Costume jewelry

Costume jewelry
Swatch Bijoux[1] Jewelry

Costume jewelry (also called trinkets, fashion jewelry, junk jewelry, fake jewelry, or fallalery) is jewelry manufactured as ornamentation to complement a particular fashionable costume or garment.[2] Costume jewelry came into being in the 1930s as a cheap, disposable accessory meant to be worn with a specific outfit. It was intended to be fashionable for a short period of time, outdate itself, and then be repurchased to fit with a new outfit or new fashion style. Its main use is in fashion, as opposed to "real" (fine) jewelry which may be regarded primarily as collectibles, keepsakes, or investments. Costume jewelry is made of less valuable materials including base metals, glass, plastic, and synthetic stones; in place of more valuable materials such as precious metals and gems.



The term costume jewelry dates back to the early 20th century. It reflects the use of the word "costume" to refer to what is now called an "outfit"; for example, a "handsome street costume of maroon brown velvet". Costume jewelry is meant to complement a particular fashionable garment or "costume"; Hence the name, "costume jewelry".[2]


An example of gold plated jewelry

Originally, costume or fashion jewelry was made of inexpensive simulated gemstones, such as rhinestones or lucite, set in pewter, silver, nickel or brass. During the depression years, rhinestones were even down-graded by some manufacturers to meet the cost of production.[2] An interesting phenomenon occurred during the World War II era, when sterling silver was often incorporated into costume jewelry designs. This was driven by primarily two factors: 1. The components used for base metal were needed for war time production (i.e., military applications) and a ban was placed on their use in the private sector. 2. Base metal was originally popular because it could approximate platinum's color, sterling silver fulfilled the same function. This resulted in a number of years during which sterling silver costume jewelry was produced and some can still be found in today's vintage jewelry marketplace.

Modern costume jewelry incorporates a wide range of materials. High end crystals, cubic zirconia simulated diamonds, and some semi-precious stones are used in place of precious stones. Metals include gold- or silver-plated brass, and sometimes vermeil or sterling silver. Lower-priced jewelry may still use gold plating over pewter, nickel or other metals; items made in countries outside the United States may contain lead. Some pieces incorporate plastic, acrylic, leather or wood.

Historical expression

Costume jewelry can be characterized by the period in history in which it was made.

Art Deco period (1920–1930s)

The Art Deco movement was an attempt to combine the harshness of mass production with the sensitivity of art and design. It was during this period that Coco Chanel introduced costume jewelry to complete the costume. The Art Deco movement died with the onset of the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II.[3]

According to Schiffer, some of the characteristics of the costume jewelry in the Art Deco period were:[4]

  • Free-flowing curves were replaced with a harshly geometric and symmetrical theme
  • Long pendants, bangle bracelets, cocktail rings, and elaborate accessory items such as cigarette cases and holders

Retro period (1935 to 1950)

In the Retro period, designers struggled with the art versus mass production dilemma. Natural materials merged with plastics. Jewelry featured produced American-made jewelry that took on the American look. With the war in Europe, many European jewelry firms were shut down and several designers immigrated to the U.S. Europe was in a deep depression and the U.S. was enjoying an economic recovery.

According to Schiffer, some of the characteristics of the costume jewelry in the Retro period were:[4]

  • Glamour, elegance, and sophistication
  • Flowers, bows, and sunburst designs with a Hollywood flair
  • Moonstones, horse motifs, military influence, and ballerinas
  • Bakelite and other plastic jewelry

Art Modern period (1945 to 1960)

In the Art Modern period following World War II, jewelry designs became more traditional and understated. The big, bold styles of the Retro period went out of style and were replaced by the more tailored styles of the 1950s and 1960s.[2]

According to Schiffer, some of the characteristics of the costume jewelry in the Art Modern period were:[4]

  • Bold, lavish jewelry
  • Large, chunky bracelets, charm bracelets, Jade/opal, charm bracelets, citrine, topaz
  • Poodle pins, Christmas tree pins, and other Christmas jewelry
  • Rhinestones

General history

Costume jewelry has been part of culture for almost 300 years. During the 18th century cheap jewelry made with glass started getting made. After almost a century, in the 19th century, costume jewelry made of semi precious material came into the market. The use of semi precious material made the jewelry available in the hands of the common people.[4]

But the real golden era for the costume jewelry began in the middle of the 20th century. The new middle class desired to own beautiful but affordable jewelry, and this desire was realized by its perfect timing: it came during the machine-age and the industrial revolution. All this made possible the production of carefully executed replicas of beautiful and admired heirloom pieces.[2]

As the class structure in America changed, so did measures of real wealth. Women in all social stations, even the working-class woman, could own a small piece of costume jewelry. The average town and country woman could acquire and wear a considerable amount of this mass-produced jewelry that was both affordable and stylish.[4]

Many feel[who?] that the machine has spoilt the beauty of the hand-made costume jewelry; the truth[citation needed] is that the machine has made fashion jewelry more affordable and has enabled people to produce enough of this jewelry to fuel the interest of millions of ladies from all around the world.

