Costume jewelry, also known as fashion jewelry, includes items which have been designed as more affordable ornamentation and has been around for about 300 years. These pieces are created to parallel antique or fine jewelry which is typically more expensive and made from more valuable materials.
While fine jewelry is primarily thought of as collectible jewelry, costume jewelry is designed for more regular wear and crafted from simulated gemstones including rhinestone and set in cheaper metals such as pewter or brass. Costume jewelry was made mostly between 1900 and 1960, although the earliest examples can be hundreds of years old.
There are many forms of valuable, rare and vintage costume jewelry on the market. Here, we’ll present a guide on how to identify costume jewelry including brands or makers to look out for. We’ll also list some of the most valuable kinds of costume jewelry along with a valuing guide, and provide some buying and selling top tips. Whether you inherited some costume jewelry from a relative, found an interesting piece at an auction, or have become interested in collecting it, you have come to the right place!
Most Valuable Costume Jewelry: Quick Round-Up List
Some of the most valuable brands of costume jewelry include:
- Christian Dior
- Elsa Schiaparelli
- Miriam Haskell
- Coco Chanel
(Find more brands listed further on in the article!).
The value of items is raised when:
- The item is in good condition (i.e. mint or very good condition as opposed to good or fair condition)
- The item is rare or unusual (i.e. not many items were made, or items are hard to obtain)
- The item is especially beautiful or elegant (this is subjective but particularly striking pieces capture the imagination more than “standard” pieces which are seen regularly)
- The item has a full provenance history (i.e. there is a story that comes with it, or a list of previous owners)
- The materials are of higher value (much costume jewelry was made form cheap materials like glass or Bakeline, and gemstones were formed from paste. Some costume jewelry used more expensive materials like brass or rhinestone)
Identifying Costume Jewelry
Getting a positive ID on vintage costume jewelry can be difficult, especially if they don’t contain clues such as logos or maker’s marks. But there are a few easy steps you can take in your identification quest…
1. Inspect The Jewelry
Take a good look at your piece of costume jewelry. Does it have any signs of damage? Are there missing parts, chipped stones or worn enamel?
Signs of wear may help to date the piece – clasps which were once stiff will be loose and easy to open and close now. Pieces which were worn and regularly held in the hand to put on or take off, such as earrings, will have wear marks around the edges.
Next, try to find a signature, logo, maker’s mark, or any kind of letters and numbers. Sometimes pieces were stamped or etched with export and import details. (Find more information on jewelry hallmarks here). This may point to the provenance and therefore the value of the piece.
However, if the piece is unmarked do not fear, some of the most famous and renowned costume jewelry makers did not sign their pieces.
Most Famous Brands Of Costume Jewelry
Here is a list of the most famous brands or makers to look out for (with more information on brands via the Antique Jewlery Investor site and the Love To Know site):
- Marcel Boucher
- Joseff of Hollywood
- Christian Dior
- Maison Gripoix
- Kenneth Jay Lane
- Elsa Schiaparelli
- Mazer Brothers
- Miriam Haskell
- Coco Chanel
2. Look For Notable Features
Try to identify any notable features in the design of the piece. Does it contain a geometric pattern? Is there a natural motif such as a butterfly or a flower? Architectural or geometric designs tend to originate in the 1920s or 30s and were very popular amongst designers. Nature themed motifs typify the Art Nouveau period which happened between the 1890s and 1910s.
Does the piece contain gemstones? Or faux gemstones? What shape do these gemstones have?
Anything notable you can find on the piece will be a step towards identifying its provenance. Note all of these down to build a comprehensive list.
3. Search For Similar Looking Pieces Online
Now you’ve noted all the key features it’s time to try and find some similar pieces online. You can try searching an antique or vintage forum. There are often enthusiastic amateurs or expert collectors who like to help one another out. You can post images and queries on forums such as:
Or taking advantage of auction or antiques sites where similar kinds of jewelry are often listed including:
- eBay – the collectible jewelry section can be a good place to start. Try searching for keywords pertaining to the design of your piece (e.g. “earrings, geometric, rhinestone”)
- Collectors Weekly – this site assembles listings and interesting lots within many categories of vintage and antique items. Try the vintage and antique costume jewelry section.
