Vs. Costume Jewelry
jewellery was at its height during the 1930s. Women wanted a bit more glamour but real
gems cost a fortune so it made good sense to turn to mass-produced brass and glass,
because that's all it really is. It's called "costume" jewellery because it's
made out of non-precious metals and glass stones.
jewelry has in the past, as well as now, often been looked down upon across the world. Let
us examine why.
One of the perceptions was/is that if one could not afford genuine jewelry, made with
precious metal and stones, to pretend was somehow dishonest. And, it followed that persons
displaying costume jewelry would thus be people who could not afford the real thing but
were trying to appear wealthier than they were.
Who created this mindset? Interestingly enough it was generally perpetuated by people who
could not afford genuine jewelry but desired it, with slim hopes of ever owning more than
a few pieces, or any. Parents instilled in their children that only genuine jewelry was
worth anything, and that costume was false, pretentious junk. Each genuine piece of
jewelry was highly treasured, saved for, and passed down in the family.
When people of formerly modest means unexpectedly come into a windfall, they often hurry
to cover themselves in precious jewelry. Lottery winners, sudden stars in the
entertainment and sports worlds, as well as people in illegal professions, with money to
hide, put their extra cash in precious jewelry.
It is a tradition from way back, when pirates and smugglers in the coves around New
England, in the United States, turned their ill-gotten gains into jewelry to adorn
themselves, inspire fear and intimidation in their enemies, and to protect their wealth
from robbers. This is why jewelers flocked to New England to satisfy the demand.
The Copying of Precious Jewelry
course, the compulsion to show off one's precious jewelry made it difficult to keep up
with the competition, especially should the monies dwindle. Enter the fabulous fakers.
Quietly they would copy the designs in less valuable materials, imitation stones. Who
Competition still stiff, more and more of the formerly precious jewelry was often fake,
but no one talked about it. The precious originals having long since gone back to the
jewelers to provide funds when living became harder, the copies now kept up appearances.
copying of precious jewelry goes back to early times, even the Romans and the Egyptians
did it. Precious stones in tomb jewelry were often replaced with glass, gold with
imitation metals, as the dead didn't complain. In eras closer to ours, the height of
fabulous fakery was reached in Victorian times, with its early beginnings in the
Mid-Georgian era, approx. 1727-1799 (sources differ as to the exact years of the
This is when Christopher Pinchbeck developed the pinchbeck gold imitation, copper and zinc
chiefly (plus other ingredients not disclosed), in 1732, in England. Pinchbeck
"gold" could fool even the experts, and held up extremely well.
Not to be outdone, a secret paste for copying cameos and intaglios from wax models was
invented by James Tassie, in 1766, also in England. These copies can be found today, and
are appropriately called "Tassies."
fake jewelry was so badly thought of, who would then buy it?
Truthfully, anyone and everyone. Very often the articles sold as precious jewelry were
not. But ordinary people had no way of testing the purported preciousness of either metals
or stones so they believed the jeweler who sold it to them. Quite often they were
This goes on today, as we speak, and to be fooled is very easy if not able to tell the
Costume jewelry, as in frankly fake, glorious and outrageous representations of styles,
which, if executed in genuine gemstones and precious metals, would be in museums, first
became respectable in our century, with the clothing designers and their wealthy
customers, royalty, nobility, socialites, heiresses, movie stars.
fabulous costume jewelry is shown on wealthy celebrities, usually beautiful people who
carry the fashions well, the public is impressed, and longs to imitate them. Enter
respectability for what they choose to wear, and sincere imitation.
Jewelry fashions have thus come full circle. Jewelry in precious materials formerly
admired and desired because of who could afford them is now replaced with fabulous fake
jewelry admired on those wearing it because they like it although they can afford precious
jewelry. Instead of investing in precious jewelry for themselves, many fashion icons
choose to give lots of spare cash to charities, often quietly and without fanfare, another
reason to admire their example.
For a reality check for what is frankly fake today, anyone who has visited the British
Crown Jewels in the Tower of London will recall that the first thing the guide tells
visitors is: "These jewels are all copies. The genuine crown jewels are in
Isn't it nice to know that even royalty thinks fakes are acceptable?
things you've got to look out for in this game are fakes and forgeries and poor design,
and if you don't want to get conned, you need to look very carefully for a combination of
First, is it signed and is the signature genuine? If you've any doubt, check with a
Second, look at the way it's been put together, is the electroplating smooth and shiny?
This article is reprinted here by kind permission of the author
Isabelle Bryman, Former Guide, About Costume Jewelry Collecting at About.com. Copyright
1998 Isabelle Bryman.
Isabelle Bryman now produces two educational and entertainment sites for collectors: All
Info About Jewelry Collecting, http://jewelrycollecting.allinfo-about.com
Bryman, and All Info About Vintage Fashion, http://vintagefashion.allinfo-about.com
under the pen name Trovie Craigian.
LOOKING FOR that unique
have always been popular, this example dates from the 1940s and is by Eisenberg. You can
just see the femininity in this design. A blue and nickel alloy that I think is a snip at
fantastic piece of jewellery, made by Chanel, in the 1950s, a moulded glass work set with
pearls. It's dainty, it's pretty, it's fun and you can probably get this for around $500.
Dior gave each piece a certain elegance in the 1950s, beautifully designed and of
wonderful quality, a rainbow of colours catches the light.
this really is an eye-catcher, designed in the 1940s by Scaparelli. At first glance it
looks a bit brash, but on close inspection there are all the classic signs of quality, the
stones are claw set and not glued in, the links are well made and solid, this bracelet is
Haskell was one of the tops in the world of costume jewellery in the 30s. Haskell's key
signature was the Baroque pearl which you can see in this necklace. There might be several
strands and a pendant nestling in the middle. The Baroque pearl would cost you about $500.