Vintage Jewelry Sparkles

By Karen Parr-Moody


Costume jewelry as an art in its own right was a genre popularized by French fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) and her Italian contemporary Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924 Chanel began pushing this craze for “vrais bijoux en toc,” or costume jewelry that looks real.


Chanel, who had many loves but never married, was dating the Duke of Westminster when she was struck by the notion of costume jewelry. The Frenchwoman scandalized London by piling on multiple ropes of authentic pearls with her daywear, when such ostentation was reserved for evening attire. But she went one audacious step further: she mixed real pearls with fakes, which was truly beyond the pale for English society at the time.  


If you want to take a page out of Chanel’s book, visit GasLamp Too Showcase T-140. It is filled with vintage costume baubles from the best makers in the category. As with Chanel, audaciousness can be yours – or you can simply toss on one statement piece and get conversations started.


This rhinestone butterfly brooch in the photo, right, is from the well-known – and highly collectible – American factory of Weiss, which was active from the 1940s to the 1970s ($98). Weiss Jewelry was founded by Albert Weiss, who worked for costume jewelry manufacturer Coro before opening his own design house. His most well-known designs included pieces encrusted with smoky rhinestones and designs that utilized Swarovski’s polychromatic aurora borealis crystals.


Like Weiss, Eisenberg & Sons is another costume jewelry producer that was highly regarded during its heyday – and remains collectible to this day. The show-stopping necklace in the photo, left, is by Eisenberg & Sons ($218). Known for its use of Swarovski crystals and colored stones, as well as superior craftsmanship and attention to detail, Eisenberg & Sons was one of the most highly-regarded costume jewelry manufacturers in the 1930s and 1940s. The company was famous for its replicas of 18th-century fine jewelry, which appeared authentic right down to the pewter-colored metal.


The increased availability of synthetic gemstones during the 1940s allowed for a wide array of design possibilities. As jewelry firms produced ever elaborate creations, they used new materials as well. One such material was Bakelite, an early synthetic material that was a forerunner to plastic. This material is seen in the black bangle in the photo at right, which dates to the 1950s ($68). Its rhinestones are particularly brilliant, which is a trait one always wants to discover in vintage costume jewerly.


Bakelite was developed in 1907 — it was an alternative to celluloid, a plastic invented in 1870. Celluloid amazed Victorians with its versatility, as it was used for everything from billiard balls to hair combs. Due to its chemical structure, celluloid could be carved into intricate floral shapes on bracelets and brooches. However, it was fragile and prone to chipping. Bakelite had a stronger constitution and rose in popularity upon its creation.  


The photo, left, features a white bracelet that has been molded from Bakelite and features a floral motif ($32). Such bracelets in a solid color – particularly white or cream – are fabulous accents to many outfits, because they are simultaneously stylish and subdued and blend with an array of colored ensembles.


Today a stylish lady may have Tiffany, Cartier or Bulgari in her jewerly box. But she can also reach for costume jewelry on occasions that demand a splash of drama and whimsy.





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