By Karen Parr-Moody
Coco Chanel once said “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful” – and at no time is that more apparent than during the holidays, when the glitzy appeal of “vrais bijoux en toc,” or costume jewelry that looks real, reaches a crescendo. From Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve, a woman has ample opportunity to adorn herself with vintage costume jewelry that adds a splash of glamour to any outfit.
Costume jewelry was popularized by French fashion designer Coco Chanel and her Italian contemporary Elsa Schiaparelli during the 1920s and 1930s, but it was the 1950s that saw its height. Wearing attention-grabbing jewelry in the daytime had hitherto been considered vulgar, but it was not only acceptable in the 1950s, it was encouraged. Clothing designers created garments that were tailor-made to best showcase costume jewelry, including blouses whose sleeves were cut into a three-quarter “bracelet length” to showcase Lucite bangles and such. Open necklines allowed bib necklaces to take center stage and dramatic jacket lapels were the perfect perches for glittering brooches.
GasLamp is consistently a purveyor of high-quality costume jewelry from the 1950s and earlier. Gorgeous examples abound at the GasLamp showcase T-140, which currently features a stunning pink rhinestone brooch from the well-known American factory of Weiss, which was active from the 1940s to the 1970s ($90). The brooch features faceted pink rhinestones cut into baguettes, rounds and marquis shapes, as well as dozens of clear, round rhinestones. During the 1950s, such a brooch was often included in a parure, which is a full set of matching jewelry designed to be worn together. Such a set created an intoxicating amount of sparkle for the wearer.
Confetti bracelets, like this one, were all the rage in the 1940s and early 1950s ($60; T-140). This one features one cabochon-cut Lucite “gemstone” embedded with metallic gold and ivory confetti. The Lucite piece, surrounded by round, pink rhinestones, sits atop a gold-tone serpentine bracelet. A tassel trimmed in pink rhinestones is the finishing touch.
This gold-filled bangle with a polished finish is a fabulous find at the GasLamp showcase T-140 ($175). It features a rhinestone cluster comprised of dozens of faceted stones. Such hinged bracelets, etched with floral designs, became popular during the Victorian era, but this one is a shiny mid-century version. The clasp opens with a tiny push button and the closure features a safety chain.
This vintage charm bracelet takes us back to the 1950s, when such jewelry was used to record important events in a woman’s life. Hollywood actresses, including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford, wore charm bracelets with panache. From Forstner, a U.S. jewelry manufacturer that operated from 1920 to 1955, this charm bracelet at GasLamp features a watch charm, as well as tiny charms collected over the years ($300). Gold-plated and gold-filled, it is also laden with four lockets that can house tiny photos of loved ones (one is trimmed in faux seed pearls and a cabochon-cut turquoise). This “autobiography on a chain” rings out with a signature jingle when worn.
This stunning silver, turquoise and coral parure is on view at GasLamp in its original box, which is marked “Chinese Curio and Craft Co. 40 Broadway Shanghai” ($295). The necklace features a “Silver China” mark, which dates it to the 1920s to 1940s. It is from a genre of antique and vintage Asian jewelry called Chinese export jewelry that was made for the Western market by Chinese craftsmen during the late Victorian period. The silver in this stunning set has been hand hammered – you can clearly see the indentions on the settings that house the various stones. This beautiful hand-made set, with its lovely details, is exceptional in design. It would be a wonderful Christmas gift for a loved one.
It takes a special woman to appreciate the drama of vintage costume jewelry: She understands that the designs are more interesting than the innate value of the materials. And she knows such glistening designs will catch the eye of everyone when she enters a room. Fortunately for Nashvillians, there’s no better spot for finding vintage costume jewelry than GasLamp.
Model: Katie King
Photographer: Karen Parr-Moody