Jewelry Style Through the Ages: 1980s

Jewelry Style Through the Ages: 1980s

A shift towards ultra-bold big gems and exotic objects overwhelmed and—quite frankly—characterized 1980s fashion. Earthly elements like wood and leather took off, layers of white pearls overwhelmed many a décolletage, and hoop earrings nearly the size of saucers graced the ears of common folk and celebrities alike. It was a time of continued expression inherited from the 1970s that exploded into extreme flamboyance. 


Pop-culture icons in music like Madonna, Prince, Janet Jackson, and Tina Turner paved the way for many of the aforementioned jewelry trends that permeated the decade and inspire us today. Movie stars such as Emma Samms and Joan Collins of “Dynasty” made sparkle and glam a huge part of our lives. 

If there’s one thing you need to know about the 80s, it’s that everything was big and bold. This extended to everything—clothes, sunglasses, hair, and jewelry. It was the era of Jane Fonda’s leg warmers and Whitney Houston wanting to dance with somebody. 

Let’s take a look at how we can capture some of these 80s-inspired loud looks and gargantuan baubles today—because honestly, sometimes we just need to turn up our looks. 

Pearls, Pearls, Pearls

Unless you were completely out of touch, you know who the queen of pearls was in the 80s. That’s right—the rebellious, beloved siren of ‘voguing,’ Madonna. She paired several strands with her tousled, tied up mane and rocked the look completely. But today, the treasure looks a little bit differently—a bit more refined. You can still wear pearls oversized, but tempering them with other pieces or wearing them on their own brings in a bit more balance and chicness. I love this feminine design from Neil Lane for its delicate distinction. Composed of platinum, 122 diamonds, and 60 pearls, the piece does err on the Victorian side, but jazz it up with another, shorter strand of pearls and you’ll surely be giving off subtle 80s vibes. 

neil lane

Big, Bad Hoops 

A familiar piece from the decade, oversized 80s hoops certainly ran their course. Whether they were sported in pure gold or amped up with stones and/or colored materials, the accessories were often worn with big-big hair or sleek Robert-Palmer style buns. While we’re still all about the hoops, now we tend to lean toward more sophistication. This exquisitely unique pair from Fred Leighton’s Contemporary collection covers this trend as well as the natural-element trend I mentioned before. Fashioned from rosewood, the earrings feature a row of round, brilliant diamonds for a hint of sparkle. I’m in love with the contrast and the open design of this style.  

fred leighton

Head-Turning Color

Electric hues like chartreuse, hot pink, and lime green were no strangers to the 80s. They were worn head to toe, on leggings, sweatbands, and jewelry. But nowadays, even though we still love a good pop of brightness, we tend to take things a little bit slower. Enter this stunning pair of gemstone bar earrings from Vera Wang. Modernized with sterling silver instead of yellow gold, the creations spotlight perfectly sized lab-created emeralds, rubies, white sapphires, and spinels. Back in the 80s, a jewel-toned satin dress would’ve been the pairing—but today, I’m thinking that a flowing slip dress would be the most beautiful. 

Vera Wang II

The Standout Choker

You didn’t think I would forget the illustrious choker, did you? Gone are days when cages literally graced the neck and held it captive. Right now, chokers are definitely having a moment, but they are much more minimalist and often layered with longer chains. I like this mini pave link masterpiece from Shay. Encrusted with 3.5 carats of diamonds, the white gold can definitely be dialed in further with layers of colored gemstone pieces. 

shopbop 80s

The 80s were the era of costume jewelry and statement pieces, as avant-garde jewelry designers turned to new materials, colors, and styles to create accessories that matched the zeitgeist. As with all  fashion, 80s jewelry is back in vogue with a modern touch, so don’t be afraid to rock these retro styles in a way that still looks relevant!


About The Author


Debbie Azar is the Co-Founder and President of Gemological Science International (GSI), one of the largest gemological organizations in the world, and a distinguished leader in the global diamond and jewelry industry. As an executive with extensive knowledge of the jewelry and gem lab industries, her entrepreneurial skills and vision have helped GSI achieve rapid and continuous growth worldwide, establishing 13 leading-edge gemological facilities on four continents. She currently serves on the boards of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Responsible Jewellery Council, and Jewelers for Children, and is a member of the 24 Carat Club of New York. She has been featured in Forbes, Daily Mail, Good Morning America, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fox Business, Fox5, CBS2, BOLDTV, Varney&Co, The Street, and NASDAQ, among others.

Debbie Azar

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