Back in the 1930s and 1940s, costume jewelry was seen as ‘junk jewelry’ but these days, it is a lot more valuable. Collectors of costume jewelry consider them sparkling treasures and they can fetch thousands of dollars. There are different kinds of costume jewelry, and identifying them is part of the fun of collecting them.
Let’s check out what types of costume jewelry there are — perhaps you have something super valuable lying around in your trinket box without realizing it!
What Is Costume Jewelry?
Costume jewelry got this name because it was made to only be worn for a season or two before it’s replaced by something more fashionable. The jewelry pieces were made with artificial stones, which is why they were seen as ‘junk’.
Some costume jewelry designers used semi-precious stones for their pieces, but most of them were made with hard plastics, glass, or rhinestones. The metals used included sterling silver (for high-end pieces), ceramic, rhodium, and even wood.
Costume Jewelry History
The history of costume jewelry plays a big role in how valuable it is today and why it remains highly collectible.
For example, ‘Sweetheart Jewelry’ dates back to the WWII era and features military themes in patriotic colors. These jewelry pieces were often bought by wives and mothers to show their support for the soldiers abroad.
In the 1800s, Queen Victoria’s choice of jewelry affected what the masses wore, and costume jewelry from that time reflects what was fashionable back then.
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in1953 also had an impact on the jewelry world, and crown pins became highly fashionable. As a result, costume jewelry crown pins increased in popularity.
Later on, Hollywood started to influence jewelry design, and many of the costume jewelry pieces made in the early 1990s are considered collector’s pieces today.
Early Influential Costume Jewelry Designers
There were many designers who dedicated their time to making attractive costume jewelry, and some of them stood out for their hard work. Coco Chanel, Premet, Jean Patou, and Drécoll were some of the most successful and famous costume jewelry designers. They helped make it as popular as it is today.
Types of Costume Jewelry
Now that we know what costume jewelry is and why it’s collectible, let’s look at the different types you can choose from. This list is in no particular order, and you can find very valuable pieces in any of the categories.
1. Nature Jewelry
A trending type of costume jewelry is what is called nature jewelry. Nature jewelry is jewelry based on things in nature such as leaves and shells. It can be made from all types of materials including gold, silver, plastic, beads, rhinestone and other synthetic jewelry materials.
Our favorite nature jewelry designer is Morning Moon jewelry.
2. Hippy Chic Costume Jewelry
We all know that in the 1960s, hippies were all the rage. People loved to embrace the philosophy of flower power, and pop-art graphic motifs in this style were everywhere. The bolder the colors, the better!
The ubiquitous daisy, still today associated with that era, was made in every material imaginable, and in the brightest neon colors possible. These daisies made their way into the design of costume jewelry as well.
Costume jewelry in daisy shapes was pinned on dresses and hats, suspended on chains, linked to belts, and so on. Even the likes of Dior and Chanel made flower jewelry. However, their jewelry pieces like earrings, necklaces, and brooches were made with fragile poured glass rather than plastic or metal.
Of course, many hippies rejected the sophisticated designs and opted more for handmade and ethnic jewelry. That’s why the costume jewelry from that time that is now collectable is made of more humble materials like clay and feathers.
Jewelry pieces made of rhinestones and pearl rings were also very popular. The most common jewelry were feather earrings, love beads, peace sign pendants, ankhs, and zodiac symbols attached to rawhide.
Although hippie jewelry was more focused on ethnicity and the idea of being handmade, there were still many pieces made to be more theatrical. They included pieces made with tiny mirrors, and painted papier-mâché bracelets.
Plastic pearls also became popular in the mid-1960s, and they were usually rather big and strung into multistrand necklaces. They were lightweight, so wearing layers of pearls was not uncommon.
Today, you can find countless costume jewelry pieces that mimic the fashion choices of the hippie era, but if you have jewelry that was actually made back then, you may have something very valuable on your hands!
3. Fine Costume Jewelry
The finer pieces of costume jewelry were made valuable and popular by the more sophisticated and stylish people who didn’t mind wearing cheap rhinestones as well as expensive designer pieces.
