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Vintage and Antique Costume Jewelry

The first costume jewelry may have been made more than 300 years ago, but many people started wearing antique and costume jewelry during the Art Nouveau period. After many women went to work during World War II, the wearing of costume pieces became even more prominent. The market for custom jewelry expanded, however, when companies started offering custom jewelry that people watched Hollywood stars wearing on-screen.

What are some common characteristics of Art Nouveau vintage costume jewelry?

Jewelry makers rebelled against the formal looks and mass production of jewelry during Queen Victoria's reign. The Art Nouveau era that lasted from about 1895 to 1910 saw many pieces created featuring flowers and winged insects. While Alexander Parks created celluloid in 1856, it was widely used in jewelry during this era. Many craftsmen turned to gilt copper and silver along with vermeil silver as a replacement for gold for these antique pieces.

When did American costume jewelry get its start?

It was during the Edwardian period lasting from about 1900 to 1915 that American jewelers started being recognized for their work. Many of the necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and brooches, however, had a Georgian-era vibe to them. White and white metal were common in many vintage pieces. A limited amount of platinum was even used in mass-produced pieces, allowing designers to create more openwork pieces. Many pieces used gemstone flowers or swags to create garland effects.

What were common elements of Art Deco jewelry?

During the Art Deco era lasting from about 1920 to 1935, pieces designed to be worn as art were created often using lead-glass crystals and rhinestones. In many of the pieces, the setting was almost as important as the stone or crystal that it held. Costume jewelry was often made with Bakelite. This plastic was often used to make long-beaded necklaces and chunky bangles often combining black and white color elements. Many women wore crystal chandelier-style clip-on earrings, and monogrammed necklaces and bracelets became a common jewelry piece. Themes Seen during this period include Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, skyscrapers, automobiles, and airplanes.

What did jewelry look like during the retro era?

The Retro era ran from about 1935 to 1950, and it was characterized by chunky styles. Necklaces often were used to make a bold fashion statement. Faux citrines, aquamarines, topazes and tourmalines stones adorned many pieces of jewelry with brooches and collar necklaces being favored. This period saw two different theme trends with some preferring pieces featuring animals, flora, or people while others preferred pieces featuring abstract and surreal pieces. With World War II making many metals scarce, many pieces were created using sterling silver.

Today, vintage jewelry is is highly collectible and available from a variety of designers, including Trifari, DeLizza and Elster, and Florenza.

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