Well made, glamorous, chic, and affordable, costume jewelry has been such a staple of modern accessorizing that thousands of companies have been created on the backs of pins and earrings.
Since diamonds, rubies and pearls were often unattainable to the middle and lower classes, costume jewelry emerged at the turn of the 20th century as an alternative to provide a bit of luxury to everyday women. Costume jewelry was made from different types of materials, such as:
- Thermosets (e.g., silicone and polyurethane)
- Gold-tone metal
- Real gold (but rarely)
- Sterling silver
- CZ diamonds
- Cabochons (that simulated precious gems)
- Glass beads
- Faux pearls
There are tons of vintage costume jewelry brands that are highly sought after by collectors, and here are some of our favorites at the shop:
Monet - Known for their high quality, triple plated designs that last for generations, Monet is one of our favorite brands to collect. The company began as Monocraft in 1927 and still make fabulous designs to this day. While they got their start making high quality metal name plaques for purses, they made the sift to exclusively producing costume jewelry in 1937 as a direct result of the economic crisis in the U.S.
Their designs were known to mimic the highest quality gold and silver jewelry appropriate for everything from the most ornate functions down to everyday office accessories for the working woman. The company has been notably led by many designers, including Liz Claiborne, who helped the brand launch into a world class name.
Read more about Monet on our blog on the Gem App.
Trifari - Famous for their classic and timeless designs, as well as their collaborations with high-end fashion designers. Trifari began in the early 1900's when the son of Naples goldsmiths emigrated to the United States. The company was hugely popular due to their marketing and for the prestigious clientele who wore theirs designs, most notably First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.
Trifari used seductive materials in their pieces such as a mixture of rhinestones and early plastics, Lucite, pressed glass, and metals from superior quality alloys. They were known for their Art Deco pieces through the 20s and 30s, their jelly belly brooches of the 1940s, and elaborate metal pieces from the 1960s and 70s.
Note that all Trifari pieces are stamped either TKF (Trifari, Krussman, and Fishel), or simply Trifari. The company was bought by Monet in 1994.
Weiss - Known for their bold, colorful designs featuring high-quality rhinestones. Weiss was founded in 1942 by Albert Weiss who began his career in jewelry making at Coro.
Weiss jewelry is often recognized by its vibrant clear rhinestone displays, though many other features were prevalent. The elements that defined Weiss jewelry are high quality, often smoky rhinestones, Swarovski’s crystals, enamel and Japanning (a form of enameling that involves heavy black lacquer), floral elements, and polychromatic elements.
Unfortunately, the success of Weiss Jewelry was not long lived. Alberts son Michael took over the company on 1969 and shuttered it’s doors just two years later.
Coro - Cohn & Rosenberger was the original name of Coro jewelry, founded in 1901 in Providence, Rhode Island. The company changed the name to Coro in 1943. Coro shuttered it’s doors in 1979.
There wasn’t a specific “Coro look” rather the company produced pretty, romantic, feminine, quality jewelry often with florals and figurals.
They had several lines of jewelry, Corocraft, Coro Sterling Craft, Vendrome, etc. all based on price. Most of their jewelry was carried in department stores such as Sals Fifth Avenue, Dillards, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman Marcus. That said, their jewelry was reasonably priced and was crafted from high quality materials such as crystal, and silver and gold plating.
Avon - Avon added a jewelry line to their cosmetics customers in 1963, often as a gift with purchase. These jewelry pieces often matched with make-up and perfume sets often incorporating a fun kitschy feel.
The jewelry contained brilliant stones, filigree, and gold leaf, and mimicked fine jewelry. It was instantly popular and Avon began selling their jewels as a stand alone collection in 1970. Their collections contained necklaces, brooches, rings, and pendants. Many pieces were whimsical and often containers for their cosmetics and perfumes.
Several collaborations from famous designers graced the Avon line in the 1980s and 90s including Jose and Maria Barrera, Kenneth J Lane, Elizabeth Taylor, and Celine Dion who worked with Avon to offer a "My Heart Will Go On" necklace based on the jewel Rose wore in Titanic.
Avon limited the production runs on their jewelry this the market was never flooded with a particular style. Many pieces were regularly discontinued, causing demand to skyrocket when a line was released.
Sarah Coventry - This company, founded in 1949 is known for their innovative designs and use of new materials such as plastics and resins. This jewelry was exclusively sold at home parties and never in stores until 1989.
Costume Jewelry for Sarah Coventry and their parent, the Emmons Company, was generally sold in matching sets or as individual pieces with themed necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings available to purchase. It is often hard to find complete sets all in one place, so dedicated Sarah Coventry buyers will often search for individual items to complete their collections.
Note that the Sarah Coventry pieces you will find may contain a variety of hallmarks that were used over the years by the company. Some pieces are only associated with certain hallmarks, so research can help insure you've found the real deal.
Napier- The Napier Company got its start in North Attleboro, Massachusetts 1878, manufacturing gilt men's watch chains. They began the jump into costume jewelry in the 1920's when many could not afford expensive accessories. During WWII, many of the medallions, metals, and nametags used in the war effort were produced by the company.
Napier was known for its ability to be at the height of fashion and had a history of sending its designers to Europe for training and observing trends. The company excelled in the business ranging from making Egyptian, Victorian and Art Deco motifs in the 20's and 30's, to floral and natural designs in the 50's, and geometric statement pieces in the 60's and 70's. They had a wide range of animal motifs they pulled from ranging from elephants, to fish, to birds and insects. To see more Napier in Texas we recommend checking out the display of their silverwork at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Do your research before purchasing to see what's comparable are on the market and learn how to identify vintage jewelry from its marks and findings. Also, pass on any metals that are turning green, that is called verdigris. It's the natural patina that forms when copper oxidizes. Verdigris also forms when it comes in contact with moisture and other forms of pollutants over time. You cannot clean away verdigris and it can damage other jewelry that it comes in contact with.
Collecting vintage costume jewelry is a very personal experience. Don’t let trends consume you, seek out what calls you and draws you in. Find pieces that work with your current wardrobe and pieces that make you smile. If you aren’t wearing it, it’s hidden from the world. Let those pieces shine!