Thanks to the designs of costume jewelry, it was easy to match it with fine jewelry without anyone really noticing that some of the pieces weren’t worth more than a few dollars.
For example, Kenneth Jay Lane, a costume jewelry designer, made beautiful bracelets of rhinestone and enamel bracelets inspired by the Duchess of Windsor’s style choices. These were worn paired with expensive jewelry and, together, they looked really good.
Kenneth Lane loved to make costume jewelry that would look at home at red carpet events without the hefty price tag. Shoulder-length chandelier earrings with multi-colored fake stones, enormous cocktail rings, and weighty pendant necklaces were some of his most popular designs.
Coco Chanel also continued to make stunning pieces, most famously cuff bracelets beautifully embellished with large stones and Maltese crosses.
Fine costume jewelry pieces looked like the real deal but didn’t cost as much back then, but today they can fetch incredible prices if they were designed well and were taken care of properly.
4. Punk/Pop Costume Jewelry
When the 1960s ended and the 1970s rolled in, costume jewelry took a direction into something more modern. The focus shifted to designs with more geometric inspiration. Industrial materials like metal hardware and transparent plastic were quite commonly used.
These jewelry pieces were hard-edged and worn with clothes that were adorned with zippers, oversized buckles, and grommets. It was definitely a unique time for fashion, and the costume jewelry from the time reflects that.
However, at the same time, punk was a big deal. Those who embraced punk preferred leather jackets and jeans, and they wore jewelry to match. Leather armbands and dog collars with thick chains, spikes, and nail heads were at the order of the day, along with chokers.
There were two designers who had a strong influence on costume jewelry at this time: Robert Lee Morris and Elsa Peretti. Elsa designed for Tiffany in 1974 and her teardrop and lima bean pendants were the inspiration for many costume jewelry pieces. Her cut stones on slender chains were also very popular and inspired many costume jewelry designs.
Robert had his own boutique and sold gladiator-size cuffs, hefty belt buckles, gold necklaces, and metal breastplates. His designs were unique and different from what one would expect from a jewelry designer.
When the 1980s arrived, pop and punk remained popular, with ladies like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper serving as inspiration for standard and costume jewelry alike. Rubber bracelets, rosaries, and religious-looking pendants became very popular.
Hip-hop also garnered attention and inspired jewelry in the form of ID bracelets, knuckle rings, and nameplate pendants.
Today, many of these pieces may seem a bit over the top and only good to serve as props for photoshoots, but some still have a lot of value.
5. Glitzy Costume Jewelry
The 2000s saw costume jewelry move towards more refinement but still remained glamorous. Designers like Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani helped the industry shift to more simplified styles. It became a time to embrace minimalism, and the jewelry world actually suffered for it.
However, costume jewelry made a big comeback with whimsical accessories inspired by Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix.
Although Hollywood stars like Lil’ Kim and Jennifer Lopez wore the real thing, they inspired huge precious stones on rings. P. Diddy was often snapped wearing gigantic diamond earrings and rings, and he inspired many costume jewelry designs that were big and flashy.
It seemed that the bigger and flashier the jewelry, the better! These days, people don’t really wear such big pieces, but you can still find costume jewelry in this style almost everywhere.
6. Rhinestone Costume Jewelry
If you’ve ever seen costume jewelry, chances are you saw pieces made of rhinestones. The thing about rhinestone jewelry is that it can be very cheap but it’s also well-made, so it can last for many years and still look fabulous.
Rhinestone jewelry became popular in the late 19th century and costume jewelry pieces like earrings, necklaces, and bracelets that were sparkling but affordable were sold to the middle class.
Rhinestone can keep its color well, making it a popular choice for all kinds of costume jewelry designs.
Nowadays, you can find rhinestone costume jewelry at many specialty boutiques and second-hand stores that still look as fabulous as they did when they were first made. If you want to collect valuable pieces, though, you’ll have to know how to tell a cheap piece from a vintage piece.
