One of the joys of antiquing is learning about the types of antiques you’re likely to encounter often so you can look for hidden gems. Vintage costume jewelry is a fun and fascinating way to start learning and collecting, especially since there are pieces at all prices. Even if you’re not a big fan of jewelry, the variety of colorful, quirky, and unusual designs makes this a really entertaining area, and almost every antique store has at least one showcase full for you to browse.
What Is Costume Jewelry?
Costume jewelry is any jewelry made with less expensive materials than fine jewelry, such as lower purities of gold or gold plate, glass stones, faux pearls, and so on. The name comes from the early 20th century when “costume” could still mean a style of dress. The term indicated jewelry to go with more general outfits (instead of expensive, fine jewelry that would not be for daily wear). Some use the term interchangeably with “fashion jewelry,” though most dealers would consider “costume jewelry” to refer to vintage pieces and “fashion jewelry” to the modern (since the 1980s) pieces.
What Costume Jewelry Should I Collect?
Sparkly things, brooches that move, scotty dogs, cluster clip-ons, fruit-themed pieces — the sky’s the limit! This is the most delightful part — exploring what’s out there!
Most of us have heard of famous jewelers such as Cartier or Harry Winston, but there are very well known (and collectible) costume jewelry designers, too, such as Coro, Weiss, and Trifari. Choosing a designer to collect can give you a focused place to start.
Be a Rhinestone Cowgirl
With their bright sparkle and eye-catching reflections, rhinestones make an attractive collection and include not just clear rhinestones but colored ones as well.
Believe it or not, when it first became popular for making jewelry, Bakelite was fairly inexpensive. Now, Bakelite jewelry is a minefield of lookalikes and reproductions. Learn how to accurately identify it, though, and it’s a glamorous and worthwhile investment.
Through the Years
Each decade of the 20th century has some spectacular styles worth collecting. Choose streamlined Art Deco, glamorous 1940s, or bold, vibrant 1950s.
What Should I Avoid?
As with most antiques and vintage items, the condition is key. For the most part, you’ll want to avoid pieces that have a lot of wear or damage, missing stones, chipped paint, all the usual sorts of things. Look at quality pieces online and get a feel for the level of detail and workmanship found in good pieces.
Costume jewelry is such a broad category, you’re sure to find something you’ll love seeking out and adding to your collection. No matter what you choose, have fun with it!