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Vintage Costume Jewelry: History, Styles, and Collecting Tips

Written by Anna Currell
July 10, 2023

Vintage costume jewelry has become increasingly popular among collectors and fashion enthusiasts alike. These unique pieces of jewelry are often made with inexpensive materials such as glass, plastic, or base metals, but they use intricate designs and techniques that stand the test of time. In this article, we'll explore the history of vintage costume jewelry, various popular styles, and tips for adding these beautiful pieces to your own collection.

History of Vintage Costume Jewelry

Costume jewelry has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until the 1920s that it became a popular alternative to fine jewelry. Costume jewelry was more affordable than fine jewelry, making it accessible to a wider range of people. And costume jewelry also borrowed bright colors from the trends of the Art Deco movement. 

During World War II, metal shortages led to a decline in fine jewelry production, making costume jewelry even more popular. Many jewelry makers began using alternative materials such as plastic, wood, and resin to create their designs.

In the 1950s and 1960s, costume jewelry’s popularity increased further thanks to Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, who often wore statement pieces on screen. Although the stars were more likely to wear fine jewelry when they were in front of the camera and on the red carpet, their bold accessories inspired more affordable and accessible costume versions that emulated the same aesthetic. 

Styles of Vintage Costume Jewelry

Vintage costume jewelry comes in a wide range of styles, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are a few of the most popular styles:

  • Art Deco: The Art Deco movement inspired many costume jewelry designs in the 1920s and 1930s. These pieces often featured geometric shapes and bold colors, and were made with materials such as bakelite and celluloid.
  • Retro: Retro jewelry was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and was characterized by bold, oversized pieces with a glamorous Hollywood vibe. Many retro pieces were made with gold or silver metal and colorful rhinestones.
  • Mid-Century Modern: In the 1950s and 1960s, jewelry designs became more playful and even more colorful. Mid-century modern pieces often featured abstract shapes and bright enamel, and were made with materials such as plastic and Lucite.

On the left is the original costume jewelry ring, on the right is a duplicate in white gold.

Tips for Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry

If you're interested in collecting vintage costume jewelry, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Research: Before you start buying pieces, it's important to do your research. Learn about the different styles and designers, and familiarize yourself with the materials and construction techniques used in costume jewelry over the years.
  2. Look for quality: Just because a piece is vintage doesn't necessarily mean it's valuable. Look for pieces that are well-made and in good condition, with all their stones in place and clasps in working order.
  3. Consider the designer: Some vintage costume jewelry was made by well-known designers such as Coco Chanel and Miriam Haskell, and can be quite valuable. Look for pieces with a designer's mark or signature.
  4. Think about wearability: Vintage costume jewelry can be a great addition to any outfit, but it's important to think about how you'll wear it. Look for pieces that fit your personal style and can work with multiple outfits in your closet.
  5. Buy from reputable dealers: Finally, when buying vintage costume jewelry, it's important to buy from reputable dealers who can guarantee each piece’s authenticity. Look for sellers who specialize in vintage jewelry and have a good reputation.
  6. Ask for documentation: To be sure you’re getting all the right information, ask the seller if they can provide any documentation or certifications. Original sale receipts are rare, but if the piece of jewelry has been appraised, you may be able to access the official document listing all of the piece’s background information, including its quality, age, and overall value. You can always visit an expert jeweler after the fact to get your vintage piece appraised and find out more about it. 

A restored costume jewelry bangle made from brass with plastic stones.

Vintage costume jewelry is a beautiful and unique type of jewelry that has a rich history and comes in a wide range of styles. Whether you're a collector or simply a fashion enthusiast, there's something for everyone in the world of vintage costume jewelry. By following these tips and doing your research, you can start building your own collection of beautiful vintage pieces. 

If you are a vintage jewelry collector or have inherited vintage jewelry, it's important to get it appraised to determine its true value. Quick Jewelry Repairs offers professional appraisal services to help you get a better understanding of your jewelry. Our experienced and knowledgeable team will deliver a comprehensive report about your vintage piece so you know exactly where it came from and what it’s worth. Contact us today to learn more about our services and get started discovering the true value of your vintage jewelry.

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