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The Timeless Appeal of Vintage Costume Jewelry: A Fashion Comeback

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Vintage Costume Jewelry is back in Vogue

Vintage costume jewelry has come full circle from oh, look at aunt Ellen's gaudy costume jewelry to refined and elegant pieces.

That’s beautiful…where did you get it?

I’ve never seen anything like it before!

This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

We’ve heard it happen again and again—someone finds a piece that was made decades before they were even born, yet seems to be made just for them. Sometimes it’s what they’ve wanted forever; sometimes it’s a complete surprise. Most of all, we love hearing about people falling for the unique and enduring appeal of having all of jewelry history at their fingertips!

Most people think that costume jewelry is just cheap imitation of fine jewelry, but that is not true. A lot of costume jewelry of the 20th century that we will discuss was created by well known jewelry designers such as Weiss, Coro, Lisner, Eisenberg, B David, Kenneth Jay Lane and such.

What differentiates costume from fine jewelry? The materials, fine jewelry are created using natural gemstones and precious metal settings such as silver, platinum and gold while costume jewelry is made from paste stones and Austrian crystals set in base metal settings with rhodium or gold plate/wash finishes.

More on paste stones -- In 1724, French jewel designer Georges Frédéric Strass came up with “paste,” a kind of leaded glass that he cut and polished with metal powder until it appeared to shimmer like a diamond in the light. These white “diamante” or “strass” were a hit with glamorous European high society. As the century progressed color was introduced in reds, blues and greens but was much more unusual. Paste, by definition, are glass stones and not natural gems, but its manufacture over the centuries became more sophisticated culminating in a true technical achievement in the early- to mid-eighteenth century. The techniques used were every bit as skillful as those used with diamonds and precious stones; creations were considered fine jewelry in their own right.

Designers such as Albert Weiss, B David, Coro, Eisenberg an others designed their pieces to look like fine jewelry that the everyday house wife could afford. Most signature designers used Austrian crystals and prongs instead of paste stones and glue.


Art Deco Period - 1920-40s

The era we now know as “Art Deco” received its moniker from the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, which was largely dedicated to the jewelry arts. Emphasis was placed on the association of art and modern industry. Inspiration for this style was as far reaching as Oriental, African and South American Art and as varied as Cubism and Fauvism, both popular movements at the time. The term “Cubism” was often used to describe jewelry of this era because of the angles, geometric lines and figurative representations used in its execution. A desire to eliminate the flowing lines of Art Nouveau and distill designs to their rudimentary geometric essence, thus eliminating seemingly unnecessary ornament, resulted in the cleaner and more rigid lines employed in Art Deco jewelry. A look forward toward modernism and the machine age also featured prominently at this juncture in jewelry history.

Retro Period - 1935-1950

Although the term “Retro” wasn’t coined until the 1970s, the jewelry of the late 1930s and 1940s was definitely different from its antecedents. The end of the Art Deco geometric aesthetic came at the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life – 1937, Paris. Assistant Commissioner General Paul Léon believed that the Exhibition would revive the jewelry arts and return jewelers to the use of ornamentation with grace and variety. A newly spawned uniqueness was noticed in the jewelers in 1937 as opposed to the similarity of their work at the 1925 Exhibition. Georges Fouquet, the Chairman of the Vetting Committee appropriated the rules as set up for the 1925 Exhibition but exhorted the committee ‘not to refuse or discourage any projects except for those clearly influenced by certain historical style or closely imitating nature’.1 In spite of this declaration, scrolls, volutes, flowers, and animals decorated with colored stones were overwhelmingly popular motifs with the jewelers throughout the Exhibition.

Mid Century Period - 1950-1970

Mid-Century jewelry burst with all the optimism and opulence of the post-war world, from the fabulous ’50s through the mid-’60s. Yellow gold jewelry stuck around, but gained rich textures, twists, and turns. Big, gemmy ear clips, bib or fringe necklaces, bangles, bracelet watches, and diamond-encrusted wrist huggers were all favorites of this lavish and eclectic period. Matching sets of jewelry made a comeback, and the classically sweet charm bracelet allowed its owner to customize with as many charms as possible.

Costume jewelry can be worn daily to work or for special occasions. Bracelets, necklaces/chokers, bangles, earrings. And can come from the Art Deco 1920-40s, Retro 1935-1950 or Mid-century 1950-1970 periods.

Don't forget to check out of inventory of signature costume jewelry at

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