The Complete Guide to Costume Jewellery

12/03/2019 4451 0 2


What is Costume 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, it often incorporates workmanship and materials on a 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
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      

Above: Costume Jewellery from Modern Vintage Style  .

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 itappeared 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.

  Swarovski clear crystal earrings  Swarovski blue crystal brooch
L to R: Swarovksi  faux ruby necklace, clear crystal earrings, and teal crystal brooch

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 as
indicators 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 theirown stunning bracelets, necklaces, brooches and earrings.

L to R: Eisenberg green crystal brooch, blue crystal flower brooch, and Hobe costume necklace

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.

Ciner crystal panther bracelet  Ciner bow brooch
Ciner panther bracelet and crystal bow brooch from Modern Vintage Style

Designer American Cocktail Jewellery

 The Second World War had a great impact on American Jewellery firms, as by the time
the Americans entered the war in 1941 the government had placed restrictions on base
metals which were required for the war effort. This together with a reduction in imported
materials from Europe resulted in jewellers substituting base metals with sterling silver
and using modern materials such as Lucite and other plastics in place of cabochon cut
pastes to create unique jewellery.

 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

Yellow Vermeil (Silver Gilt) used in new American look Jewellery Designs

America’s isolation and separation from Europe throughout the war resulted in a lack of
European influence in American jewellery trends, and due to this, the first totally American
look in jewellery design emerged. A particular aspect of this new style was the use of 
yellow vermeil, or silver gilt as it is often known.  

Fake Ruby and Aquamarine gems, and Large Stones used in "Cocktail Jewellery"

These new jewellery designs often featured large sized stones and strong colour combinations
of fake gems such as bold ruby red against aquamarine. Popular styles were abstracted designs
that looked like drapery, as well as strong sculpted scrolls and bows. These free flowing and
sculptural items were in contrast to the geometric and streamlined pieces of the earlier Art Deco Era.
It became the style to wear this new type of jewellery to cocktail parties and evening events  the
result of this was the name “cocktail jewellery” being used for this new jewellery design type.

Big Name Jewellery Firms of the 1940's - Coro and Trifari

The most famous two names in American costume jewellery of the 1940’s were Trifari and Coro.
Both companies had achieved success producing imitations of Art Deco jewellery using inspiration from
the designs of Cartier.

Coro Double Locking Clips and Trifari "Tutti Frutti" Jewellery

 Coro was the first firm to manufacture double locking clips that could be worn separately or together .
These clips called “Duettes” were very popular items. Trifari developed good reputation by producing
top quality costume jewellery imitations of tutti frutti jewellery.

Coro angelfish and animal brooches

Coro and Trifari led the way in the design of cocktail jewellery n the 1940’s and early 1950’s and they
moved the style forward in a fun, figurative, and imaginative way. Notable Coro designs of this period
were brooches shaped like anglefish,hands, and donkey carts, while designs by Trifari often featured
animal brooches made with Lucite

Swarovski Aurora Borealis Rhinestone

In the middle part of the 1950’s Swarovski designed a special rhinestone for Christian Dior.
The new rhinestone  design was called “aurora borealis” with regard to the northern lights.
This new design was also used by the New York jewellers Weiss to produce a range of jewellery
for evening wear which became extremely influential. The aurora borealis designs by Weiss
were of high quality and the firm received mucch accolade for their work

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, and many of the jewellery
pieces,  are now highly treasured by collectors.

The Market for Costume and Fine Vintage Necklaces

When a 1925 Cartier vintage necklace set with diamonds and rubies came up for auction
in Hong Kong in the year 1994, it went unsold. However, nineteen years later, the same
vintage necklace fetched more than twice the earlier estimate, selling for HK$4.82m to a
select private collector.

The sparkling gems in the necklace were set in a classic art deco style, designed by a very
renowned French jewellery house. However despite the necklace’s provenance, the experts
say that demand for such pieces, particularly in China, did not even exist 20 years ago.

