Vintage Costume Jewellery – A Short History

The term costume jewellery is used to describe decorative jewellery that is made using non-precious materials. Vintage costume jewellery has been made from a wide array of materials including non-precious metals, glass, wood, and plastics such as Lucite, Celluloid and Bakelite. Great craftsmanship and imaginative design and use of colour are seen in much of this jewellery,  ( celtic horse necklace in 925 sterling silver )with designer costume jewellery now being much sought after and very collectable today.

The phrase costume jewellery first came into use in the early part of the 20th century and was used to describe jewellery that was made specifically for a particular costume or outfit. The jewellery was generally made of cheap metals, glass or plastic and was presumed to be in style only for a period of time. When the wearer bought a new costume, he or she would purchase new matching jewellery for the outfit. The jewellery was not designed to be passed down through generations as keepsakes. – Spoo-Design

There were three different periods that had a major influence on the design of costume jewellery.

The first of these was the Art Deco Period during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Particular characteristics of jewellery in the Art Deco Period were clean lines, symmetrical designs and geometric shapes. Popular jewellery items of this period were bangle bracelets, long pendants, cocktail rings, cigarette cases and holders, and the double clip brooch. The end of the Art Deco Period was marked by the start of the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War 2.

The next style period was The Retro Period from 1935 to 1950.The war in Europe meant that many European jewellery companies were forced to shut down. Some of these firms migrated to America, however American jewellery companies gained a foothold, and American influence in jewellery became dominant in this period. Glamour and elegance were key features with Hollywood actors and actresses influencing the fashion and jewellery trends. Typical jewellery features were flowers, bows, sunburst designs, military influences and ballerinas. Bakelite and other plastic jewellery emerged.The influence of mass production meant that designers struggled with the dilemma between artistic integrity and mass production in their work.Often natural materials were combined with plastics.

The third style period to influence costume jewellery design was the Art Modern Period from 1945 to 1960. Jewellery designs during this period underwent major changes as customers were looking for innovation and bold new designs to distance themselves from the troubles of previous years. Bold and lavish designs were popular and chunky bracelets, charm bracelets, poodle pins and use of rhinestones were common during this period.

Costume jewellery was also produced by many of the big name designer brands such as Crown Trifari, Dior, Corocraft, and Monet amongst others. Today vintage designer costume jewellery is highly collectible with some of the most sought after names being Butler and Wilson, Coro, Miriam Haskell, Crown Trifari and Sphinx.

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