Costume Jewellery - Overview


Costume Jewellery Versus Fine Jewellery

The phrase “costume jewellery” was first used in the 1920s, however jewellery and ornamentation made out of non-precious materials have been worn since ancient times. While it is sometimes called “fake” or "fashion" jewellery, vintage costume jewellery often incorporates workmanship and materials on par with, or even better than fine jewellery.

The 20th century resulted in a sea change as to how jewellery was perceived and used. Before then, women wore jewellery made of precious and semi-precious stones and metals as a way of flaunting the wealth of their families and husbands. Therefore, jewellery was mostly worn by the upper classes to convey their position in society, although it could also symbolize one's religion,  the state of a romance, or a time of mourning.

New inexpensive materials for costume jewellery

However early in the 20th century, due to the development of new materials and industrialization, fashion designers began to experiment with jewellery as an expression of style and creativity, using less expensive non precious materials so that pieces could be larger and bolder, in line with the Art Deco style and flapper girl fashions that were emerging. Because these vintage necklaces, earrings,and brooches were made of inexpensive materials and not designed to be keepsakes or heirlooms, they could be more outrageous and trendy, thrown out or replaced when a particular look went out of fashion.

aquamarine crystal deco style vintage necklace         vintage costume jewellery necklace with aquamarine rhinestones         

Above: Vintage Jewellery from Modern Vintage Style  - Art Deco necklace with aquamarine rhinestones & Grosse vintage  pearl drop earrings

The Creation of Diamante Glass Jewellery

The beginning of  this movement can be traced to the 17th and 18th centuries, when Europe's collective desire for precious gemstones, in particular diamonds, prompted many jewellers to search for more affordable substitutes in glass. In 1724, a young jeweller named Georges Frédéric Strass created a special leaded glass known as paste that could be cut and polished with metal powder so that it appeared to twinkle like a diamond in candlelight. Before long, his “diamante” creations were very popular in Parisian society.

Swarovski and the Creation of Crystal Rhinestones

 Due to the influence of Queen Victoria and her tragic romance, 19th-century ladies took to wearing jewellery made from non-precious materials such as paste, mirrored-back glass, and black jet for particular, sentimental reasons such as mourning or romance. Then, in 1892, Austrian jeweller Daniel Swarovski created his coveted fine crystal rhinestones created with high-lead-content glass and a permanent foil backing. This allowed the rhinestones to imitate the facets and lustre of gemstones, from rubies and diamonds sapphires and emeralds.

Statement Accessories

However the concept of costume jewellery, per se, wasn't really introduced until the latter part of the 1920s, when Coco Chanel launched a line of strong “statement” accessories. Made to resemble large flowers or frogs, these items were meant to be worn like art rather than asindicators of wealth. Her jewellery was very different from anything that had come before and it was a great hit. Taking inspiration from this, Elsa Schiaparelli produced a line of jewellery with large faux stones on bold  bracelets whose designs were inspired by the Dada art movement.

Bakelite plastic resin

  Much of this new jewellery was made out of a new hard plastic material called Bakelite, a plastic resin created by Leo Baekeland in 1907. Bakelite could be produced in several bright colours, which were given quirky  names like Apple Juice, Salmon and Butterscotch. Extremely popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Bakelite was hard enough to be polished and carved into all sorts of intriguing shapes forbangle and beads.

The fashion for big, angular, and chunky bangles started with the late ’20s flappers, who would pile   them along their slender and scandalously bare arms. Initially made of ivory, the bangles fashion,which endured well into the 60s, soon became dominated by new brightly coloured plastics like Bakelite and Lucite.  

Even more abstract jewellery emerged from the art movements of  ’30s and ’40s. Influenced by Bauhaus, Cubism, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism, as well as  the new industrialization , designers  produced heavy, armour-like cocktail jewellery using gilt metal, chrome or large stones reflecting the rhythm and movement of an assembly line. Some of these pieces were meant to resemble screw-heads,ball bearings, nuts, and bolts.

Top Costume Jewellers and Fine Jewellery Imitations

  At the same time, other top costume jewellers such as  Eisenberg,  Hobe  and Trifari kept things delicate an dainty making great imitations of fine jewellery like Cartier diamonds alongside their own stunning bracelets, necklaces, brooches and earrings.

Fuelling interest in costume jewellery was the emergence of Hollywood as a style trendsetter. In particular, movie-set jewellery such as Eugene Joseff's creations for  “Casablanca,” “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”, which resembled expensive gems, were highly influential. Even Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford made public appearances wearing stunning rhinestone  necklaces, while First Lady Mamie Eisenhower wore costume jewellery for her husband's inaugural   ball .

