Arlecchino Antique JewelryCostume Jewellery


Precious Vs. Costume Jewelry

Costume 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.

Costume 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

Of 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 could tell?
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.

The 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 Mid-Georgian era).
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."

If 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 deceived.
This goes on today, as we speak, and to be fooled is very easy if not able to tell the difference.
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.

When 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 safekeeping [elsewhere]."
Isn't it nice to know that even royalty thinks fakes are acceptable?

The 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 clues.
First, is it signed and is the signature genuine? If you've any doubt, check with a reputable dealer.
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 Copyright 1998 Isabelle Bryman.
Isabelle Bryman now produces two educational and entertainment sites for collectors: All Info About Jewelry Collecting,   as Liz
Bryman, and All Info About Vintage Fashion,   under the pen name Trovie Craigian.



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