Atglen, PA, Schiffer Publishing has approximately 3,100 titles available
dealing with Art, History, and the Military. Of particular interest to
jewelry lovers is this series of books aimed at collectors. More than a
mere price guide, the publishers have worked with Joanne Dubbs Ball to put
together a concise history of the costume jewelry industry, dating from
the late 1890's through the 1970's.
Prior to the twentieth
century, fashion accessorizing was something available only to the very
rich. In fact, many of the early costume jewelry designers learned their
trade working with gold, platinum, and precious gems. Others came from the
world of haute couture. Designers like Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and
Christian Dior could see how much better their designs looked with the
appropriate accessories, but needed to find a way of producing jewelry
that the average woman could afford. Finding no available outlets, they
began designing their own accessories, first as adjuncts to their
clothing, and eventually as separate arms of their businesses.
Other designers turned to
costume jewelry during the years of World War I and World War II, when
most metals were needed for war production and only silver or other white
metals were available to them. Quite a few of the earliest designers were
recent immigrants from Central Europe. They were familiar with fine
crystals such as Swarovski and introduced them to this country.
Although, this book deals
primarily with costume jewelry production in New York, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, and Southern Massachusetts, who could ignore the affect of
Hollywood in the 1930's on fashion? One of the stories I found
particularly interesting dealt with Eugene Joseff. Joseff of Hollywood
came to the costume jewelry industry due to something he saw wrong in a
movie he watched. Constance Bennett appeared in "The Affairs of
Cellini" beautifully garbed in 1790's period costume with a modern
necklace around her lovely throat. This drove Joseff mad. It took almost a
year and a half to convince the motion picture industry that jewelry was
as important to the depiction of a character as costume. In that time, he
had to develop his own tools in order to prove that his designs could be
produced cheaply. Eventually, most of the major motion pictures of the
thirties including films like "Gone with the Wind" , "The
Prisoner of Zenda," and "Forever Amber," were filled with
his designs. Demand in the private sector took off and he became very
Unfortunately, Mr. Joseff died in 1948 in a plane crash, but
his wife Joan Castle Joseff kept most of his designs. The company had a
policy of only renting out the jewelry for films and has the complete
collection of his work still intact.
Through the forties and
fifties, the industry continued successfully. First generation designers
passed their skills to sons or daughters who carried on the tradition of
quality production using faux materials.
In the sixties, the
market began to change but companies that could adjust changed the focus
of their designs to the younger, hipper market. But it wasn't enough, for
in the seventies, the price of gold began to rise. Women began to believe
that a bit of real gold was far more affluent looking than any of the high
quality costume jewelry offered. Soon after, with burgeoning production
costs and the changes going on within their city environments, most of the
small production companies were forced to leave the business.
Much of the work sold in
the past as costume jewelry is today eminently collectible. "Costume
Jewelers: the Golden Age of Design" is a good primer for the modern
collector and an interesting and lovely book. Discussing most of the major
designers and showing examples of their work, Ms. Ball explains the
differences between designs and techniques.
Ms. Ball, a former native
of Lancaster, now residing in Connecticut, is a dealer and collector of
vintage antique jewelry. Her love of writing and collecting has meshed in
a career producing articles on collectibles. This book is a tribute to her
knowledge and ability. Personally, I found that I felt as excited reading
it as a young girl going through her mother's jewelry box and discovering
treasure after treasure.
Review reprinted with
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