4. Ask An Expert
If you’re really stuck and need a little extra help in identifying your costume jewelry it can be very useful to ask an expert. Some professionals offer online identification and appraisal services, while others may be happy for you to send them an informal email with detailed photos of the piece to help you out. If you have a local vintage or antiques shop this can be a good place to start and staff may be experts in the field.
Bear in mind that you may need to pay for these services.
Valuing Costume Jewelry
The price of vintage costume jewelry can vary greatly depending on the brand, condition, rarity, and beauty of the piece. While some pieces can be purchased for somewhere between $10-$50 USD, others are worth hundreds of dollars!
The condition of an item will largely dictate the price. Check whether items have wear and tear, or if they have been repaired. Have the gemstones been glued in or are the still in their original holdings? Has any of the metalwork been welded together?
It goes without saying that jewelry in mint condition will sell for a lot more than that in fair condition. In general, the better the condition the higher the price. But particularly rare or collectible pieces can fetch a high price even with damage.
We listed some of the most famous and popular brands and maker’s above. The top brands which will fetch the highest price are generally considered to be early pieces made by Dior, Chanel, Triari, Schiaparelli or Eisenberg. Some collectors consider Miriam Haskell jewelry to be the pieces with the highest collector value.
Makers like Chanel are particularly notable for having made jewelry for celebrities and notable figures including Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. This increases the notoriety and therefore price of their items.
Again, as a general rule, the rarer the item the higher the price. The Art Deco period was a short but influential period, and as such, costume jewelry made during this time can be sold for a high price.
Chanel jewelry from the late 1920s tended to focus on “statement” accessories, large pieces like brooches in the shape of flowers or frogs. This movement towards wearing jewelry as an art piece rather than a statement of wealth makes items from this period very valuable.
If you cannot find other pieces like yours being sold or discussed on the internet, it means one of two things: it is extremely rare or it is unknown. It can be useful to get an expert opinion in this situation, if you believe the piece to be of high value based on the materials it is made from and a distinctive maker’s mark.
Buying And Selling Costume Jewelry: Tips And Tricks
While costume jewelry can be made from materials with very little value such as glass, plastic, Bakelite, and gemstones made from paste, the designs and the symbolism surrounding them makes them highly collectible.
Antique costume jewelry is harder to find, and is only classed as antique if it over 100 years old. Vintage costume jewelry is much more common and is classed as vintage if it is between 20 and 100 years old.
Buying Costume Jewelry
If you are wondering where to buy vintage costume jewelry, we recommend:
- eBay – try searching for costume jewelry or fashion jewelry and refine your search to match your desired criteria (for example, try setting the date limits or refining the country of origin)
- Etsy – this site has some great listings of mostly vintage costume jewelry
- Independent jewelry dealers such as Christie’s
Remember to also search for “fashion jewelry” as this term is often interchangeable with costume jewelry. Also make sure you choose items which have plenty of details provided – close-up images of notable features like logos and patterns are important, as well as transparency when it comes to damage.
Try to find a reputable seller, and don’t be afraid to ask for more detail about the piece – where did it come from, what is its history? Good sellers will be quick to reply and happy to answer your questions.
Selling Costume Jewelry
We would also recommend eBay as a place to sell your jewelry. Targeting costume jewelry collectors and making sure you list the piece within the appropriate price range will generate the most interest in your listing.
You can also try selling through an auctioneer or setting an independent advert on specialist Facebook Market groups.
Make sure you provide plenty of information – the provenance of the jewelry, special features, materials (if known), maker’s marks, and any damage present. Include lots of photos from different angles. Selling items as part of a collection can also fetch you a good price, sometimes higher than selling the piece alone.