Costume jewellery earrings
Costume jewellery earrings

Towards the end of the 19th century, art nouveau designers, including Rene Lalique, began producing jewellery which focused on the artistic effect of the design rather than the intrinsic value of the materials. Their jewellery incorporated materials such as amber, mother-of-pearl, ivory, coral, jet and glass.

This use on non-precious materials by leading designers opened the way, in the early 1900s, for “trinket jewellery”. In particular, Hungarian jewellery made from silver enamel and very poor stones (typically white emeralds “lifted” with a green foil backing) began to flood the market.

By 1915, buttons and buckles made of base metal and coloured crystals (especially in Egyptian themes), marcasite and paste jewellery, imitation pearls and, particularly, enamel jewellery were all popular.

During the First World War, it was considered vulgar to wear expensive jewellery. Base metal jewellery, including copper, zinc and tin and items fashioned by soldiers (often worn on hats), became popular. In Germany, women were encouraged to give their precious gems to the government in exchange for “Berlin iron” jewellery.

After the War, jewellery using precious stones was considered outdated and long strings of imitation pearls, crystal or glass beads became extremely popular. At the same time, large, colourful, angular Art Deco jewellery was coming into vogue.

In 1924, “Coco” Chanel introduced her “vrais bijoux en toc”. These included long ropes of gilt chains hung with pearls and crosses. Coco Chanel designed new pieces each year to complement her clothing fashions. Many of the other major fashion designers followed her lead. In 1933, “The New Yorker” magazine described this type of jewellery as “costume jewellery”; the name came to be applied to all jewellery using non-precious materials.

"Sunburst" bakelite earrings
“Sunburst” bakelite earrings

During the twenties and thirties, plastic jewellery became fashionable. Bakelite bracelets, bangles and necklaces were particularly popular.

In the late 1930s, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli began producing jewellery using almost any material including wood, industrial chains, rubber, clips, locks and even lollipops.During the Second World War, costume jewellery production almost ceased as factories were converted to producing war requirements. After the War, fashion turned away from novelty to glamour. Costume jewellery imitated precious gem jewellery. Large, single stone rings, hair ornaments and dangling clip-on or screw earrings were fashionable

Vintage costume jewellery available now
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