Stunning stone set heart pin.

THE INSIDE STORY OF COSTUME JEWELRY 1840-1950

by Rhinestone Rosie

Reprinted with permission from Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry, P.O Box 265 Glen Oaks, NY 11004 VCFJ@aol.com and the author

 

Costume Jewelry has a rich and vibrant history. By understanding economics, culture, fashion and even political events, the collector can become her own Sherlock Holmes. The elusive process of circa dating a piece can now be unlocked by just knowing how to use the keys to the door. 

Jewelry styles change with the trends of the times. These trends can be grouped into approximate eras. Styles can also be delineated by era names (i.e. Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, etc.).

Often, the eras and the styles "blend," existing simultaneously, flowing and melding much like a river. The best tool you have to decipher these clues is your eyes. Closely examine the piece youíre circa dating.

Note the cut and color of the stones. What type of clasp and hinge does it have?

From what kind of material is the setting made? What markings or signatures are present? The following history will help you in your quest for circa dating.

VICTORIAN ERA JEWELRY 1840-1890

The Victorian era was appropriately name after Queen Victoria. Her wedding to Albert n 1840 and her continuing reign led to a profusion of jewelry fanatics.

Queen Victoria loved jewelry and soon her fellow countrymen were as enamored of it as she was. Following Albertís death in 1861, she continued to wear jewelry. Known as mourning jewelry, Queen Victoria wore it in tribute to her deceased husband. The pieces were black and made of various types of materials: gutta percha, vulcanite, bog oak, ebonite and black glass.

After a lengthy period of mourning, the dark cloud was lifted and there was a period of great sentimentality. Women were wearing heavily corseted, multi-layered garments. Hair was long and usually worn piled atop the head, topped by huge hats.

Jewelry took the form of chatelaines, hair ornaments, lockets, pierced earrings, watch chains with fobs and seals, cameos, book chain style necklaces, hatpins, lavalieres, lace and lingerie pins, bangles, cufflinks and stud buttons. There were many motifs characteristic of this time: flowers, snakes, crescents, lizards, birds, Celtic designs, Japanese designs, horseshoes and acrostics. Acrostics are quite unique. A Victorian filigree diamond ring today is a much sought after piece.

The first letter of each stone spelled a word when put together. REGARD was such an example. There was a wide variety of materials used in the jewelry: turquoise, coral, pearls, agate, tortoiseshell, cut steel, sterling, gold and various grades of gold, jet, French jet (black glass), lava, onyx and paste, low carat gold markings (9 carat) and gun metal "blackened steel." 

Jewelry had a "stamped," machine made look and feel. The Industrial Revolution took jewelry production from the aristocracy to the masses. Electroplating became a patented, commercial endeavor. Large scale jewelry manufacturing also began in the US. Permanently foiled stones (rhinestones) process refined. Rolled gold plating introduced.

1850 tube catch patented.

1852 Aluminum first displayed (very rare in jewelry!)

1868 Celluloid invented.

1894 Screw back earring patented.

1895 Mass production of Swiss watches.



Final assembly of watches in the 
La Chaux-de-Fonds workshop

 

ARTS AND CRAFTS 1890-1920 

Considered a rebellion to the Industrial Revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement featured handmade jewelry, with hammered, patinated and acid-etched metals, with nature themes in clean stylized designs. Society was moving faster and the artisans favored the slower pace to create graceful pieces.

The materials for this jewelry were bronze, brass, silver, copper, amber, enamels and glass. Blister and freshwater pearls were preferred for their non-uniform shapes. Gemstones and glass were cut en cabochon. Stones of choice included turquoise, moonstones and opals.

The women of this era were becoming restless also. The urge to secure voting rights led to secret languages of color. Suffragettes wore green, white and violet ("give women the vote") huses on their clothing and in their jewelry. New jewelry styles included "paper clip" chains, organic designs in pendants, rings, watch fobs and sash ornaments.

Favored, too, were stickpins, festoon necklaces and cloak clasps.

