Costume Jewelry History

The term "costume jewelry" (also spelled jewelery or jewellery) originated in the early 1900s to refer to inexpensive jewelry used to complement a particular garment. The word "costume" in the term "costume jewelry" refers to a garment or outfit. In contrast fine jewelry refers to jewelry that is more expensive and may be a collectible or a keepsake. Costume jewelry comes in many forms including necklaces, pendants, rings, brooches, and earrings.

Throughout history various materials have been used to make costume jewelry including sterling silver, plastic, wood, pewter, cubic zirconium simulated diamonds, semi-precious stones, non-precious metals, and glass.

Early Costume Jewelry History

Although the term "costume jewelry" was coined in the 20th century the practice of making jewelry out of inexpensive materials goes far back in history. In fact the ancient Egyptians made beautiful glass beads made to resemble precious stones. Costume jewelry began gaining popularity during the Renaissance when cheaper materials started to be used in place of more expensive materials. For example conch shells were often used to make cameos instead of stone. During this period the terms bijoutiers and joailliers were created. Bijoutiers being jewelers who used cheaper materials in their jewelry and joailliers being jewelers who used expensive materials in their jewelry.

In 17th and 18th century Europe there was a great demand for all types of jewelry by people of all social levels. Jewelers of this period started to utilize glass as an affordable substitute to diamonds. A jeweler by the name Georges Frederic Strass created a leaded glass paste that he polished with metal powder so that it appeared to be a diamond. His "diamante" jewelry became very popular.

Costume Jewelry History - 20th Century

The 20th century saw change in how jewelry was perceived. More attention was given to regarding jewelry as an expression of style and less emphasis was put on it as a means of flaunting wealth and status. Although it always has been and continues to be worn for this purpose by many people. No longer was jewelry just for the rich but more and more it was now being used by people of all income levels to express style. One of the main people to popularize costume jewelry was Coco Chanel, founder of the Chanel brand. Her quote "Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful" sums up how many started to perceive costume jewelry. Coco Chanel also showed her dislike of people wearing jewelry as a means to show off their wealth by stating "It is disgusting to walk around with millions around the neck because one happens to be rich." She launched a very successful line of costume jewelry.

The demand for inexpensive jewelry grew. Inexpensive jewelry made jewelry more accessible to more people, it allowed for larger affordable pieces to be created, it meant pieces could be trendier with the idea that they could be tossed out when no longer in style and replaced with new trendy pieces. These pieces although made out of inexpensive materials often were the products of incredible workmanship.