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Collecting vintage costume jewelry is an pleasurable pastime for many. Some of us take it very seriously, researching and collecting brands that are not only beautiful, but also collectible.
In this article you will learn about the best vintage costume jewelry brands for collecting. These are the most sought-after designers in the vintage costume jewelry world. Their work is high-quality and stunning. They were the gems of their day, and their jewelry is just as beautiful today as it was in the past.
A Brief History of Costume Jewelry
Before the 20th century, women wore jewelry made of precious and semi-precious stones and metals as a way to flaunt the wealth and status of their husbands, jewelry was mostly worn by the rich to convey their societal standing. Early in the 20th century, new materials and industrialization brought experimentation into forms of jewelry whose sole purpose was an expression of style rather than wealth.
The term "costume jewelry" was coined in the 1920's, but the movement can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Many jewelers during this period were looking for alternatives to diamonds, which were in high demand, but were very rare. In 1724, a jeweler named Georges Frédéric Strass developed a special leaded glass that could be cut and polished to twinkle like a diamond. By 1892, Austrian jeweler Daniel Swarovski developed his fine crystal rhinestones that could mimic the facets and luster of precious gemstones.
In the 1920's Coco Chanel launched a line of bold “statement” accessories. This jewelry was unlike anything that had been done before, and was a big hit. Following this trend, Elsa Schiaparelli created a line of jewelry inspired by the Dada art movement, with large fake stones on bold bracelets.
Much of this costume jewelry was made of a hard plastic resin known as Bakelite, which was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. Bakelite could be carved and polished into desirable shapes for beads and bangles, and was extremely popular in the 1930's and 40's.
Best Place to Buy Vintage Costume Jewelry
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A VIDEO ABOUT VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELRY DESIGNERS
The Most Collectible Vintage Costume Jewelry Brands
Coco Chanel brought costume jewelry to the mainstream. She turned undesirable costume jewelry into a hot fashion trend by sporting costume jewelry herself, jewelry that was bold and flashy. Coco Chanel was rarely seen without a heaping pile of pearls around her neck. Coco believed that jewelry should be a mix of fine and costume jewelry so the wearer could pile up inexpensive jewels to pair perfectly with their ensemble.
Chanel costume jewelry uses the highest craftsmanship, utilizing fake pearls, chains, beads and glass in their designs. Oversized Maltese crosses were incorporated into large cuff bracelets, brooches and necklaces made of faceted glass stones set-in gilt metal were favored.
The most valuable vintage pieces from Chanel are the beautifully created Gripoix (Pâte de verre) pieces. In 1920, Coco Chanel commissioned Suzanne Gripoix to create Byzantine jewelry for the House of Chanel. Molten glass was poured into molds and the results were outstanding, creating beautiful jewelry that is highly sought out.
[Learn More: Guide to Vintage Chanel Jewelry]
In the 1930's Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most popular fashion designers in Paris. Her signature color was dubbed, "Shocking Pink". She collaborated with several artists to design her jewelry, including many surrealists.
Her post WWII pieces utilize large, unfoiled glass stones in unusual shapes. Pieces from the 1930's are very rare, pieces from the 1940's and 1950's are easier to find.
[Learn More: Buying Guide for Vintage Elsa Shiaparelli Jewelry]
Eisenburg began in 1914 as an apparel company, but in the 1930's they started marketing jewelry pieces, and they still make jewelry today.
Eisenburg is known for high quality craftsmanship and for using high quality materials, their earliest pieces were marked as "Eisenburg Original", newer pieces were marked "Eisenburg", or "Eisenburg Ice". The company was famous for its very-authentic looking replicas of 18th-century fine jewelry.
Eisnenburgs most in demand jewelry is sterling silver pieces created in the 1940's.
[Learn More: Buying Guide for Vintage Eisenburg Jewelry]
Ralph DeRosa created jewelry during the Art Deco period of the 1930s. He was one of the earliest manufacturers of quality costume jewelry that utilized new materials and local craftsmanship.
DeRosa is known for top-quality, innovative designs. Much of DeRosa's pieces are not marked, making the signed pieces very much in demand.
Look for the coveted hallmark, "R.deRosa."
