Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Some Thoughts on Vintage Costume Jewelry

So what’s the story on costume jewelry anyway?

First, a few pieces from the Winters Past collection:

 vintage costume jewelry

Some stellar examples of vintage costume jewelry

A little history: back before the style revolution that was the 1920’s, women of means had fine jewelry that they wore with pretty much everything. Then came Coco Chanel. She turned this idea upside down by proclaiming that wearing precious jewelry in public was vulgar. Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and others created bold, fabulous jewelry designed to go with your “costume” (meaning outfit). Jewelry became something to wear for fun and as art and self-expression but not to signify wealth.

Coco and Elsa

Coco and Elsa wearing costume jewelry of their own creation

From the 1920’s Art Deco period until about 1965, there was so much wonderfully well designed vintage costume jewelry made in the US. Along with the artistry, there was an innovative use of materials and a good dose of whimsey.

Mass production wasn’t very mass in the American costume jewelry industry from the 20’s to the mid 60’s. These pieces were made by skilled artisans with a high degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail.  They used a mixed base metal, and then triple-plated it with either gold or silver. The result? Even pieces that are decades old won’t easily tarnish.

A word about rhinestones: They aren’t fake anything. They’re real Czech hand blown leaded glass that’s been precision faceted and polished, then given a reflective backing. These stones were set with prongs in the same manner as gemstones are in fine jewelry.

high quality prong set vintage costume jewelry rhinestones

high quality prong set vintage costume jewelry rhinestones

In addition to metals and rhinestones, costume jewelry designers played with materials like  shell, wood, enamel, faux pearls and stones. As new things like celluloid,Bakelite,and Lucite were developed, jewelry designers incorporated them into their creations.

Some vintage costume pieces are  signed with a logo, like these:

signed vintage costume jewelry

Some signed vintage costume jewelry

However, signed pieces do not necessarily indicate higher quality than unsigned pieces — vintage jewelry is often high quality, regardless of who made it. Some of the most exclusive vintage designers, including Juliana, did not sign their pieces.

I carry vintage jewelry that features the original design, consistent with vintage style and age. There is a current fad towards “repurposeing”  jewelry, meaning mixing and matching different elements from multiple pieces into new, franken-jewelry. I prefer to let the individual charm and beauty of a piece speak for itself.

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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