1904 Georg Jensen opened shop in Copenhagen. Cartier opened in New York. N. Guyot and Sons opened shop in Attleboro, Massachusetts

1906 Sterling standard established in US National stamping act required marking of gold and silver content.

1908 Paul Poiret introduces dresses without corsets and with a vertical line at this "Boutique Chichi."

1909 Bakelite patented.


EDWARDIAN JEWELRY 1890-1920

A photo of a brass Edwardian Filigree Jewelry Stamping.A photo of a brass Edwardian Filigree Jewelry Stamping.
A photo of a brass Edwardian Filigree Jewelry Stamping.

A new monarch heralds a new age-actually his spouse led the fashion with enormous vanity and love for bedecking herself with jewels. In the courtís favor were diamonds, platinum, pearls and a style quite different from the heaviness of the preceding eras. 

Lacy, openwork with dangles and garlands. White metals were preferred. Tiaras were in vogue, along with dog collar necklaces and dangling earrings.

While platinum was desired, it was proclaimed a "strategic metal" during WWI and its use in jewelry was diminished. A formula for 18 kt white gold was introduced by David Belais as "18k Belais." Both pot metal and sterling were plated with rhodium to create the look of platinum. Synthetic sapphires patented 1911. Theda Bara plays Cleopatra in a silent film version, and many ladies decided the Egyptian slave look was for them. Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia became the Republic of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs became known for marvelous faux gemstone glass pieces. Brass stamped settings held the stones in with prongs and were well marked. A prong setting is sometimes referred to as Edwardian diamond setting.

1911 sliding lock clasp was patented-bye bye to the "C" hook.

Womenís styles of clothing embraced fewer undergarments (i.e. corsets), showing more skin. Short sleeved and sleeveless style begged for piles of bracelets, and necklaces that looked best on bare skin. Lavaliere style necklaces continued, but the long (ropes) style complemented the vertical lines of the fashions.

Colors of jewels tended to be soft, muted and more natural. Liberal use of non-foiled glass stones looked like "the real thing." While necklace lengths ran the gamut, most tended to be right around the hollow of the neck. Choker length and slightly longer strands of pearls and a riot of beads and crystals led the parade.

Automobiles raced upon the scene. Milady chose to spend a bit more time in the out of doors (i.e. "sun tanning"). She no longer hid under a parasol nor chose to be shy about applying a demure powder puff to her nose in public. How shocking !

ART NOUVEAU JEWELRY 1895-1910

A coincidental wave alongside Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau took elegant stylization to the female form, with graceful, flowing, curvaceous, nature redone. This was a sensuous era with female faces, insects, flowers. Also featured were draped and nude female figures.

Art Nouveau used many of the same materials and gemstones as did the Arts and Crafters, but their effect was much more intimate. The colors tended to be rich and warm. The designers were not so quick to abandon the advanced processes of the Industrial Revolution. Many of the pieces produced were done so in mass quantities. Brass stampings of the same design were used interchangeably for pins, necklaces, brooches, earrings, vanity mirror frames, purse frames and buttons.

ART DECO ART MODERNE JEWELRY 1920-1935

Those 20s ladies continued to shock everyone. But now the "flappers" were lopping off their glowing locks of hair, wearing skirts above their knees and in 1920 secured the right to vote! Change the woman, change the jewelry. Coco Chanel introduced the "little black dress" and was the first couturier to show ropes of rhinestones draped on her runway models...quite a statement indeed. Shortly, you could order similar looks from the Sears catalog. King Tutís tomb was discovered in 1922 and the Egyptian craze raged again. 1925 heralded the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Indtustriels Modernes in Paris and the term "Art Deco" was coined and bandied about to describe anything with a sleek, modern, geometric design. It is still in use today.

Art Deco influenced everything. The jewelry reflected this clean simplified and stylized design. Stepped and zigzag motifs blended with Egyptian and Oriental motifs. Rhinestones were everywhere! Pavť set stones in mostly white metal led the fray. Pavť means paved in French. The stones were set very close together with little metal showing. Carved gemstones also were popular.

