No Vacuum Here

Have you ever wondered why, just when you’ve found the newest “must have” jewel to bring your customers running, the trend peaks and fizzles? Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist, at times it must seem like a phantom autocracy decrees that that which was just declared In (and which you just bought in quantity) is suddenly, unquestionably, Out.

Trend watching can be both fascinating and frustrating. But trends don’t happen in a vacuum. A design trend in one industry is usually reflected across many other categories and is generally related to trends in society.

For example, the leading design trend in home furnishings right now is a resurgence of mid-20th century design. They say that when we grow up, we become our parents. I don’t know if that’s totally true, but we certainly are buying their furniture. The current catalogs from popular stores such as Crate & Barrel, Storehouse Furniture, and Pottery Barn show furniture that looks remarkably similar to the Danish Modern furniture of the 1950s and early 1960s. The geometric patterns on some of the patio dishes sold at Crate & Barrel this summer bore a remarkable resemblance to a set of dishes shown in an ad in a 1965 issue of JCK. The colors being shown in fashion and furniture today are updated versions of the infamous Avocado Green, Harvest Gold, and Autumn Rust.

The reasons for these design similarities are rooted in society. One of the most prevalent human trends— spanning all cultures and socioeconomic classes—is a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty, due to both rapidly advancing technology and a very speeded-up world. Designs reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s evoke memories of a time that was—at least in theory—simpler. That nostalgia factor is an arrow aimed straight at Baby Boomers’ hearts and wallets.

The same trends are increasingly evident in jewelry design. For example, the World Gold Council’s newest catalog of gold jewelry trends features a few brooches that Grandma might have worn with her Sunday best. The newest global jewelry promotion from the Platinum Guild will be featuring heart-themed jewelry, a perennial classic that has held up through several decades of fashion turmoil. The aqua-and-avocado theme of many a 1965-era kitchen is replayed and updated in jewelry with some lovely aquamarine and peridot combinations.

But one of the most profound trends affecting jewelry design is the seismic shift in lifestyle of its primary end users—women. In the 1950s and 1960s, women generally received jewelry as a gift; they didn’t buy it for themselves. Today the lion’s share of gold jewelry, pearl jewelry, and silver jewelry is bought by women, and even De Beers and its marketing arms are finally taking notice of the American female’s economic clout.

Back in the middle of the last century, women regarded their fine jewelry as “dress-up” items to be worn on special occasions, not as fashion accessories for everyday. Today, the fact that jewelry is as much an accessory as a pair of shoes is another example of a societal trend toward “casual luxury.” This shift in perception means that luxury is no longer equated with formality, but rather with comfort. When we grew up, the “good” (i.e., expensive) furniture was in the living room and reserved for company. What we actually sat on was in the family room. Today, a “great room” serves both purposes, and the couch—whether it cost $1,500 or $15,000—has to be able to withstand both children and pets.

So the next time you’re looking for new jewelry trends, do look in all the usual places: trade magazines, fashion magazines, trade shows, television programs, movies, kids on the street, and so forth. But also consider looking in a few unusual places—like your own attic. You may be amazed at how much inspiration you find in the dust.