Costume Jewellery

The term costume jewellery dates back to the early 20th century. It reflects the use of the word "costume" to refer to what is now called n "outfit".
Costume jewellery incorporates a wide range of materials. 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 and several other metals. Some pieces incorporate plastic, acrylic.

During the World War II era, sterling silver was often incorporated into costume jewellery designs primarily because the components used for base metal were needed for war time production and a ban was placed on their use in the private sector. This resulted in a number of years during which sterling silver costume jewellery was produced and some can still be found in today's vintage jewelry marketplace.

Costume jewellery can be characterized by the period in history in which it was made.

History of Costume Jewellery

Costume jewellery has been part of our culture since ancient times. It is believed that Egyptian goldsmiths, famous for their craftsmanship, were the first who also made jewels from cheaper materials such as amber, coral, enamel and glass. Around 500 BC the Egyptian techniques reached Europe. Trade was flourishing during the Roman period. The Romans were famous for their imitation stones such as pearls. “Roman pearls” is still synonymous for quality simulants.

During the early Middle Ages Christian symbols became “en vogue”, not only made from precious metals but also from bronze, glass and other materials.
Since its beginning in the 14th century the Renaissance spread from Italy all over Europe. Renaissance sculptural jewellery proves the outstanding craftsmanship of its goldsmiths. As only the very rich could afford to buy those costly jewels, is was quite logical  that a market for imitation jewels developed. “A lady’s numerous “false” pieces were made for court events or portrait sittings in order to enhance her family’s wealth and rank. From their enameled sculptural forms to their chased-gilt backs, they were exact replicas of real pieces, a surviving examples indicate.” During the 17th century gemstones dominated jewellery designs. Pearls were in fashion and “no fashionable woman would be seen without real or imitation pearls.” During the last part of this century and the beginning of the 18th century more and more jewels, set with gemstones like diamonds ousted pearl jewellery. However, diamonds were rather scarce and very expensive. To satisfy demand a new glass imitation, "paste", was the solution. “In the 1730’s, Parisian jeweler Georges Frédéric Strass began widely promoting pastes as a substitute  for precious stones – particularly diamonds. Strass’s paste jewels were of an exceptionally high standard, and his sumptuous creations were a great success with French courtiers, which gave them additional cachet.”                                     

Since late 18th century paste jewellery of excellent quality was generally accepted. Jewellers sold both paste jewels of superior craftsmanship together with real jewels in their shops.                       

In the 19th century more alternatives to replace precious stones and metals became available like cut steel and Vauxhall glass. Costume jewellery made of various semi-precious materials came into the market.

Art Nouveau period
Many Art Nouveau designs were executed in materials like ivory, glass, copper and silver. Aesthetic value was considered of more importance than the intrinsic worth of the jewel. Pieces in Art-Nouveau style for couturiers and theatre actors were produced by outstanding costume jewellery producers.

Art Deco period
The Art Deco movement (1920-1935) was an attempt to combine the harshness of mass production with the sensitivity of art and design. It was during this period that

Retro period
In the Retro period (1935-1950), designers struggled with the art versus mass production dilemma. Natural materials merged with plastics. The retro period primarily included American-made jewelry, which has a distinct American look. With the war in Europe, many European jewelry firms were forced shut down. Many European designers immigrated to the U.S. since the economy was recovering

1960s & 1970s
Costume jewellers in the 1960s embraced the “space age”. Using plastics and other manmade materials their geometric designs were quite often bold with lively colors.

The Golden Era
Indeed, the 20th century is the golden era for the costume jewellery. Costume jewellery was made popular by various designers. Some of the most remembered names in costume jewellery include names such as Trifari, Dior, Chanel, Napier, Miriam Haskell, Grossé and Elsa Schiaparelli.

A significant factor in the popularization of costume jewellery was the Hollywood movie. The leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950s wore breathtaking pieces produced by a range of designers.

Coco Chanel greatly popularized the use of faux jewellery in her years as a fashion designer, bringing costume jewellery to life with gold and faux.

In many instances, high-end fashion jewellery has achieved a "collectible" status, and increases in value over time. Today, there is a substantial secondary market for vintage costume  jewellery. The main collecting market is for 'signed pieces'. Amongst the most sought after are Miriam Haskell, Chanel, Kenneth Jay Lane, Trifari , Theodor Fahrner and Gripoix However, there is also demand for good quality 'unsigned' pieces, especially if they are of an unusual design.


Sources: partly Wikipedia and Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller

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