Part of the inspiration behind the products in our Etsy stores is the appreciation of great designs of the past. There seemed to be a focus on detail and creativity that is lacking in the costume jewelry designs today. For one thing, most of what is available now is produced in China. When we use the word rescued, literally, we feel a responsibility to preserve and pass on the beautiful pieces that were created by innovative artists based in the USA. Believe it or not, there were quite a few companies based in the United States creating wonderful pieces that withstand the test of time regarding style and design for men & women. Upcycled pieces by our company were created as a way to offer these great finds, re-invented with magnets as a way to wear them in a variety of ways while not harming beautiful, delicate fabrics.
Swank began creating men’s and women’s costume jewelry in 1897, when it went by the name of Attleboro Manufacturing Company, named after it’s location in Attleboro, Mass. The company was started by Samuel Stone and Maurice Baer. The company started making men’s pieces starting in 1908, but they didn’t begin focusing only on men’s pieces until shortly after World War I. During the war the company created dog tags for the U.S. military and it was this shift in manufacturing that led the company to specialize in men’s jewelry.
As the class structure in America changed, so did measures of real wealth. Women in all social stations, even the working-class woman, could own a small piece of costume jewelry. The average town and country woman could acquire and wear a considerable amount of this mass-produced jewelry that was both affordable and stylish.
Costume jewelry was also made popular by various designers in the mid-20th century. Some of the most remembered names in costume jewelry include both the high and low priced brands: Crown Trifari, Dior, Chanel, Monet, Napier, Corocraft, Coventry, and Kim Craftsmen.
A significant factor in the popularization of costume jewelry was the Hollywood movie. The leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950s often wore and then endorsed the pieces produced by a range of designers. If you admired a necklace worn by Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, you could buy a copy from Joseff of Hollywood, who made the original. Stars such as Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Russell appeared in adverts for the pieces and the availability of the collections in shops such as Woolworth made it possible for ordinary women to own and wear such jewelry.
In many instances, high-end fashion jewelry has achieved a "collectible" status, and increases in value over time. Today, there is a substantial secondary market for vintage fashion jewelry. The main collecting market is for 'signed pieces', that is pieces which have the maker's mark, usually stamped on the reverse. Amongst the most sought after are Miriam Haskell, Coro, Butler and Wilson, Crown Trifari and Sphinx. However, there is also demand for good quality 'unsigned' pieces, especially if they are of an unusual design.
The term “costume jewelry” was coined in the 1920s, but jewelry and ornamentation made out of non-precious materials have been worn since ancient times. While it is sometimes labeled as “junk,” “fake,” or "fashion" jewelry, costume jewelry often incorporates workmanship and materials on par with, or better than, fine jewelry.
The 20th century brought about a sea change in how jewelry was perceived and used. Before then, women adorned themselves with jewelry made of precious and semi-precious stones and metals as a means of flaunting the wealth of their husbands. Therefore, jewelry was mostly worn by the rich to convey their standing in society, although it could also symbolize one's religious affiliation, the state of a romance, or a period of mourning.
But early in the 20th century, thanks to new materials and industrialization, fashion designers started to experiment with jewelry as an expression of style and creativity, using non-precious materials so that pieces could be bigger and bolder, in line with the Art Deco style and flapper fashions that were emerging. Because these pieces were made of inexpensive materials and not meant to be keepsakes or heirlooms, they could be more trendy and outrageous.