Dior Costume Jewellery 

Beginning in the late '40s, high-end Parisian designers like Christian Dior started producing costume jewellery. Dior was an early fan of Swarovski’s aurora borealis rhinestones, which were developed and introduced in 1955 with an extra dimension of sparkle thanks to a chemical treatment that iridized the glass.

Alfred Philippe, trained as a fine jeweller at Van Cleef & Arpels, was one of the foremost innovators  in costume jewellery during his period as Trifari’s chief designer from 1930 to 1968. He brought his particular invisible-setting technique to smoothed non-precious stones known as cabochons, often incorporated into the very popular Trifari Crown pins.

Jelly Belly Animal Brooches

  Philippe also developed Trifari’s menagerie brooches known as Jelly Belly every animal, whether it was a seal, poodle, rooster or duckling  featured a Lucite plastic belly smoothed into a pearl-like shape, set in gold plate or sterling silver. These pins, which were imitated by Coro and others, are highly   collectible and prized today, as are Trifari’s brooches. They are often exact matches  of Cartier fine   jewellery— shaped into floral designs, miniature fruits, and American flags.

Miriam Haskell Floral Jewellery

Around the same time, Miriam Haskell produced intricate hand-crafted floral jewellery that was very popular within the Manhattan socialite scene and loved by Hollywood stars like Lucille all and Joan  Craword. Her high-quality pieces featured gilt filigree, Swarovski crystal beads, Murano blown-glass   beads, faux pearls,  and rose montées,

These were precut crystals mounted onto a silver setting with a  channel  or hole in the back. Eisenberg & Sons were also noted for their great quality costume jewellery, particularly their reproductions of 18th century fine jewels and the figural rhinestone items set in sterling silver.

Even fine jeweller Emanuel Ciner progressed to costume jewellery in the 1930s, producing the greatest hand-crafted pieces .Ciner incorporated  Swarovski crystals and plated the metal that held the crystals in places with 18-carat gold. Interlocking crystal squares were a feature of Ciner costume jewellery, as were very small turquoise seed pearls, and also  Japanese faux pearls made of glass treated multiple times with a special glaze.

During World War II, the rationing of metal forced various costume jewellers such as Trifari to use    sterling silver in their pieces, forcing their prices up. When the war finished, Trifari wished to return   to  inexpensive metals so it promoted its latest products by calling them Trifanium, which was a basic    metal that could incorporate  a no-polish rhodium plating.

1950's Parure sets, with Necklaces, Earrings and Brooches

In the conservative ’50s, a period when matching sweater sets were considered proper, women wanted their jewellery to match also, therefore costume jewellery was produced in “parures,” with    matching necklaces, earrings, brooches and sometimes bracelets. These jewellery sets are technically “demi-parures,” as they are not big enough to be considered a full suite of jewellery.

The ’50s and ’60s also saw a revival in the Victorian Era charm bracelet, a fashion made popular by  Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor. Naturally, costume jewellers got in on the charm-making  business, as women and young girls  would add charms and lockets to their bracelets to signify particular moments in their lives.

As things turned out, given  the detailed craftsmanship and artistry put into costume jewellery,nowadays most people do not  consider it “junk” at all, because  vintage costume jewellery, including vintage earrings, necklaces, and vintage brooches are now highly treasured by collectors.



Related Articles

 Vintage Guide
  If you are a fan of vintage then now is a great time to look for quality pieces as the market is buoyant, and with a little bit of background research you can  find some great vintage necklaces, earrings, bracelets, or vintage brooches to add to your collection. There are pieces  to suit every style  and taste, and  you can find a wide variety of choice in terms of  value and significance. With so many buying options available, it’s a great idea to know what to look for when buying vintage , and, if possible, understand a bit of the history behind ..
  Here are some of our current favourite vintage pieces at Modern Vintage Style in our vintage gems gallery..including jewellery from Dior , Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent.    YSL cabochon bracelet                 Norman Grant tree pendant            Aquamarine earrings  Grosse vintage earrings             Stunning YSL multi colour necklace       Freshwater pearl necklace All of..
Latest Articles
  Interested in collecting vintage and antique jewellery? Check out our illustrated guide to the top European costume jewellery brands to look out for..   1) CHRISTIAN DIOR   .. Read More
The Complete  Guide to Vintage and Antique Bracelet Styles.  Check out our illustrated guide to help you identify the different type of bracelets... Read More
All Articles

Contact Us