COLLECTING VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELLERY from Caroline Henney Vintage Costume Jewellery

By: Caroline Henney Vintage Costume Jewellery  21/08/2009
Keywords: beads, bracelet, costume jewellery

   Collecting vintage costume jewellery has never been more popular as both a hobby and a style statement. Sunday supplements urge their readers to ‘buy vintage’ and people are happy to be seen wearing something from the past.  Secondhand is no longer second best!  But what is Vintage Costume Jewellery?  The term ‘Vintage’ used to be reserved for fine wine and lovely old cars!  It has been borrowed and generally means items from between the 1920s right up to the 1980s if we are talking about fashion.  ‘Antique’ used to mean something over 100 years old but increasingly it is applied to anything between 50 to 100 years or more which is desirable because of its rarity and condition.    When people think of Antique Jewellery, they usually think of gold and precious gems. The term Costume Jewellery is applied to items made of non-precious materials.  Gold and gems have an intrinsic value and regardless of their condition will always be worth something - even if they are scrapped!   The value of Costume Jewellery depends on its style (which can go in and out of favour) and its condition; so it is extremely important to seek out items in the best possible condition and to buy pieces you love! It is worth buying from reputable specialist dealers and visiting fairs, auctions, checking out the internet, looking in at your local boot fair and charity shop – this way your collection is sure to grow!  Costume jewellery should be fun and it is easy to personalize a chain store outfit with a great sparkly brooch or a quirky animal pin.    Costume Jewellery is sometimes known as fashion jewellery, junk jewellery, fake jewellery, faux jewellery or even fallalery!  It really came into being in the 1920s and 1930s as a cheap and disposable accessory meant to be worn with a specific outfit or ‘costume’ and only supposed to be fashionable for a season.  The fashion designer Coco Chanel is often credited with inventing Costume Jewellery as she did a lot to popularize it; wearing ropes of fake Pearls and including faux jewels in her collections.  Whilst in America the fashion house, Eisenburg, included a sparkly brooch with each of their frocks and they were so popular that they introduced the brooches for sale on their own!   Production of costume jewellery has occurred all over the globe but it is important to mention Czechoslovakia for Swarovski’s fine diamante stones (they are still the world leaders when it comes to paste!) indeed Bohemia in general for its contribution of fabulous pressed metal filigrees, hand set with the most beautiful glass stones. France for its ultra chic Art Deco jewellery with superb early plastics set with rhinestones. Japan must be included as Mikimoto’s Cultured Pearls  made it possible for most of us to afford some. Don’t forget Germany for the best in Chrome and early plastics; Scandinavia for wonderful enamel and silver work;  Italy for its art glass and carved cameos. The USA for deep–carved and bright coloured Bakelite pieces and Hollywood Glitz ,especially Diamante, America’s 1940’s and 1950’s  jewels are second to none. Britain should figure too for the lovingly sewn ‘make do and mend’ creations from the World War 2 era; a host of imitations of Whitby Jet  from those innovative Victorian inventors and Birmingham our ‘jewellery quarter’ still ‘in business’ today.               A whole variety of materials have been used to fashion the most amazing pieces:  Metals, Glass, Semi-precious Gemstones, Bone, Wood, Horn, Shells, Amber, Manmade Plastics such as  Vulcanite, Celluloid, Bakelite, Lucite, Acrylics, Polythene. Fabrics – both from natural and synthetic threads, Feathers, Paper, Clay, Leather, even Elephant and Human Hair!    You will find Beads, of course!, Necklaces, Bracelets, Bangles, Brooches, Dress Clips, Earrings, Rings, Anklets, Pins, Hair Ornaments, Hatpins, Gentleman’s Accessories like Cufflinks and Tiepins as well as Buckles and Buttons. Some of these will be factory and designer made; others naive and home crafted. You can collect by type of item, by period, by colour, by subject, by material, by maker or country of origin and so on, the possibilities are endless!    Reflecting the style, fashion, history and innovation of each era, costume jewellery is a fascinating collectable. It has the added advantage of being wearable, easy to store and available to anyone with a budget from 50p to £500+ for some of the more important ‘signed’ pieces.  If an item is referred to as ‘signed’ it means it carries the trademark or signature of the designer and/or manufacturer.  Often this is in the form of an applied plaque on the back or tag on the clasp of the jewel or maybe in the form of a paper label.  Not all pieces of Costume Jewellery are marked and some of the most valuable works – the early collections from great designers - were unsigned.  It is helpful for collectors to learn some of the important makers’ names and the best way to do this is to invest in a book on the subject.  Highly recommended are Carole Tanenbaum’s ‘Vintage Costume Jewellery’ ISBN 1-85149-511-8 9000 and Judith Miller’s ‘Costume Jewellery’ ISBN 1-4053-0014-0.  Both books have a gorgeous selection of photos and lots of useful information for both novice collectors and specialists.

Keywords: American Designer Jewelry, antique jewellery, bakelite, beads, bracelet, Brooch, buckles, buttons, Cocktail Jewellery, costume jewellery, Diamante, Dress Clip, Hat Pins, Vintage Costume Jewellery,

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