Costume jewelry was further made popular by various designers in the mid-20th century. Some of the most remembered names in costume jewelry include both the high and low priced brands: Crown Trifari, Dior, Chanel, Miriam Haskell, Monet, Napier, Corocraft and Coventry.[2]

A significant factor in the popularisation of costume jewellery was the Hollywood movie. The leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950s often wore and then endorsed the pieces produced by a range of designers. If you admired a necklace worn by Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, you could buy a copy from Joseff of Hollywood, who made the original. Stars such as Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Russell appeared in adverts for the pieces and the availability of the collections in shops such as Woolworth made it possible for ordinary women to own and wear such jewellery.[5]

Coco Chanel greatly popularized the use of faux jewelry in her years as a fashion designer, bringing costume jewelry to life with gold and faux pearls. Kenneth Jay Lane has since the 1960s been known for creating unique pieces for Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Vreeland, and Audrey Hepburn. He is probably best known for his three-strand faux pearl necklace worn by Barbara Bush to her husband's inaugural ball.

In many instances, high-end fashion jewelry has achieved a "collectible" status, and increases in value over time. Today, there is a substantial secondary market for vintage fashion jewelry. The main collecting market is for 'signed pieces', that is pieces which have the maker's mark, usually stamped on the reverse. Amongst the most sought after are Miriam Haskell, Coro, Crown Trifari and Sphinx. However, there is also demand for good quality 'unsigned' pieces, especially if they are of an unusual design.[6]

Business and industry

Costume jewelry is considered a discrete category of fashion accessory, and as such it displays many of the characteristics of a self-contained industry. Costume jewelry manufacturers are located throughout the world, with a particular concentration in parts of China and India, where entire city-wide and region-wide economies are dominated by the trade of these goods. There has been considerable controversy in the United States and elsewhere about the lack of regulations in the manufacture of such jewelry—these range from human rights issues surrounding the treatment of labor, to the use of manufacturing processes in which small, but potentially harmful, amounts of toxic metals are added during production. In the United States a scandal broke when it was discovered during testing that cheap costume jewelry from China contained unsafe levels of the metal cadmium. The wider issues surrounding imports, exports, trade laws, and globalization, also apply to the costume jewelry trade.

As part of the supply chain, wholesalers in the United States and other major nations purchase costume jewelry from manufacturers and typically import or export it to wholesale distributors and suppliers who deal directly with retailers. Wholesale costume jewelry merchants would traditionally seek out new suppliers at trade shows. As the internet has become increasingly important in global trade, however, this model has been modified, as many retailers can now select from a large number of wholesalers through the World Wide Web. Some of these sites also market directly to consumers who can purchase costume jewelry at greatly reduced prices. Some of these sites include fashion jewelry as a separate category, while some use this term in favor of costume jewelry. The trend of jewelry-making at home by hobbyists for personal enjoyment or for sale on sites like Etsy has resulted in the common practice of buying wholesale costume jewelry in bulk and using it for parts.

See also


  1. ^ Bijoux is French for "jewels".
  2. ^ a b c d e f Baker, Lillian. Fifty Years of Collectable Fashion Jewelry. Paducah: Collector Books, 1986.
  3. ^ "The Art Deco Movement: Technology and Geometry Combined with Modern Art." 2005. Empty Easel.
  4. ^ a b c d e Schiffer, Nancy. The Best of Costume Jewelry. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1999.
  5. ^ See Tanenbaum, C. (2006) Fabulous Fakes: A Passion for Vintage Costume Jewelry, ISBN 13: 9781579652920
  6. ^ Miller, J. (2007) Costume Jewellery, ISBN 1405318120

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • costume jewelry — costume ,jewelry noun uncount jewelry that is not valuable but looks expensive …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • costume jewelry — ☆ costume jewelry n. jewelry made of relatively inexpensive materials or set with imitation gems …   English World dictionary

  • costume jewelry — jewelry made of nonprecious metals, sometimes gold plated or silver plated, often set with imitation or semiprecious stones. [1930 35, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • costume jewelry — noun : jewelry for wear with current fashions usually made of inexpensive materials (as metal, shells, plastics, wood) often set with imitation or semiprecious stones * * * noun [noncount] : fancy jewelry that is usually made of inexpensive… …   Useful english dictionary

  • costume jewelry — noun Date: 1927 jewelry designed for wear with current fashions and usually made of inexpensive materials …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • costume jewelry — cos′tume jew elry n. jew relatively inexpensive jewelry made of nonprecious metals and often set with imitation or semiprecious stones, pearls, etc • Etymology: 1930–35, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • jewelry — /jooh euhl ree/, n. 1. articles of gold, silver, precious stones, etc., for personal adornment. 2. any ornaments for personal adornment, as necklaces or cuff links, including those of base metals, glass, plastic, or the like. Also, esp. Brit.,… …   Universalium

  • Jewelry designer —    The creation of jewelry dates back to ancient Greece. Medieval Europe dictated that only nobility be permitted to wear this accessory. During the Empire Period jewelry took on a significant role in fashion. Coordinated pieces comprised of… …   Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry

  • costume — 01. What kind of [costume] are you going to wear to the Halloween party? 02. He is paid $10.00 an hour to stand on the street wearing a gorilla [costume] with the name of a pizza shop on it. 03. The leading performer had to change her [costume]… …   Grammatical examples in English

  • costume — {{11}}costume (n.) 1715, style of dress, an art term, from Fr. costume (17c.), from It. costume fashion, habit, from L. consuetudinem (nom. consuetudo) custom, habit, usage. Essentially the same word as CUSTOM (Cf. custom) but arriving by a… …   Etymology dictionary

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