If you are looking to purchase vintage Chanel jewelry, or you just want to learn more about the brand, you have come to the right place. Here you will learn about the history, jewelry marks, materials used, most collectible pieces, and tips on how to buy.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel brought costume jewelry into the mainstream.
The original intention of costume jewelry was to mimic fine jewelry for those who could not afford the real thing. Chanel changed this concept; she advocated that jewelry should be worn to decorate, rather than display wealth. She broke away from the established traditions of when and where jewelry could be worn.
"Costume jewelry isn’t made to provoke desire, just astonishment at most. It must remain an ornament and an amusement." – Gabrielle Chanel.
Chanel felt that with costume jewelry, women could properly accessorize an outfit rather than be limited to a few pieces. Chanel turned costume jewelry from faux pas, into a hot fashion trend, especially the idea of piling it on. Her minimalist clothing designs were the perfect backdrop for layers of jewelry.
Chanel loved the idea of combing fake and real jewelry; she preferred to accessorize with many pieces of jewelry, rather than being limited to one or two expensive fine jewelry items.
Before Chanel introducing the concept of piling on layers of costume jewelry, wealthy clients usually preferred not to display expensive items in public, but now felt comfortable wearing Chanel costume jewelry.
“It’s disgusting to walk around with millions of dollars around the neck because one happens to be rich. I only like fake jewelry….because it’s provocative”. – Gabrielle Chanel
Brief History of Chanel Jewelry
Chanel began making costume jewelry (or ‘bijou,’ from bijouterie’) in the 1920s. The term costume jewelry was coined because the pieces were made to fit well with a specific outfit, or ‘costume,’ rather than to individual items of clothing.
In the beginning, Chanel’s costume jewelry was designed by Etienne de Beaumont. The jewelry did not carry the Chanel name and could only be purchased by Chanel’s loyal clients.
In 1927, Chanel invited Fulco di Verdura to design clothing and jewelry for her. It was Fulco di Verdura who designed the famous Chanel silver cuff bracelets, covered with black enamel and decorated with a Maltese cross made from different colored stones.
The Chanel Maltese Cross cuffs became commercially available around 1930 and have remained a mainstay of the Chanel jewelry collection since.
During the 1920’ and 30s, François Hugo, grandson of Victor Hugo began designed jewelry for Chanel as well as her rival Elsa Schiaparelli.
In the 1920s, Chanel commissioned Suzanne Gripoix to create Byzantine jewelry for the House of Chanel, a relationship that continued for decades.
In 1940, when Paris was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, the house of Chanel closed down, and Chanel moved to Switzerland.
In 1954, Chanel returned to Paris and opened a store on Rue Cambon showcasing couture collections. Each garment featured costume bijouterie. It was during this time that famous sautoirs, earrings, and camellia brooches first appeared.
Chanel hired Robert Goossens to be the chief designer of Chanel jewelry. Goossens shared Chanel’s love for bright ornamental decoration. The decorations Goossens made for Chanel were often constructed from gold and real diamonds, which were then replicated as bijouterie in her collections. In the 1960s Goossens and Chanel created necklaces with beads, pearls, and flowers.
In 1971, Gabrielle Chanel died, and in 1974 control of the company was passed to Alain Wertheimer, who together with his brother Gérard is still the owner today.
In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld joined Chanel. A year later Victoire de Castellane would join him and work for the company as chief jewelry designer until 1998 when she went to work for Dior.
Chanel Jewelry Marks
Practically all jewelry made before the house of Chanel closed down during the 1940 Paris occupation was unsigned.
During the 1940s and 50s, there was no official Chanel jewelry being produced. You may occasionally see enamel brooches dated 1941 and marked as Chanel, but this jewelry was manufactured by a knockoff company called the American Chanel Novelty Company. Chanel sued the company and they changed their name to the Reinad Novelty Company.
The 1950s and 60s jewelry show the Chanel label in the form of a simple signature in large letters directly on the item itself. This label remained essentially the same until Chanel’s death in 1971.
Occasionally you will find three stars below the CHANEL signature, as well as a year mark from the 1960s or early 70s.
After 1974, Chanel jewelry is marked with a copyright sign and a registered trademark on a round plate at the back. The marking consists of a CHANEL inscription and copyright mark on both sides complimented with the overlapping CC and MADE IN FRANCE. By the 1980s this had become the standard marking.
By 1985, MADE IN FRANCE was replaced by the date, the plate itself became oval, and the copyright sign appears next to the CC logo.
From 1986 to 1992 there were some changes to the way Chanel jewelry was marked. CHANEL was marked on an oval plate and accompanied by the copyright sign in each side; with MADE IN FRANCE at the bottom of the plate and the overlapping CC logo in a circle in the center; with the number 2 on the left and another number on the right. The number stood for seasons: for example, 3 on the right means season 23; 6 means season 26; and so on from 23 to 29.
In 1993 another change occurred in the markings. A double-digit figure denoting the year appears to the left of the logo; and the letter ‘P’ (‘printemps for spring) or ‘A’ (‘automne’ for autumn) to the right. This marking is still in use today, except MADE IN FRANCE is often replaced with MADE IN ITALY; and the marking itself is made on the jewel rather than a plate.
Recently the letter ‘C’ has been added to the right and stands for ‘croisière,’ i.e., the cruise collection. Markings on bracelets, necklaces, and brooches are now performed in the lock rather than on an oval plate.
Since the 1990s Chanel began making more earrings and rings, which can be difficult to see the markings on due to their small size.
Chanel Costume Jewelry Materials
Costume jewelry mimics fine jewelry by utilizing more affordable materials. Some materials used in Chanel costume jewelry include:
- Imitation and semi-precious stones.
