At Judy’s Jewelry and Antiques, we both buy and sell costume jewelry, and over the year’s our owner Sal has noticed that there are way too many people out there who don’t understand that costume jewelry is not junk. So often, people come into our shop with a box or a bag of jewelry and ask Sal to check to see if there’s any silver or gold in there that he will buy, and they tell him they will just throw out the rest. Not so fast! Vintage costume jewelry is a collectible item that holds value for many people both for nostalgia sake, but also for designer sake. After all, a designer’s name holds value itself, even if the jewelry is made from inexpensive materials and has imitation gemstones in it.
Let’s look at it this way, there are many different kinds of jeans you can buy, and they are all made from denim. In itself, denim is not an expensive material to make or buy, and yet you can buy jeans in a very large range of prices from the cheapest ones at some place like Old Navy all the way up to very expensive designer label jeans. It’s the design and the designer who created that design that gives those jeans value, and it’s the same with costume jewelry, although that’s not the only thing that gives it value. For example, costume jewelry often mirrors the societal and political trends, as well as the designer trends of the time period it was created. So they hold value for their beauty, and also for their historical significance.
Imitation “paste” stones were used as early as the 18th century. These stones were actually made of leaded glass that was cut and polished with a metal powder to twinkle like a diamond. These creations, also called “diamante” were all the rage in Paris in the 1700s.
There was a surge in costume jewelry wearing in Victorian times due to Queen Victoria and her tragic romance, which influenced all of fashion. That “mourning period” which lasted for decades meant that women’s clothing was dark in color, and their jewelry was mainly made with non-precious materials so as not to be too flashy.
The late 1800’s saw the return of flashy jewelry, and in 1892, Austrian jeweler, Daniel Swarovski, developed his famous crystal rhinestones. His creations meant that many different types of gemstones from diamonds to rubies to emeralds could be recreated with imitations that looked as luxurious as the real thing. Even today Swarovski crystal is prized for its beauty.
But it was when famous designers started to create costume jewelry to go along with their clothing designs that it really began to be popular. Coco Chanel is lauded as the first to do this in the late 1920s. Her idea was that the jewelry should be like a piece of art to complement the clothing and make a bold statement. She created large flowers and animal designs that were wildly poplar. The designers of the time, like Elsa Schiaparelli, were highly influenced by movements happening in the fine art world such as Dadaism and Art Deco. The introduction of new materials such as Bakelite, a plastic resin that was hard enough to be carved and polished and came in many different bright colors also influenced designers by giving them the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. And the “flappers” ate it up, piling on the chunky bangles and long crystal necklaces.
Due to the Great Depression, costume jewelry wearing was necessary in the 1930s because most women could not afford precious metals or stones, and in fact, many could not even afford to buy new clothing. They relied on their accessories such as scarves or costume jewelry to give old clothes new life. This emphasis on jewelry being a clothing accessory led to the creation of the dress clip, and the double clip brooch. Produced by companies such as Coro, Trifari, Boucher and even Cartier these could be clipped to a dress, a blouse, a purse or even a hat. Some of the most collectible costume jewelry was made between 1900 and 1930.
The art movements of the ‘30s and ‘40s, including Bauhaus, Futurism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism continued to influence costume jewelry designs of that time. The rapid industrialization happening around the world also lent itself to jewelry design with pieces that resembled ball bearings and nuts and bolts. At the same time, many jewelry designers kept their focus on recreating imitations of fine jewelry. Designers like Eisenberg and Hobe and Trifari came to the forefront with this kind of fine design imitation.
During this time period, the Golden Age of Hollywood influenced jewelry design tremendously, and costume jewelry originally created as movie props for actresses to wear in The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind, started to appear on store shelves. After all, every woman wanted to look like her favorite glamorous movie star, and if they were wearing costume jewelry so could she. Even Mamie Eisenhower wore costume jewelry for her hubby’s inaugural ball.
In the 1950s high-end designers like Christian Dior were designing costume jewelry to compliment their fashion designer clothing. Swarovski developed an imitation gemstone in 1955 called the Aurora Borealis Rhinestone and Dior made it immensely popular within his designs.
One of the most important things to a woman of the 1950s was to look extremely put together. Her clothing consisted of coordinated outfits that matched her dress with her shoes and purse, and matching jewelry was a must. Designers fed into this by producing “parure” sets, which consisted of matching sets of earrings, necklace and bracelet.
The free-thinking 1960s led to costume jewelry that focused on the cultural changes happening around the world with plastic jewelry in the vibrant psychedelic colors of the “flower power” movement. Jewelry of the time was also highly influenced by the Pop Art and Op Art movements sweeping the fine art world. Also popular at this time was earthy hippy jewelry that had African and Native American patterns.
The 1970s brought back large geometric pieces. Colored plastics mimicked the 70s colors being used, not only in clothing fashion, but also in furniture and automobile design and consisted of avocado, burnt orange and bright yellow. Aside from plastics though, costume jewelry of the 1970s took on a bohemian influenced by “world art” and emphasized the use of natural materials such as bone, wood and shells.
In the 1980s jewelry design was influenced by music. MTV had made its debut, so everyone got to see their favorite pop and rock stars in their favorite music videos. Teenage girls all wanted to look like Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, and recreated that look with rubber bracelets and ironically, with vintage costume jewelry, often from the 1950s. Faux gold was all the rage, and wearing multiple strands of fake pearls knotted at the end was in fashion. Even big bold brooches made a comeback.
Now that you know a bit of the history of costume jewelry, you may look at that box your grandmother left you with a bit more appreciation. We urge you never to throw cash in the trash by bringing us your “junk” jewelry to appraise. And if this blog has whetted your appetite for antique jewelry and costume jewelry, come into the shop to see what we’ve got!