Today’s jewelry trends cater to designs that are dainty, diminutive, demure. That was not the case in the 1980s. Big, brash, bold, powerful statement jewelry was popular in the decade when Michael J. Fox went Back to the Future.

Jewelry of the 1980s had an evident structure and weight. Large pieces, like big, gold cuff bracelets and bold Cuban-link necklaces, were in vogue as ’80s supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Kathy Ireland, Iman, Renee Simonsen, and Elle Macpherson struck a pose.

The 1980s saw great change, particularly in the realm of all things shiny and bright — that is, jewelry. These trends were sparked by artists, designers, and even celebrities.

Madonna, the singer/songwriter/entertainer, made rosary beads a fashion statement in the 1980s. Once viewed as old fashioned, the religious beads associated with Christian prayer were worn as an accessory amid big hairstyles and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.

In addition, celebs and fashionistas of the 1980s wore oversized hoop earrings; mammoth, chain-link necklaces; neon; and jelly bracelets.

Other jewelry trends included single-strand pearl necklaces worn over Fair Isle sweaters; bold, gold jewelry pieces with silk blouses; diamond tennis bracelets for the preppy set; and for the beachcombers, sporty Swatch wristwatches and the ever-popular cowrie and puka shell necklaces.

Another fashion trendsetter, Great Britain’s Princess Diana, wore large, faceted-cut, prong-set choker necklaces and cocktail rings of high-quality gemstones. Her famous engagement ring featured at her 1981 wedding was an impressive blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds, which is now worn by HRH Princess Catherine.

Like Diana, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson had an equally showy ruby engagement ring featuring diamonds. The ruby color recalled the Duchess’s red hair.

Following the royals’ lead, many 1980s jewelry enthusiasts around the world wore both real and costume jewelry in the big, bold style, featuring prong-set gemstones of alluring colors ranging from emeralds to colorful diamonds.  

As we approached the end of the 20th century, major cultural changes took place. Power players in the market were not men buying jewelry gifts for others but, in fact, working women, who became the main customers for jewelry designers.

Working women, while still enjoying gifts of jewelry, began also purchasing it for themselves instead of waiting to receive bling from a loved one on a special occasion.

Prior to the ’80s, fine jewelry was not marketed specifically by brand. But this movement opened the jewelry world to designers who were catering to women directly. It sparked the rise of women as fine jewelry designers too.


Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning media personality Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide and appears on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island and Pawn Stars Do America. Visit, watch her Real Bargains show on, or call (888) 431-1010.

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