[Learn More: Buying Guide for Vintage Ralph DeRosa Jewelry]
Founded in the 1910's by Gustavo Trifari, Trifari has been one of the most respected producers of costume jewelry in the United States since the 1920's. Their use of invisible settings for stones created a level of craftsmanship and technique not seen before in costume jewelry.
Many popular pieces from this company include their crown pins from the 1930's to the 1950's. Some of these crown pins featured brightly colored cabochons or clear crystal rhinestones. Another very collectible item is Trifari's "Jelly Belly" pins, animal pins with a "belly" consisting of a solid Lucite "pearl" with settings of sterling silver or gold plate.
Collectors love Trifari's floral pins from the 1930's and the fruit and vegetable pieces from the 1950's.
[Learn More: Trifari Vintage Costume Jewelry Buying Guide]
Pronounced Ho-Bee, Hobe has been creating fine quality costume jewelry since the 1920's. This company created costume jewelry that was excellent quality, they utilized gold and silver plated settings and quality stones.
The original, family run Hobe company stopped making jewelry in the early 1990's, however there is a Hobe company that still exists today.
[Learn More: Hobe Vintage Costume Jewelry Buying Guide]
Dior's costume jewelry was designed to complement his fashion line. The company hired well known designers to create jewelry that matched the quality of the clothing, these designers were known as ‘paruriers’ – makers of accessories to compliment the couture collections.
Christian Dior costume jewelry was heavily influenced by floral motifs and most pieces are signed and dated.
[Learn More: Guide to Vintage Christian Dior Jewelry]
Coro Jewelry is one of the most recognized American jewelry companies. Based out of N. Y. & Providence, R.I., the company was founded by Emanuel Cohn & Carl Rosenberger around 1901 or 1902 in New York. Coro created jewelry to suit every taste and budget. They are known for their delicate, yet sturdy construction, and high quality craftsmanship.
Coro is a great brand to start your vintage jewelry collection with. They used over 100 styles of marks and stamps, and also produced jewelry under other brand names such as CoroCraft, Cellini, Vendome, and Francois among many others.
Their most in demand pieces include the "Coro Duette", a double clip that can be combined into one brooch and their "Jelly Belly" pieces - figural pins with a rounded middle made out of polished Lucite.
[Learn More: Buyer's Guide to Vintage Coro Jewelry]
One of the most popular and collectible names in costume jewelry, Weiss was created in 1942 by a former Coro employee, Albert Weiss. Weiss is known for its exceptional quality and elegant rhinestone pieces including, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, and earrings, they are also known for their use of smokey rhinestones and enamel work. In 1971, the Wiess company went out of business, making their jewelry very collectible.
Because they are so popular, Weiss reproductions are common, for this reason you must be diligent in researching a piece before you buy it. Real Weiss pieces have smooth backings, whereas fakes will often have a textured backing. Weiss stamps are usually strong with clear lettering.
[Learn More: Weiss Vintage Costume Jewelry Buying Guide]
Lisner jewelry has only recently become collectible, when in the 1990's collectors realized that Lisner's clever shapes and bright colors possessed a unique beauty.
Unlike some of Lisner's competitors, the jewelry the company produced in the 1950s and 60's had a timeless and modern look, utilizing clean, sharp edges. One of the most sought after lines is their molded plastic oak-leaf jewelry, which was only produced for five years in the 1960s.
Lisner jewelry takes inspiration from nature, incorporating leaves, fruits, and flowers into their designs.
[Learn More: A Buying Guide to Vintage Lisner Jewelry]
Marcel Boucher started as a jewelry designer for Cartier. Boucher founded his own company in 1937 and made a name for himself by creating imaginative and bold enameled pieces that were individual works of art. He created brooches shaped like fruits, animals, and human figures.
The most valuable jewelry from this line are Boucher's fantasy bird pieces from the 1940's.
[Learn More: A Buying Guide to Vintage Boucher Jewelry]
From its inception in 1926, Miriam Haskell Company was a hit with stylish women in Manhattan. Handcrafted floral-themed costume jewelry, and intricate necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and pins were popular. Haskell utilized faux pearls, Austrian crystal beads, blown glass beads, rose montees, as well as gilt findings and filigree.
Vintage necklaces are among her most sought after pieces.
