By Karen Parr-Moody
Costume jewelry, as an art of its own, was a genre popularized by French fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) and her Italian contemporary Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) during the 1920s and 1930s. Chanel launched this craze for “vrais bijoux en toc,” or costume jewelry that looks real, in 1924 when she opened her own jewelry workshop. It was managed by Count Étienne Beaumont, an aristocrat and bon vivant with immaculate taste who designed pieces that became Chanel classics, such as long chains with colored stones and cross-shaped pendants. Another artist, Sicilian Duke Fulco di Verdura, designed the famous enameled bracelets topped by a Maltese cross.
While dating the Duke of Westminster, Chanel scandalized London by piling on multiple ropes of authentic pearls with her daywear, when such ostentation was reserved for evening attire. But she went one audacious step further: She mixed real pearls with fakes, which was beyond the pale for English society at the time.
It has been almost a century since Chanel introduced vrais bijoux en toc to the world and a lot has happened in the intervening years. Costume jewelry rose to its height in the 1950s, when bejeweled parures consisting of multiple matching items imitated the real thing. GasLamp is consistently a purveyor of such high-quality items that emanated during this time from the famous names of costume jewelry, including Weiss, Miriam Haskell and Eisenberg. Here are some gorgeous examples from GasLamp Too showcase T-140, which is filled with such treasures.
It’s easy to feel nostalgic for the days when brooches were worn like badges of good taste. Such a brooch is found in this glamorous, mid-century modern spider ($42; T-140). In his long-legged glory, he would be a conversation starter if perched on your jacket. This spider underscores the beauty of his kind with long, raised legs of gold-tone metal and opaque black gems on his back and eyes.
Confetti bracelets, like this one, were all the rage in the 1950s ($68; T-140). This one features five rectangles of Lucite embedded with silver crescent moons and tinsel that are set against a royal blue background. The Lucite pieces sit atop silver-tone metallic links and a clasp that snaps securely. This bracelet brings interest to the wrist with its fun, celestial vibe.
This vintage cigarette case makes for a delightful modern wallet ($58; T-140). It is a shiny brass case that opens with a push-button clasp. The top sparkles with a square of Lucite filled with tiny metallic squares of confetti in shades of red, pink, green, blue, gold and silver. What a charming way to stash credit cards and cash.
These two bangles would be wonderful additions to a mid-century modern Lucite bangle collection. The wide, black bangle features an unusual detail: A gold-toned link bracelet is encased ($58; T-140). The other statement bangle is made of clear Lucite in which tiny conch shells are embedded ($34; T-140). What a wonderful bracelet to wear in a beachside setting.
Coco Chanel once said, “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.” Today, a stylish lady may have Bulgari, Tiffany or Cartier in her jewelry box, but she can also reach for costume jewelry on occasions that call for a splash of frivolity and drama.