The term costume jewelry, coined in the 20th century, broadly refers to jewelry made from non-precious materials, but more importantly it refers to its link to fashion.
Such influential trendsetters as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli created costume jewelry to complete their haute couture creations. While Chanel was influenced by historical pieces, Schiaparelli used Surrealism as inspiration to create whimsical and zany pieces.
These divergent point of views can be found in the production of costume jewelry that followed, on the one hand, imitative of timelessly elegant fine jewelry designs and on the other innovative in its approach in materials and style. While French designers introduced and legitimized costume jewelry, America with it's large scale manufacturing capacity produced more of it than anyone else.
Some of leading designers of the 20th century that you'll find on this website are Miriam Haskell, Trifari, Marcel Boucher, Chanel, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Kenneth Jay Lane, Hobé, and Vendome.
The majority of costume jewelry is not signed but as with signed pieces the value lies in innovation in design, quality craftsmanship and materials, and excellent condition.
Closely following fashion trends costume jewelry often has an edge over it's precious counterpart, since the cost of experimentation is considerably less, costume jewelry is often more innovative, whimsical, and daring.
My personal favorites are 1960s animal themed jewelry inspired by Toussant's designs for Cartier in the 1930s and 40s, large Lucite architectural pendants on hefty snake chains (adore Lanvin's!), and fantasy boho necklaces of the 1960s by the likes of Trifari and Kenneth Lane.
Mint-no wear, like new
Excellent-very minor metal or Lucite wear, no dead rhinestones
Good-more noticeable wear described in detail
The majority of jewelry found on this website will be in excellent condition. Next to design, condition is the most important criteria for making your choice. Expect to find more wear or patina on older pieces but this does not necessarily diminish their overall value and beauty.
CARE OF VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELRY
Enjoy wearing your costume jewelry. Handle and store your pieces with care.
Avoid submerging in water, this may loosen glued in rhinestones and cause verdigris (green discoloration on metal). If a piece does become wet dry thoroughly with a blow dryer. To avoid metal, bead, and faux pearl damage apply perfume, hairspray, and lotion before you put on your jewelry
Use a jeweler's cloth to gently polish metals.
For convenience hang the jewelry you wear most often on T-stands. For pieces that are reserved for special occasions or for traveling place each piece individually in a box, plastic ziplock bag, or pochette to avoid scratches and keep dust away. Do not store metal pieces together.
Lay beaded jewelry flat when storing to prevent adding pressure on the string.
Use a jeweler's cloth to polish metals. To clean stones you may use Windex or jewelry cleaner sparingly by spraying it onto a soft cloth (microfiber is a good choice) and gently rubbing the stones. Make sure jewelry is dry before storing.
To get dust out from hard to reach places use a soft toothbrush.
Clasps and loose or lost stones can be repaired or replaced and beaded jewelry can be restrung.
Find a jewelry store that specializes in vintage costume jewelry (not fine jewelry) repair, you can ask a local vintage jewelry dealer for a referral. I can recommend A Jeweler's Place in San Francisco.