Costume Jewelry or Fashion Jewelry, A Little History

The term costume jewelry dates back to the early 20th century. It reflects the use of the word “costume” to refer to what is now called an outfit. Originally, costume or fashion jewelry was made of inexpensive simulated gemstones, such as rhinestones or lucite, set in pewter, silver, nickel, or brass. Today’s modern costume/fashion jewelry incorporates a wide range of materials. High end crystals, cubic zirconia simulated diamonds, and some semi-precious stones are used in place of precious stones. Metals include gold or silver-plated brass, and sometimes vermeil or sterling silver. Lower-priced jewelry may still use gold plating over pewter, nickel or other metals. Items made out side the US may not contain lead.

Red Coral Turquoise Rock Stone Gold Plated Beads Multi Strand Rope Bracelet

This Red Coral Turquoise Stone Gold Plated Beads Rock Multi Strand Rope Bracelet is a beautiful hand

There are three periods of Costume jewelry and as you would expect fashion periods do overlap:

1. Art Deco period of 1920-1930s

2. Retro period from 1935-1950

3. Art Modern period from 1945-1960

Art Deco attempted to combine the harshness of mass production with the sensitivity of art and design. The pieces of this era replaced the Victorian looks of swirls, free flowing curves with the a new harsh geometric and symmetrical design.

The Retro period designers struggled with art versus mass production. Natural materials merged with plastic. These pieces were mostly American made with a distinct American look. This was during WWII when European factories had to shut down and many of Europe’s designers emigrated to America. The Retro jewelry shows glamour, elegance and sophistication. There were flowers, bows and sunburst designs all with a Hollywood flair. You would see horse motifs, moonstones, ballerinas, and a military influence. You would see bakelite and other plastic jewelry.

When the Art Modern period began the big bold style of the Retro period went out. Designs became more understated and traditional and taylored looking. Along came Poodle pins, Christmas Tree pins and other Christmas jewelry. Charm bracelets became popular along with chunky bangle bracelets. Included in this period were opals, jade and rhinestones. Note also in this period body jewelry came into style.

In the 18th century jewelers began making costume jewelry with inexpensive glass; in the 19th century semi-precious material for costume jewelry came to market. Thus costume jewelry became affordable for the common people. In the 20th century the real golden era for costume jewelry began. Middle class shoppers want beautiful affordable pieces. The machine age made it possible to mass produce replicas of heirloom pieces. The average town and country woman could afford to acquire and wear mass produce costume jewelry.

Hollywood movies of the 1940s-1950s helped us with our appetites for costume accessories. Leading ladies wore pieces of costume that are in collections today. Some of designers were Crown Trifari, Dior, Miriam Haskell, Monet, Napier, Corocraft, Coventry, and Kim Craftsmen. They produced both low and high end pieces. During this period a certain clothing designer popularized the use of faux jewelry, especially gold and pearls.

Today high-end fashion jewelry has achieved a “collectible” status, and increases in value over time. What collectible pieces might you have laying around or hiding in the jewel box?


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