Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Junction Tuesdays: Getting to Know Costume Jewelry

Necklace and earrings by Joseff of Hollywood

I’ll start today with one of my personal favorite jewelry tips.  When you come across jewelry boxes while thrifting, give them a good shake.  Many times I’ve discovered someone’s favorite “lost” jewels that were caught under a drawer or snagged on the lining. 

For the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting more jewelry tips and facts.  But in order to know what to look for in vintage jewelry thrifting, you need to know a little bit about its history.  This insight will help you to date pieces, get a better feel for their value, and spot real vintage from modern day reproductions. 

The term “costume jewelry,” also known as cocktail or fake jewelry, dates back to the 1930s. While most pros agree that “antique jewelry” predates the 1930s.  I’ll focus on costume jewelry, since those are mostly the pieces you’ll find while thrifting. 

Styles and trends of jewelry have always been influenced by the changes in the world.  And no other historical event proves this more than the Great Depression of the ‘30s.  The demise of the US economy led to the production of novelty and inexpensive jewelry.  Pieces were being designed by fine jewelers, but of non-precious metals.  And by the end of the ‘30s and start of World War II, the production of fine jewelry in America halted, as metals were rationed and Europe stopped exporting precious gems.  This lack of resources also led designers to look for alternative materials such as Lucite and Bakelite.  (I’ll talk more about these types of plastic in next week’s blog.)

The role of women in society also changed during this time.  Not only were women working in factories and other jobs left vacant by men, they were also taking on supportive roles in the military.  Some jewelry had a militaristic look, with tank watches and tank tread designs in bracelets.  Women were also wearing larger brooches and rings reflecting their more independent personalities.

Sweetheart bracelet.
Photos from www.morninggloryantiques.com
"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.

Another major influence during the 1940s was Hollywood.  Stars of the silver screen loomed large in the lifestyles of this era and they set the fashion in make-up, hair, accessories and clothes.  Women wanted to wear the same outrageous costume jewelry the stars were wearing, hence the start of Hollywood look-a-likes.  One great example of this trend is Joseff of Hollywood.  He created then leased his jewelry to major motion picture studios and later created a line for retail sale. 

Check back next Tuesday for tips on spotting and cleaning jewelry from these eras, as well resources to help you date and determine their worth.  

-Shannan Fales is the owner of Junction at 1510 U Street NW.  She shares her expertise in vintage and thrift each Tuesday.


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