Earrings were no longer pierced (considered to be vulgar at this time) but of the screw back type. Bracelets were straight, flexible, link and charm. Necklaces continued to be either very long or very short. There were few of medium length. Colors included black alongside another color.

Materials included marcasites (20s diamonds), jade, chalcedony, chrysoprase, chrome and rhodium plated metal, celluloid and Bakelite, glass and white pot metals. Brass that was gold or silver plated brass, sterling, wood, seeds, string, leather and other natural materials.

The Depression in America during the early part of the 1930s led to much jewelry production of the novelty and inexpensive type. Humor and whimsy led the way. Diametrically opposed to this costume jewelry were pieces being designed by fine jewelers, but in non-precious metals. 1928 Schiaparelli opened her shop in Paris. In 1931 William Spratling was in Mexico creating masterpieces in silver all over the Taxo region.

COSTUME JEWELRY IN THE 1940ís

Coming out of the Depression and into the economy of a world at war, women found themselves called to work outside the home in large numbers...more than ever before. Rosie the Riveter couldnít dress like Blanche DuBois. Gone were the bias cut luxe fabrics of the 30s. Material was rationed, hence a slimmer, more practical style ensued. Pants and suits were necessary for the lives of working women. Jewelry took a similar turn. Gone were the heavy rhinestone-paved pieces of the Deco years. The stones came from Europe in the firs place, therefore being at war stopped the importation of the stones altogether. Manufacturers found they had to use inventory on hand. Design of the pieces produced were softer, almost flowery and romantic, with just a few stones. Sterling could not be plated with rhodium because it was being used for production in ammunition, so gold was used as the plating agent. One can almost pinpoint the period from this style of gold plated sterling pieces created. Add cabochons of Lucite and the Jelly Belly is created. Brooches were large, yet restrained design wise. Also used were whimsical pieces of carved Bakelite.

"Sweetheart jewelry", military motifs with heart-shaped styling, became popular with servicemen for their loved ones. Hearts, lockets, wings, etc. appeared rapidly in a variety of materials by most of the jewelry manufacturers. 

Forms of jewelry included bangle, link and charm bracelets, brooches, dress and fur clips. A unique introduction was the double clip brooch or duette clip. There were chatelaine pins, cuff links, clip and screw back earrings, large figural brooches and the infamous Jelly Bellies. By this time, too, were rhinestone encrusted hair ornaments, pipes, cigarette holders, lighters, cigarette cases, purses, shows and clothing.

Stars of the silver screen loomed large in the lifestyles of this era. We watched closely as they appeared adorned with the most outrageous costume jewelry possible.

Costume jewelry buffs seem to also be old movie fans as we devoured "flicks," avidly searching for that pin or this necklace.  Marketing mavens realized early the potential of this allure. Magazines were full of movie stars touting this or that product...wearing the latest in glorious jewelry. 

Of particular note in this arena is Joseff of Hollywood who created then leased his jewelry to major motion picture studios. Demand was so great for his pieces that he acquiesced and created a line for retail sale.

This was the heyday of costume jewelry production. In America there were 929 companies actively creating jewelry. We loved it!

COSTUME JEWELRY OF THE 1950ís

After WWII the American economy emerged flush with victory. All those war working women felt obligated to treat themselves well. Fashion leaders responded eagerly. Christian Dior announced his "new look" which we interpret as "big look"-pouffy, bold and large accessories.

Rhinestones exploded in dimension and color. Every element was affected. Bracelets, necklaces, brooches-you name it-rolled off assembly lines in bigger and bigger proportions. Plastics and metals also were popular, as well as wonderful copper/enamel pieces by Matisse/Renoir, Hollycraft jools, clearly marked with date and name. In a nod to atomic power many styles included some sort of an exploded look.

In a parallel universe wonderful sterling and all metal pieces were created in a style known as "biomorphic." Not a single rhinestone here, just intriguing "amoebae" shapes done by hand, often humorous and always individual.

The history of costume jewelry does not end here. Every era has added its own touch. What I would like to leave with you is how inter-connected it all was, is and will continue to be. Viva la glitz!

Costume Jewelry Photo Gallery

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