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Mid-Century Modern Jewelry

The conservative 1950's saw great economic growth, leading to the rise of the upper-middle class. With soldiers returning from war, there was a sense of returning to "normal". As always, the social and economic forces of the time influenced jewelry designers of the day.

Designs were bold and whimsical, with gem-encrusted animal designs becoming popular, from butterflies with wings set with diamonds to birds with gemstone heads and engraved gold or rope chain feathers. The period also saw a return to suites of jewelry - matching necklace, bracelet, and brooch (Sterle) or bracelet, earrings, brooch, and ring (Boucheron).

With the return to normalcy and the rise of the upper-middle class, people began entertaining again with cocktail parties. Big, splashy rings became part of women's cocktail attire. Where smaller jewelry better fit a more intimate dinner party, standing at a cocktail party holding a glass lent itself to show off larger, bolder rings.

Mid-century designers also drew influence from the Modernist movement, science, and space exploration. As the 1960's dawned, the bold jewelry of the day grew even bolder and larger as popular fashions grew sleeker and shorter (all the better to show off your jewelry).

Retro Modern Jewelry

In the mid-1930's, as the United States was recovering from the Great Depression, jewelry's Art Deco period evolved into Retro Modern. Designs became more three-dimensional, with geometric but curving looks done primarily in platinum or yellow gold. Gold became the primary metal during this period when, during World War 2, platinum was declared a strategic material to be used by the military.

Designs of this period saw a heavy emphasis on feminine motifs. Brooches were popular pieces of the period as fashion of the day was marked by a decidedly masculine look (broad shouldered and wide lapels) and heavier fabrics. Women could soften these looks with a ribbon or bow brooch without damaging more delicate fabrics such as silk.

Hollywood also served as a big influence on Retro Modern designs. With war breaking out in Europe, jewelry designers took their cues from the movies and large, colorful pieces audiences could see on glamorous stars of the day such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Women wanted to wear the jewelry seen on the silver screen, and designers brought bold, geometric, curving pieces to the public.

Vintage jewelry from popular designers including Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Van Clef & Arpels still remain popular and highly sought-after by jewelry collectors the world over.


As with many art forms, jewelry design often takes its cues from the social and economic times of the day. The Roaring 20's, with their attitude of living life to its fullest, gave rise to jewelry's Art Deco period.

Art Dec is a product of the machine age, and is known for its geometry, symmetry, and bold use of color. It was heavily influenced by Cubism and Dadaism, two of the more popular art forms of the day.

During this period, the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb saw an explosion in popularity for all things Egyptian, which also influenced Art Deco jewelry, art, and structures of the period.Some of the most iconic structures in our nation still remain prime examples of the geometric patterns and symmetrical design of the Art Deco period: The Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in New York, 30th Street and Suburban Stations in Philadelphia, Ocean Drive in South (Miami) Beach, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Jewelry from this period was often flat, two-dimensional designs using platinum, in part due to its malleability which allowed for intricate shapes and outlines. However, with the onset of the Great Depression and then with the use of platinum curtailed during World War II, white gold and yellow gold were used as affordable alternatives.

With such a heavy influence from art, coupled with the use of sapphires, rubies, and emeralds to add bold accents of color to diamond-centric jewelry, it's no surprise that jewelry from the Art Deco period remains one of the most sought-after jewelry categories.

Estate Jewelry Buyer Turns Pawn Shop Start into Sparkling Gem

From an early age Steve Schiffman, owner of D. Atlas Estates, knew that he did not want to be in the business of sitting in a shop waiting for customers to arrive. He wanted to go to the customer and buy directly. Schiffman learned the art of buying and selling from his father while growing up and working in his father's Philadelphia pawn shop. But Schiffman soon realized he wanted to zero in on one commodity: jewelry. His first big buyer's deal came from a fellow pawn shop owner in Tennessee who was retiring and agreed to sell his goods to Schiffman, who had taken over his father's pawn shop after his death. Schiffman purchased the contents of the Tennessee store, which included guitars and other instruments, reel to reels, golf clubs and lots of jewelry, and he brought it all back to Philadelphia to sell. Soon he had mastered the art of buying and selling and realized estate jewelry was where he wanted to focus and grow his business. "I found that it was easier to deal with estate jewelry than other used miscellaneous items," he said.

Steve Schiffman, owner of D. Atlas Estates, has years of experience and knowledge in the estate and antique jewelry industry.

Cushion-Cut Clients

Diamonds and celebrities can often times be a package deal and Schiffman had his fair share of rubbing elbows with some of the greats over the years. The Rolling Stones and Teddy Pendergrass visited Schiffman's shop in the late '90s. The Rolling Stones' publicist contacted Schiffman to tell him the Stones (everyone except Mick Jagger) were headed to his shop in search of gifts. Unfortunately, Schiffman didn't have the exact antique diamond necklace Ron Wood was looking to buy for his wife but he still got to shake hands with some of Rock and Roll's greatest. Pendergrass, however, was a somewhat regular customer and in the late 1990s, Pendergrass sold Schiffman one of his rings, which showcased money, literally. In the center of the green emerald, square design ring was a dollar sign made of baguette diamonds, Schiffman recalled. "Money, baby," Schiffman joked as he remembered Pendergrass' ring.

Travel Gems

In his early '80's, Schiffman traveled extensively and Internationally to buy estate jewelry items in order to bring them back to dealers in the U.S.

"I went to London before I went to New York to buy jewelry," he said.

Schiffman travelled to England more than 25 times in an eight year period always searching for the perfect jewelry and he always came back with something sparkling to his Jewelers Row location on 8th and Sansom streets in Philadelphia.

Over time, Schiffman connected with a network of fine jewelry dealers from around the world. He is always looking for great pieces whether in his home city of Philadelphia, at the Miami Beach Antique Show or across the pond.

One of Schiffman's most memorable purchases was an extremely rare, 1930s Kashmir sapphire, 6-carat, cushion cut ring flanked with 3-carat, pear-shaped diamonds on either side.

"That was the Holy Grail," he said.

Jewels of D. Atlas Estates

After years as S. Schiffman Co. on Jewelers Row, Schiffman teamed up with friend and fellow estate jewelry business owner, David Atlas, who is the grandson of D. Atlas & Co., which was established in 1898. The two merged their expertise in 2009 and became D. Atlas Estates. Later, Schiffman moved D. Atlas Estates to Haverford after parting ways with Atlas, who wanted to focus more on appraisals and jewelry education. Today, D. Atlas Estates seeks out all types of estate and antique jewelry and with Schiffman's 40-plus years of experience and knowledge in the fine jewelry industry he is always able to give his clients a fair price after a complimentary appraisal. Knowing where and how to sell estate jewelry, allows him to pay more for his purchases. "Knowing where to sell estate jewelry is just as important as knowing where to buy," he said. So fine jewelry sellers always leave D. Atlas Estates with a better understanding of the value of their item in today's market as well as the confidence in placing their gems in Schiffman's knowledgeable hands.

Read More BLogs:

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Vivacious. Vintage. Victorious

Fabergé: A Life of Its Own

What to Ask A Buyer When Selling Jewelry or Diamonds

Art Nouveau - Beauty of Nature

Edwardian Style - Hail to the King

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