Jewellery trend: The return of yellow gold

Words by
Avril Groom

17th January 2018

Classic yellow gold is making a comeback, adding warmth and freshness to some of this year’s most interesting jewellery and watch designs

Gold never goes out of fashion. It is still the best form of portable wealth, apart from diamonds, and in some cultures is a form of wearable dowry. Yet there is a jewellers’ theory that gold colours are subject to slow-moving, long-term trends that work, approximately, on a 25-year cycle. 

The bright yellow that the word “gold” brings to mind last enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, before being tarnished by the brash gilt costume jewellery of the early 1980s. Modern minimalism then required the coolness of white gold to provide a foil for the small pavé diamonds that formed the basis of delicate pieces. By the late 1990s, thoughts turned to the Millennium and the past. Back came vintage style and rose gold featured in much of the jewellery of the early 20th century.

Van Cleef

The gold itself (except for 24 carat, which is pure) is combined with other metals to alter the colour. White gold includes nickel, palladium or silver, but is not really white until rhodium plating is added. Rose gold includes copper and subtle versions have silver too; although it has been dominant again recently, rose gold is perhaps becoming overblown, especially with alloys that are a rather bright pink.

Even yellow gold is an alloy and includes a little silver, because natural gold has a duller, reddish tint. Yet this bright, optimistic shade is back in the spotlight and featuring in some of the most interesting jewellery pieces and watches of the past year. It looks fresh again and reflects the revived interest in 1980s fashion currently inspiring catwalk collections from the likes of Saint Laurent, Balenciaga — its gilded rope charm belts are a totally 1980s trope — and Isabel Marant. Yet it also references renewed enthusiasm for the work of 1960s and 1970s jewellers whose primary medium was yellow gold.

Tree of Life necklace by Elizabeth Gage

Until recently, jewellery from that period was underpriced, but the recent sale of Andrew Grima’s work at Bonhams saw prices up to 10 times higher than the estimates. Grima, who died in 2007, was the archetypal jeweller of the period with his bold, organic shapes and big, often rough, stones set in textured yellow gold. His firm has been continued by his widow and daughter, who sell their own designs in the same spirit alongside his remaining pieces. 

Leo de Vroomen and Elizabeth Gage, who both started in the 1970s, are still working today: the former is best known for bold, fluid shapes in beaten yellow gold with coloured stones and/or enamel; the latter for her chunky, engraved gold rings with antique inspiration. Other brands have been reviving their own 1960s and 1970s styles. Van Cleef & Arpels revamped its famous yellow gold and hardstone Alhambra range, while Cartier introduced its quirky, 1960s-inspired Cactus collection, initially with coloured stones and now in yellow gold with diamonds. 

Leo de Vroomen

This trend for coloured stones (also a 1960s feature) is another impetus for yellow gold, which flatters many of them. Yellow diamonds have often been set with white diamonds in white gold, but Graff’s use of bold yellow gold settings enhances their warmth and sparkle. Italian brands have long used yellow gold, sometimes engraved, with coloured gems and hardstones; Marco Bicego’s multi-coloured Jaipur range is a prime example. Bulgari, which also had a 1960s heyday in the Dolce Vita era, has always loved yellow gold and unexpected gem colours, though stresses that it also uses a very subtle rose gold when the stones’ colours demand it.

Bulgari is a rare mix of high jewellery and fine watchmaking. Its new Lucea Mosaique illustrates another trend — the return of the yellow gold jewellery watch. Its dial is a mosaic of tiny, handset gold leaf squares, each one set on a grain of sand so the angles vary, which makes it sparkle. And the gold bracelet watch is also firmly back — the Lucea’s diamond-edged snake bracelet is matched by Dior’s new Mini D with a bracelet of tiny engraved gold leaves and Chanel’s gold “tweed” bracelet version of the Boy.Friend.

Sac Cactus Cartier
Cactus de Cartier ring

If a watch is a step too far, you can simply do the bracelet: Tiffany’s Urban HardWear chain with wrecking ball charm is suitably tough, while George Pragnell’s Bold Gold bracelet in stylised 1940s lettering looks genuinely mid-century. In each case the yellow gold option is the one to buy to be ahead of the curve.