Vintage costume jewelry began appearing in the United States shortly after World War I. Brought over from France by returning G.I.’s, the jewelry soon caught on in America. The popularity really began to explode in the 1920’s with American companies dominating the landscape. Some of the most popular American manufacturers include:
Also known as “fashion jewelry”, costume pieces can be generically classified as any jewelry that is not made with precious metals or gemstones while also being mass produced and sold for relatively low cost. Essentially, it became the “cheap jewelry” alternative to the more expensive pieces made from gold, silver, and other precious gemstones like diamond or sapphire. However, while costume jewelry may have been cheap to buy when it was first produced and sold, some of the rarer pieces can now command hundreds of dollars. So how does one distinguish between the truly valuable pieces and those that still command relatively low value? There are five main components that help determine value:
- Rarity or Supply
- Design and Originality
- Material and Craftsmanship
Although there were a number of manufacturers, they produced jewelry in varying quantities. For instance, major players like Coro, Coventry, and Trifari often produced thousands of pieces in each design. Some of the smaller manufacturers like Barclays, DeMario, and McClelland produced much smaller volumes making signed pieces from these companies both rarer and more valuable when the other four factors are constant. Thus, a signed DeMario piece should be worth more than a similarly designed Coro piece. You definitely need to do your homework, however, because even the larger manufacturers produced some designs in small quantities making them more valuable than typical pieces from the company.
The value for any product or service is always determined in large part by the actual demand. The higher the demand, the greater the price. However, the personal taste of a collector is often irrelevant when it comes to actually deciding how collectible a piece may or may not be. Highly collectible pieces will be those that have a good potential for price increase such as signed pieces by Miriam Haskell. Learning which designs are collectible will help any potential investor find the best pieces for their jewelry collection. Again, you may not particularly like or even wear the most collectible designs but they are most likely to increase in value.
Design and Originality
When the other variables are held constant, design and originality will tend to play a large role in price determination. More advanced collectors will not shun unsigned pieces if they feature an original, high-quality design. In fact, many vintage costume pieces are unsigned despite the fact that they were made by one of the larger manufacturers. Spotting original or superior designs is one of the ways to identify unsigned pieces. Almost all jewelry manufacturers produced at least some great designs. The best manufacturers consistently produced costume jewelry of exceptional design such as Hollycraft and Florenza. For truly original designs, some of the best pieces to look for are those made by Miriam Haskell.
Material and Craftsmanship
The quality of the stones plays a large role in determining the value of vintage “fashion” jewelry. While none of the stones would be considered “precious” in the traditional sense, there were companies that manufactured pieces using superior quality semi-precious stones, such as:
Eisenberg costume pieces are renowned for having superior quality stones so it is hard to find something by this company that is not already high-priced unless you happen to stumble upon an unsigned one. Pieces by Bogoff, Weiss, and Hollycraft tend to be underpriced on the market and thus make a better investment. Aside from material, the quality of metal and craftsmanship play large roles in determining the value of a piece. Companies known to consistently use high quality materials and craftsmanship include:
When dealing with antiques of any kind, condition is perhaps the largest factor when it comes to determining value. Lost stones, discoloration, rust, and excessive scratches or peeling will all lower the value of a piece.