Solid Gold Hits of the ’80s and ’90s

Big and unapologetic, jewelry from these decades is still charting high thanks to nostalgia and a taste for the unconventional.

December 5, 2023  |  Joshua Hendren

The ’80s and ’90s were famously high-octane decades. Silhouettes were fierce and exaggerated, glamor was rich, and color was bolder and brighter than ever before. Just as striking as the fashion trends was the era’s jewelry: chunky settings, large gemstones and distinctive design elements. Today, vintage jewelry from this period has found a new audience, with gold pieces from the likes of Bulgari, Taffin, Cartier, and JAR enchanting collectors with their luster and maximalist silhouettes.

“The eye-catching impact of big, bold, bright, gleaming yellow gold, whether lightweight or
over-the-top layered and heavy, is indisputably recognizable and attractive,” says Jill Burgum, executive director of fine jewelry at Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions.

Burgum attributes the resurgent interest in jewelry from this era to a growing nostalgia and sentimentality about the ’80s and ’90s. “If we look back, a treasure trove of innovative designers like Jean Mahie, Aldo Cipullo, and Barry Kieselstein-Cord were working in a very creative and open expression period in time [when] low gold prices and an increase in global markets set the stage for demand,” she explains. “This era has universal appeal to collectors, from those who lived it to the younger generations who want to emulate [its] freedom of style and expression.”

A curb-link bracelet in 14-karat gold and diamond. (Bonhams)
David Webb leaf ear clips in 18-karat gold. (Bonhams)

Investing in the past

Of those seeking out estate jewelry, it’s typically fashion enthusiasts who appreciate the more-is-more style of the ’80s and ’90s, according to Benjamin Khordipour of New York-based vintage boutique Estate Diamond Jewelry. “A lot of the collectors view these pieces as investments; they believe the demand for vintage jewelry will continue to grow, as fewer and fewer of these pieces remain available.”

Nicole Corsini, marketing director of San Francisco-based Lang Antiques, has noticed a similar trend among a budding younger generation of collectors. Buyers of estate pieces from this period are frequently people “in their 30s and 40s who did not wear these styles the first time around. These collectors are ready to start building their collection around investment pieces,” she says. “Yellow gold will always be a classic look. They may also be starting to inherit pieces from their parents, who [did wear] this jewelry the first time around.”

[Buyers are often people] in their 30s and 40s who did not wear these styles the first time around.

‘Character and history’

Beyond a surging appreciation for these decades, the popularity of vintage gold jewelry from the ’80s and ’90s reflects a broader trend toward vintage pieces in the modern jewelry market.

“It suggests that consumers are looking for jewelry with character and history,” says Khordipour. Burgum concurs, pointing to the emotional significance that so often suffuses vintage jewelry. “Perhaps you were there, remember the fun, and still enjoy your jewels, or you recall family members wearing big chunky gold, [or you might think of] video stars like LL Cool J and TV shows like The A-Team [with] Mr. T. There is a very cool undercurrent that still exists for this jewelry.”

An Andrew Clunn necklace in bicolor 18-karat gold and diamond. (Bonhams)
A curb-link bracelet in 14-karat gold and diamond. (Bonhams)

How are ’80s and ’90s pieces performing on the secondary market? At auction, these estate pieces are smashing records and selling well over estimates, reports Lourdes Winnick, head of the jewelry and watch department at Philadelphia-based auctioneer Freeman’s. Signed pieces from the likes of Cipullo, Angela Cummings, and David Webb are proving particularly popular, she says.

“Even with the many pieces melted in 2010 when gold spiked, there is still an impressive supply of goods out there,” she remarks. “Consumers were ruthless with their purchase powers in the ’80s and ’90s. The ’80s were opulent with excess; credit cards were the new way to buy then, and jewelry buyers did not hold back. With prices of gold being anywhere from $400 to $600 in the ’80s and ’90s, there is plenty of stand-out gold jewelry to support the demand.”

Aldo Cipullo earrings

In a career spanning over two decades, Rome-born American jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo has created a portfolio of iconic pieces that include Cartier’s Love, Juste un Clou, and Circles bracelets.

These stylized yellow gold earrings suspend angular drops of black onyx and carnelian. There is massive demand for secondhand Cipullo pieces, which stand out for their fun and colorful appeal.

Carrera y Carrera earrings

Carrera y Carrera, a Spanish jewelry company dating back to 1885, crafted these striking tapered half-hoop Ecuestre earrings during the 1980s. Framed in polished yellow gold, each piece features a matte gold repoussé panel depicting a horse with a flowing mane. While less globally recognizable than the big-name brands, Carrera y Carrera pieces can still fetch a hefty price on the secondary market.

These earrings cost $2,875 at Pennsylvania-based dealer Wilson’s Estate Jewelry.

Cartier Panthère cuff

Since making its debut in diamonds and ebony on a 1914 wristwatch, the Cartier Panthère has become an icon of the jewelry world. Here, five sleek gold panthers stride across an elegant two-tone cuff bracelet with a border of 144 round brilliant-cut diamonds.

Rare Panthère pieces from the ’80s and ’90s have shown a robust performance in the secondary market, making them excellent investments with strong resale value.

Jean Mahie earrings

For those unfamiliar, Jean Mahie is a legendary French jewelry manufacturer that father- and daughter-in-law Jean Marie and Jacline Mazard established together in 1969. Working with 22-karat yellow gold, the brand — now helmed by Veronique Mazard Vogel — hand-forges one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces that incorporate Roman, Greek and Phoenician influences. These earrings offer a wonderful pop of color with emerald-cut emeralds and round brilliant-cut yellow diamonds. For vintage Jean Mahie designs of such rarity, collectors can expect to pay a premium of $9,000 and up.

Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co. Boule bracelet

This bracelet of boule-shaped beads is by French-Spanish fashion designer Paloma Picasso, who created the piece for Tiffany & Co. The daughter of famed artist Pablo Picasso, she entered an exclusive relationship with Tiffany in 1980 and debuted with a jewelry collection under her own name: Paloma’s Graffiti.

This vintage 1989 piece, crafted in yellow gold with a shimmering hammered finish, recently sold at Christie’s for upward of $8,000.

Inset images: Bonhams; Christie’s; Wilson’s Estate Jewelry; Heritage Auctions; Lang Antiques.

Main image: Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond ring, which sold at Christie’s New York Jewels Online sale in September. (Christie’s)

This article is from the November-December 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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Solid Gold Hits of the ’80s and ’90s

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