Costume jewelry isn’t just about cheap imports created off-shore. Costume jewelry has a special history in the evolution of jewelry as an accessory in our society.
Costume jewelry has been a part of our society for over 300 years. In the 18th century, there were glimpses of it with the introduction of some glass jewelry pieces emerging onto the market. However, it was in the 1800s that costume jewelry really started to make its mark with the incorporation of semi-precious stones. The use of semi-precious materials meant that jewelry could be made more affordable and therefore more accessible to the common people.
When I think of the true era of costume jewelry I think of the beginning of the 20th century. When the desire for well-made replicas of higher-end pieces connected with the machine age. This made it possible to mass-produce cheaper versions of “the real thing “.
In my opinion, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was a pioneer in the jewelry movement as she was the first designer to gain social acceptability of wearing “faux” jewelry. Before her, costume jewelry came with the stigma that those who wore costume jewelry did so because they could not afford the real deal. Coco Chanel considered costume jewelry as an accessory, used to decorate, rather than to show off wealth. The Chanel costume jewelry line, or cocktail jewelry as it was often called, did not try and hide the fact that it was not made with expensive pieces, often the materials that were used were purposely exaggerated in form or color.
Chanel was not the only popular costume jewelry designer at that time. Other famous names include; Schiaparelli, Monet, Napier, and Corocraft. They emerged at a time when women wanted to adorn themselves with jewelry that was affordable and had a sense of humor and whimsy. The class structures were changing in America and with that so did the measures of wealth. Now even working class women wanted to – and could- own their own pieces of costume jewelry.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Hollywood movie scene further popularized the costume jewelry sector. Hollywood starlets often wore and endorsed a variety of designers. Women wanted to dress like their Hollywood idols and so the costume jewelry industry boomed.
Today costume jewelry is wide spread. From cheap imports to high-end well-crafted pieces, costume jewelry spans from the affordable to the collectible. Whatever the occasion, costume jewelry is not to be disregarded. It has worked hard to make its own important mark in the jewelry industry. It has never taken itself too seriously and I believe neither should we! -Chris