Costume Jewellery is designed and manufactured as an inexpensive alternative to ‘real’ or fine jewellery. It is crafted from low-cost materials with the focus on lavish and unusual design, to ornament and complement a costume or outfit. It is not paste – an imitation of fine jewellery – but is intended as a fashion-statement in its own right.
Unlike fine jewellery, which is made of precious metals and gems and is kept as a keep-sake, investment or heirloom, costume jewellery is made from base metals, glass, bakelite, feathers, beads, and other inexpensive materials.
History and Description
Costume jewellery was first worn during the 19th century. The earliest examples were made of inexpensive simulated gemstones, such as rhinestones and Lucite, set into pewter, silver, nickel or brass. Jewels crated out of semi-precious material or glass were so much more affordable for the general population, and common people for the first time had the opportunity to own and wear jewellery.
Costume jewellery gained great popularity during the 1920s when dress-styles rapidly evolved and changed each season. 20s pieces are typically flamboyant, large and brightly coloured. These pieces are often emblematic of the Art Deco period of design, and particularly collected by fans of this style.
It was pioneered by designers such as Chanel, and her rival Else Schiaparelli, and ensembles often included matching accessories such as belts, headbands, cigarette-cases and cigarette-holders. The Art Deco costume jewellery introduced by Coco Chanel featured harsh geometrical shapes, long pendants, bangles, large cocktail rings and a generally symmetrical theme.
The Depression (1929 onward) further enforced the popularity of costume jewellery as a bold statement of 'poverty chic', at a time when many people found it necessary to sell their collections of fine jewellery. Ciner Costume Jewelry were one company who really came into their own during this era, stocking major American department stores. Pieces of Ciner jewellery can be picked up relatively cheaply.
During World War II, sterling silver began to be used in costume jewellery, as what were previously cheap and available base metals were now in great demand for military production. Europe struggled with the war and their jewellery firms shut down. Many European jewellery designers emigrated to the US, and from 1935 to 1950, mass production of costume jewellery came into full swing in America as the new middle class emerging from the Depression sought beautiful and affordable jewellery.
This era is termed the ‘Retro period’. Retro designs often merged natural materials with new plastics, such as vintage clamper bracelets. The designs were considered glamourous, elegant and sophisticated, despite widely employing Bakelite and other plastics in their production.
From 1945 to 1960, jewellery designs became more traditional and understated. This era is known as the Art Modern period. Pieces were bold colours, chunky designs, and Christmas jewellery came into its own. The Hollywood movie had a great part to play in popularising the wearing of costume jewellery, as film stars were often seen wearing pieces to endorse their favourite designers. Costume jewellery versions of these famous jewels were made, and sold in Woolworth. Kenneth Jay Lane was a renowned costume jewellery designer of the 1960s, making pieces of Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and other stars of the silver screen.
Costume jewellery continues to be produced in abundance.
Costume jewellery designers & manufacturers
- Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller
- Ciner Costume Jewelry
- Butler And Wilson Costume Jewellery
- Vintage Coro Costume Jewelry
- Vintage Weiss Jewelry
- Vintage Trifari Costume Jewellery
- Monet vintage costume jewellery
- Lisner Vintage Costume Jewellery
- Kramer Costume Jewellery
- Vendome Costume Jewellery
- Vintage Hattie Carnegie jewellery
Guide to Collecting
Fashion jewellery, especially that which has a distinctive style, has achieved a highly collectible status. There is a great market for vintage costume jewellery. Costume jewellery was very much 'of the moment' and this is reflected in both the materials used and the styles. Pieces are often a time capsule, suggesting the tastes and fashions of their time.
Signed pieces can be identified by a maker’s mark, and are sought after by devotees of a particular designer. However, unusual designs and good quality will find an audience among costume jewellery collectors even without a signature.
The value of costume jewellery can vary hugely from piece to piece. Antique & vintage pieces of costume jewellery are generally more valuable than modern mass produced pieces. Items with silver and other semi-precious metals are usually more valuable than those made from plastic or Bakelite. However, there are always exceptions. If a plastic piece is signed by a famous costume jewellery designer, it could be more valuable than an unsigned silver, marcasite or rhinestone piece.
While a large number of people who collect fine jewellery do so with a mind on investment, costume jewellery collectors are more often collecting pieces that they find attractive or quirky, items they like, in order to wear them.
It is common to see a bulk amount of costume jewellery sold as one lot, which can be fruitful for collectors, as there may be some special pieces amongst the collection.
Antique & vintage costume jewellery can be found at auction, on eBay, in second hand and specialist jewellery stores, at garage sales, flea markets, car boot sales, and elsewhere. Modern costume jewellery can be found almost anywhere, from supermarkets to boutique shops and even from illustrious jewellers.