauren "Chain Link" bracelet was a standout piece of jewelry from the 1980s that is still popular today. The bracelet features chunky, oversized links that are crafted from high-quality metals such as gold, silver, or brass, and it is designed to be worn snugly around the wrist. The links are often arranged in a pattern that alternates between different shapes and sizes, giving the bracelet a dynamic, visually interesting look.

One of the reasons why the "Chain Link" bracelet was so popular in the 1980s is that it was a statement piece that could be worn with a wide range of outfits. It was often paired with power suits, blazers, and other formalwear for a touch of elegance and sophistication, but it could also be dressed down with jeans and a t-shirt for a more casual, relaxed look.

Vintage gia burma no heat ruby diamond cocktail ring on a platinum setting

The 1980s: Innovation 

Additionally, the development of new materials like acrylic and resin allowed designers to create jewelry that was larger and more sculptural than ever before. These materials were lightweight and easy to work with, which allowed designers to experiment with new shapes and forms.

Alexis Bittar got his start in the 1980s creating acrylic and lucite jewelry. His designs are bold, colorful, lush and sparkly - he uses materials like acrylic and lucite as bases while he incorporates different gemstones and other materials to create dynamism and depth in his work. His designs are bold, but playful and capture a levity that was often missing in the era. One of his peers, Kenneth Jay Lane did the same -  He was known for his whimsical and playful designs, which often featured colorful animals and other fun motifs

Alexis Bittar, c. 1980

It wasn’t just synthetic materials that were having a moment, however - materials like coral, onyx, lapis, and malachite were popular in high-end designer jewelry during the 1980s. These gemstones and materials were often incorporated into bold, statement pieces that were characteristic of the era's fashion and design trends. For example, Italian jewelry designer Buccellati was known for incorporating coral and other colorful gemstones into their intricate, ornate designs during the 1980s. Similarly, American jewelry designer David Webb often used malachite and onyx in his bold, sculptural pieces, which were popular with celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In addition to these designers, many others incorporated these gemstones and materials into their designs during the 1980s. The use of colorful and exotic materials helped to create a bold and dramatic look that was characteristic of the era's fashion and design trends.

David Webb, c. 1980

Vintage Tiffany and Co royal blue enamel and yellow gold ring

The 1980s: Bigger is Better

As mentioned above, Princess Diana’s engagement ring was one of the most iconic rings of the era and led to a huge interest in Cocktail Rings. Featuring a large oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds, it was one of the most famous pieces of jewelry of the 1980s and to most people felt more like a cocktail ring than what was traditionally considered an engagement ring. The ring became so popular that it inspired many similar designs, and is now commonly referred to as a "Diana ring."

Of course, most people didn’t have the budget of the Windsor family and so while the rich and famous were able to demonstrate their wealth by wearing large and stylish fine jewels, the rest of the world turned to costume jewelry. Costume jewelry often featured oversized plastic beads, bold graphics, and other unconventional materials and let people explore all different kinds of the styles that were popular at the time. It also enabled  jewelry designers who were looking to push the boundaries of design and explore new and different materials.

In addition to the grandiosity of costume cocktail rings, costume earrings were a staple of the 1980s. Oversize hoops were a huge style of the time as were big clip on button earrings that were often too heavy to wear as pierced styles. These button earrings often boasted big faux pearls and gemstones and resembled the buttons of the jackets and suits that were in style at the time. 

And of course, it wouldn’t be a piece about the 1980s without mentioning bracelets. Bracelets had a huge resurgence in the 80s, the more the better. Bracelets in the 1980s came in all different materials and sizes. Madonna popularized the look of wearing rubber bracelets halfway up your arm - bakelite bangles of varying geometric shapes and sizes became popular as a way to add even more color to your wardrobe and edgy, studded leather cuffs and hinged bracelets graced the wrists of those who wanted to emulate the glamorous yet punk rock look of Debby Harry. 

Vintage GIA 4 carat old mine cut diamond with two baguette cut diamonds on a white gold setting
  • 1980s: A decade with no rules

All of this can be summarized as the 1980s being a decade with very few rules. It was a time for consumers and designers alike to explore their individuality, to experiment with new ideas and materials and to find favorability in coloring outside the lines. This makes jewelry from the era perfect to explore today. As we become more and more comfortable as a society with individuality and pushing the envelope, the designs of the 80s become more and more popular. The beauty of the era is that the vision of the piece is really in the eye of the beholden - adding a piece to an otherwise simple outfit can do quite a bit to amplify it, but piling multiple pieces on an already bold look creates a moment.

Sasha Nova, Director of Sales here at Jack Weir & Sons counts the 1980s as her favorite era when it comes to jewelry. Sasha loves the era because of its unapologetic aesthetic. Says Nova, 80s jewelry is a statement. It's bold, gold and unapologetic. It's perfect for people who are comfortable in their skin and are eager to make their presence known. It's about confidence, empowerment and having the world at the palm of your hand.” Some of her favorite items are below. 

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 Baby2Baby. So far, from November 2021-October 2022 we've donated $39,018. 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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