7. Plastic Costume Jewelry
Costume jewelry made from plastic is quite common, and celluloid was one of the very first plastics used to make jewelry. It is a good material if you want to make pieces that imitate coral or ivory. Although they’re collectible, these jewelry pieces are quite fragile, so there aren’t as many of them that have survived the test of time.
Celluloid was later replaced by Bakelite because of its color tones and durability, and many costume jewelry pieces were made of this material instead.
Eventually, Bakelite was replaced by acrylic because it’s even more durable and can be customized to have a beautiful sparkle or tint. Acrylic jewelry has become one of the standards in costume jewelry.
In the last ten years, resin jewelry has become very popular as well, and you can find costume jewelry made of resin at many stores.
8. Metal Costume Jewelry
This may be surprising for some, but there are pieces of highly collectible costume jewelry that are made of nothing but metal. While brass is the most common metal used to make costume jewelry, copper, lead, and alloys are also used often.
One of the most recognizable costume jewelry items is the brass cuff, sold at various prices and it is still very popular. The brass cuff, if made well, can blend in well with almost any shade of gold and look fabulous.
How to Determine the Value of Costume Jewelry
There are many collectors interested in costume jewelry, but finding the pieces that are worth your time and money, or will get you a pretty penny, can sometimes be a bit tricky to identify. There are three ways to find out if a piece of costume jewelry is really valuable, and I’ll briefly explain them to you now.
Look at the Construction
The construction of a piece of costume jewelry — how it was made — is the main indicator of its quality and value. You can look closer at the clarity of the details on the jewelry, the decorated elements and how well they’re done, and the sparkle of the fake stones or glass.
When examining a pin, focus on the pin latch to see how well the pin is attached to the brooch; a solidly attached pin indicates that the piece is of high quality.
The value of a bracelet can be determined by looking at the connections, links, and strength of the piece. Inspect the strands that keep them together for any weaknesses. The tones of the metals will also show you how valuable the bracelet is. A strong clasp and beautiful design will also increase the value of a bracelet.
A good indicator of the quality of a piece of costume jewelry is the absence of green residue. If a piece has green residue on it, chances are high that it isn’t worth much. Flaking metal is also an indicator of a cheap piece of jewelry.
If the costume jewelry you wanted to buy is delaminating, skip it — a quality piece won’t do that.
Closely Examine the Mark
You’ll find that many costume jewelry pieces are marked and these marks will help you determine the quality of the jewelry.
Keep in mind, though, that while the marks are very important, they don’t have to be the end-all, be-all. There is costume jewelry without marks that are still very valuable and beautiful.
The most common marks you’ll find on costume jewelry worth a lot of money include Chanel, Miriam Haskell, Tiffany & Company, Lisner, Marvella, and Hattie Carnegie. There are a few others too, such as Trifari and Kenneth Jay Lane, Matisse, Larel, Vogue, and Winart, though they are not as well-known.
Don’t undervalue the marks or logos of designers who are not known to you. You may have a highly valuable piece that is a great addition to any collection.
Note the placement of the mark as well. A piece with a tag of the maker’s mark or name might not be as valuable as one with the mark integrated or embossed on it. The marks can also help you date a piece of jewelry, helping to get a more accurate idea of its value.
If you’re not sure about how to use marks to determine value, don’t hesitate to contact an expert for guidance!
Wait! Don’t Underestimate Unmarked Pieces
You may now think that costume jewelry with marks are the best ones, but there are many gorgeous and highly valuable pieces that don’t have obvious marks or logos on them.
If you think you have a piece that could be worth a lot of money, rope in the help of a professional. They can use a loupe to find small indicators of value that you may have overlooked or not known about.
The design, time period, and materials of a piece of costume jewelry can determine its value, and in many cases, there aren’t distinctive marks present. That’s why I think you shouldn’t dismiss a piece just because you can’t find logos or marks.
When it comes to costume jewelry, marks are important, but they don’t have to be the only consideration for value. Keep in mind that how it was made, the materials used, and the overall design of the piece can make an unmarked bracelet or necklace even more valuable than a marked one!