For as long as mankind has fixed its gaze on the heavens we have been captivated by space and the secrets it holds. The “Space Race” between Cold War rivals the USA and the USSR began in the mid-1950s and peaked with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969. This contest for astronautical supremacy spurred a fascination with outer space. Extra-terrestrial themes embodied the notion of exploration and pushing boundaries at a time when society was enthralled with all things futuristic, and their aesthetic fell neatly in line with the bold, experimental fashion so iconic of the era.
A wave of thematic design ensued, with motifs reminiscent of space travel percolating into the collections of top fashion designers as well as the salons of the most revered jewelry maisons. Diamond-set rocket brooches adorned lapels and stylized satellite pendants hung from the ears of fashionable women.
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The house of Cartier designed a line of stylised urchin-like “Sputnik” jewels, hemispherical gold domes punctuated with radiating polished spines, as a nod to the first artificial satellite sent into orbit by the Soviet Union in 1957.
“Crater” bijouterie appeared shortly after with oversized earrings, cuffs and brooches crafted from gold worked into undulating, sculptural, low-relief landscapes reminiscent of the rugged surface of the moon. Van Cleef & Arpels produced a series of jewels with this characteristic molten texture, the earrings and cuffs of which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was photographed wearing as she shook hands with Mohammed Ali at a New York party in 1977.
The “Moon Crater” necklace, made by the English jeweler Roy King in the early 1960s, was produced as an entry to the De Beers Modern British Jewelry Competition which called for entries that were “both experimental and beautiful, frankly belonging to 1961, which would not have been made at any other time,” and the celebrated English engravers and silversmiths Louis Osman and Malcolm Appleby designed a model of the moon sculpted in gold to commemorate the Apollo 11 mission. Set with a single circular-cut diamond marking the location of the historic landing, the first three made were presented to crew members, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and a fourth to Rose Kennedy.
Despite the propagation of space-centric influence between the 1940s and 1970s, celestial subjects have existed in jewelry design for hundreds of years. During the Victorian era jeweled crescent moons, suns, and starbursts proliferated among the precious objects with which women chose to ornament themselves, suspended around necks or pinned into hair. These were carefully chosen by the wearer to express specific romantic or sentimental notions, with stars signifying direction and guidance, and moons symbolizing spirituality and female empowerment.
As we approach the 50-year anniversary of the moon landing, the jewelry world continues its long-lived infatuation with cosmic influences as jewelers such as Chanel, Jessica McCormack, and Solange Azagury-Partridge employ modern iterations of those much-loved Victorian motifs and polychromatic nebula-like color palettes.
The enduring allure of the mysteries of space, together with the associated symbolism and trending interest in the mystical and other-worldly, ensure that these themes are set to occupy a permanent space in the narrative of jewelry design for years to come.