- Gold and Silver plated metals.
- Poured glass beads and cabochons
- Imitation pearls
- Fabrics such as leather, ribbons, and velvet.
- Vermeil (gold-plated sterling silver)
- Metals such as rhodium, stainless steel, and rhodium over steel.
Chanel's Fine Jewelry Lines
Chanel has used precious metals and jewels in their boutique lines, including the high-end “Comète,” “Camélia,” “Baroque,” “Ultra,” “Bridal,” “and “1932”.
The fine jewelry lines of “Designer” “Mademoiselle,” and “Coco” were faded out by 2010.
Chanel's Use of Gripoix Glass
In the 1920s, Chanel and Suzanne Gripoix partnered to produce some of the most beautiful poured glass (pate de verre) jewelry in history. The jewel-toned “stones” made out of molten glass had outstanding results, creating beautiful jewelry that is highly sought out today.
Gripoix glass jewelry is made by hand and is not a technique found in mass-produced costume jewelry. Many types of glass are misidentified as Gripoix, so it is wise to familiarize yourself with the differences.
Here is a Brief Video of Gripoix Glass
Time and skill are required to produce “pate de verre” glass jewelry. A soldering torch is used to place molten glass directly into a metal frame or mold.
The individual elements are then polished and soldered together with other components to create the complete piece of jewelry.
Chanel Gripoix jewelry is amongst the most desired and collected jewelry in the world.
Collecting Vintage Chanel Jewelry
Chanel jewelry is highly collectible. The Chanel brand is iconic, and the designs are timeless. Vintage Chanel jewelry will hold its value; even new pieces become collector items.
If you want to collect vintage Chanel jewelry, here are some things to know:
- Make sure there are no loose stone or missing pieces from any jewelry you are considering buying.
- Vintage pieces made before the 1980s are thought to be higher quality.
- During the 1980s and 90s, Chanel pieces were 18kt gold electroplated.
- Costume jewelry made from the 1920s to the 1960s was often created in the same way as fine jewelry, with high workmanship.
- Buy from a reputable dealer who knows how to identify Chanel jewelry.
- Many vintage Chanel pieces from the 1950/60s feature Gripoix glass elements.
- 1980s and 1990s Chanel jewelry is the easiest of the vintage eras to find.
How to Spot a Fake Chanel Piece
- Look for is noticeable soldering marks. No workmanship should be visible on a genuine vintage Chanel piece.
- Look at the hangtags. Genuine hangtags are very thin and slightly elongated, while fake ones are often fatter and somewhat more rounded.
- Authentic Chanel pieces, especially pieces from the 1970s to 90s, were made with heavy base metal and thick gold plating. They will have a thickness and weight to them that many counterfeits do not possess.
- Chanel earrings should have a double-forged back.
- Stones shouldn’t even show the possibility of falling out.
- Metal should feel solid and not bend.
The Most Valuable Chanel Jewelry Pieces
- Vintage jewelry that is 18kt or 24kt gold plated is highly valuable, since the brand discontinued gold plating a few years ago.
- Pieces marked “CHANEL” with three stars beneath – these were Haute couture pieces.
- Gripoix (Pâte de Verre) pieces.
Tips for Buying Genuine Vintage Chanel Costume Jewelry Online
- Obtain close-up photos of the back before buying to verify the signature. You can look at the specific clasp or pin-backing and compare it to pictures of genuine Chanel pieces to make sure they match up.
- Inspect the seller’s feedback for a history of positive feedback.
- Pay using a safe method like PayPal, which is very good about getting buyers a full refund on authenticity disputes.
- See if the seller offers a guarantee on the authenticity of the jewelry.
- Make sure the seller is showing high-quality photos of the stamp/signature.
- Be sure to compare the measurements to a ruler, so you know how big the piece is.
Some Lovely Examples of Vintage Earrings and a Guide to Dating Chanel Jewelry in the Video Below
Is Chanel Jewelry Worth the Cost?
Yes and no. There are two opinions to the above question, one in which the answer is a resounding, "yes!" The other in which the answer is a cautious, "no".
Chanel jewelry is worth the money if you love Chanel. You want to proudly wear an authentic Chanel piece because it makes you feel amazing, you love knowing you are wearing genuine Chanel. Another reason Chanel jewelry is worth the high cost is because it is highly collectible and will retain it's value. You own a piece of jewelry history.
For others, the price tag isn't worth the fact that it is costume jewelry. You would rather spend money on fine jewelry and you are OK with not owning a piece of the iconic Chanel brand.
Where to Buy Vintage Chanel Costume Jewelry
My favorite places to buy vintage Chanel jewelry online is Etsy and eBay. I like shopping on these platform because you can message sellers, read reviews, and navigate and search keywords and categories - making it simple to find what you are looking for.
My Favorite Etsy Shops for Authentic Vintage Chanel Jewelry
- Purse Angels guarantees the authenticity of their vintage items, or your money back.
- Vintage Paris Luxe offers French vintage high fashion jewelry & accessories.
- Vintage En Mode is a one stop shop for all your vintage Haute Couture needs. Famous celebrities wear pieces from her shop!
- Harlequin Market HQM brings you the ultimate curation of rare, unique & collectible costume jewelry.
There you have it, a complete guide to Chanel costume jewelry! If you find a good deal in a vintage Chanel piece, I suggest you snag it up before the price increases, but remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
I hope you enjoyed this article, if you found it useful, share it with your vintage-loving friends! And if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, I will do my best to help!
Happy Chanel Hunting,