[Learn More: Miriam Haskell Vintage Costume Jewelry Buying Guide]
Henrietta Kanengeiser came to the US from Austria in the 1900s. She changed her name to Henrietta Carnegie after learning that Andrew Carnegie was the most successful person in America. Her jewelry designs were wild, giving a touch of flair to otherwise conservative outfits. She commissioned a variety of talented jewelry designers to create her pieces.
Carnegie pieces tend to stay away from all-paste copies of gemstone jewelry. She utilized plastics, enamels, and gilt metals. This company is known for its attention to detail and creativity.
Hattie died in 1956, so jewelry from before then is the most valuable, they are worth collecting even if they are damaged or are missing rhinestones.
[Learn More: A Buying Guide to Vintage Hattie Carnegie Jewelry]
Florenza was founded in 1948, they specialized in gold-plated metal bracelets, brooches, rings, necklaces, and earrings in Victorian revival and renaissance styles.
They are known for their cameos, which were hand carved into glass, shell, and resin, often in a design that was branded as Wedgwood Mocha. Florenza deigned its own jewelry as well as manufactured jewelry for Coro and Wiess.
[Learn More: Vintage Florenza Jewelry Buying Guide]
Kramer Jewelry Creations was founded in New York City at the height of World War II. Kramer favored flowers, especially organic-looking floral designs made with colored enamel or gilt petals and leaves. Some of these flower brooches had rhinestones set in "trembling" centers.
Kramer was known for its intricate and artistic pieces made out of gilt metal, rhinestones, glass, and enamel. Other designs include pieces dripping with rhinestones in vibrant colors, as well as geometric patterns and animal figures.
During the 1950s and 60's Kramer produced jewerly for Christian Dior. These are the most collectible pieces from this brand.
[Learn More: Vintage Louis Kramer Jewelry Buying Guide]
Sarah Coventry utilized a grassroots approach to selling jewelry, utilizing house parties as a way to get people interested in their jewelry. Contestants on games shows and beauty pageants were gifted jewelry. This word-of-mouth technique made Sarah Coventry one of the most popular jewelry brands of the mid 20th century.
Sarah Coventry jewelry tends to feature cabochons and marquise-cut rhinestones. Base metals were usually gold-tone or silver-tone.
Collectors especially prize pieces from the 1960's and 70's.
[Learn More: Sarah Coventry Vintage Costume Jewelry Buying Guide]
McClelland Barclay was an Art Deco jewelry designer, along with an artist and sculptor. In his early years, he worked as an illustrator for Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping creating military recruit posters.
Barclay designed jewelry from about 1932 - 1938, using both goldtone metal and silver paired with high-quality rhinestones. Barclay jewelry incorporated new "Verneiuil" human-made synthetic gemstones like sapphires and rubies.
Pieces are marked with Barclay's signature. He occasionally marked items with "Mac" which is believed to be the mark he used for individually commissioned pieces.
[Learn More: A Buying Guide to Vintage McClelland Barclay Jewelry]
Jewels by Bogoff was founded in the 1940s by Henry Bogoff and became one of America's leading costume jewelry manufacturers. Bogoff created original pieces as well as replicas of high-end jewelry.
Bogoff had a reputation for very high quality, and Jewels by Bogoff guaranteed every piece for life. By the 1950s, Bogoff was the third largest costume jewelry manufacturer after Trifari and Coro.
Rhodium frameworks and hand-set stones were used to mimic the look of high-cost designer fine jewelry.
[Learn More: Buying Guide to Vintage Bogoff Jewelry]
William de Lillo
William de Lillio was a Belgian designer who worked for Lois Comfort Tiffany before establishing his own company in 1967 with former Miriam Haskell designer Robert F. Clark. Together they created innovative and high-quality work.
The use of Swarovski crystal beads and stones in their jewelry is simply breathtaking. Vintage costume jewelry by William De Lillo is often stamped "deLillo" and fetches a high price.
[Learn More: Buying Guide for Vintage William De Lillo Jewelry]
DeMario was founded in 1945 and only produced jewelry until the early 1960s. The company never had a large scale production and served mostly a small Northeast US market, making their pieces rare and valuable.
DeMario created unique jewelry, combining beads, faux pearls, and rhinestones in myriads of colors.
[Learn More: Vintage DeMario Jewelry Buying Guide]
There you have it, a list of the top collectible vintage costume jewelry brands. I hope this helps you in your hunt for valuable pieces to add to your collection.
What is your favorite brand? Are there any that should be added to the list?