In the past ten years however, interest from the Asian market in antique and vintage costume
jewellery has gathered speed, partly because buyers have thrown off  supposed superstition
about pre-owned pieces and also  because such necklaces and earrings 
makes an attractive
proposition for investors.
Buyers are eyeing a range of periods and style – from antique through to art deco and right
up to designs of the 1990s by JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal), the exclusive and Paris-based
Pieces of known provenance are particularly sought after. At a Hong Kong auction in April,
the Cartier Collection, the famous jeweller’s heritage archive, paid $27.44m for a jadeite
necklace that was the subject of a 20-minute bidding war. The growing trend for buying quality
vintage necklaces as opposed to newer jewellery is now seen in a younger generation of buyer.
These are buyers who may have inherited jewellery, and are paying attention to period pieces. 

Owning a special unique piece has a cachet – whoever is wearing the vintage necklace
,vintage brooch or earrings knows they will not bump into somebody else wearing the same
piece. And limited availability for vintage jewellery always enhances the value. Particular
stones are alsopopular with aquamarine and amethyst being a favourite

An appreciation of the workmanship that goes into vintage jewellery is driving demand. Period
pieceswill be handmade from beginning to end, which is not always the case with more modern
jewellery where computers are often used for precise cutting.

Classic Pearl and Gold and Silver Vintage Necklaces Always in Demand

Vintage necklaces are particularly in demand. Whether it’s classic pearl necklaces, long
gold and silver designer vintage necklaces or more costume jewellery necklaces the vintage

market has never been busier.  Glitzy vintage costume jewellery necklaces are always popular
with some of the vintage necklaces from the big brands of recent decades, such as Trifari,Coro,
Butler and Wilson, Monet , being most sought after.

Miriam Haskell Vintage Pearl Necklaces

In years gone past in Hollywood the big starts such as Joan Crawford were fans of costume
jewellery necklaces from early on. Joan Crawford was a regular client of acclaimed costume
jewellery designer Miriam Haskell. Vintage Haskell necklaces are among the popular designer’s
most sought-after pieces. Some necklaces have only a single strand of faux pearls. Others have
multiple pearl strands in matching or different sizes and colours—from traditional white to smouldering
dark brown. Even the necklace clasps are opportunities for embellishment, with rose montées, pearls,
and filigree decorating the ends of the clasps.

Faux Pearl, Gemstone and Rhinestone Crystal Necklaces worn by old Hollywood stars

Famous designer Coco Chanel was another admirer of costume necklaces, providing faux-pearl and
glass-bead necklaces to such stars as Elizabeth Taylor. After World War II, Christian Dior combined
fauxemeralds or rubies with sparkling rhinestones. Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, and Vivian Leigh
are just some  of the other influential movie stars who routinely wore sparkling costume necklaces.

One particular designer whose main focus was Hollywood was Eugene Joseff. His company, Joseff of
Hollywood, made stunning costume jewellery necklaces for such films as “A Star is Born” (1936), and
“Casablanca” (1942). In that Alfred Hitchcock classic film Grace Kelly wore a Joseff necklace with a
spectacular strand of faux diamonds.

1950's Costume Jewellery - Trifari Jewellery

By the 1950’s costume jewellery necklaces had become so admired that Mamie Eisenhower felt
perfectly at ease wearing a Trifari costume jewellery necklace to the inaugural ball in 1953.
 To match the First Lady’s pink  gown (dripping with sparkling rhinestones), Trifari’s Alfred
Philippe produced  an "orientique" pearl choker with matching three-strand bracelet and earrings
  each with eight pearls. Three sets of this jewellery were made: one for the First Lady, a second
for the Smithsonian Museum, and a third for the Trifari company archives. Mrs. Eisenhower was
so pleased with the result that she had Trifari make a parure of jewellery for another inaugural ball
in 1957. Other very collectible vintage costume jewellery necklaces include Coro’s Vendome
rhinestone-studdedchokers, Elsa Schiaparelli’s bright pink  lava-rock necklace collars, and Stanley
Hagler’s coral floral type necklaces.

For more information on top brands see our article The Ultimate Guide to European Costume Brands