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Costume Jewelry: Collecting For Profit

Oct 23, 2007
The first time costume jewelry appeared in the United States was shortly after World War I. Purchased in small French boutiques by soldiers about to return from the war, the inexpensive but dazzling fashion jewelry was an immediate hit with the women back home. As new designs featuring a host of new semi-precious stones and unique materials were released, it caused a rapid rise in popularity. These bright and vibrant pieces became ubiquitous fashion accessories during the roaring twenties with American companies dominating the landscape. Some of the most popular American manufacturers of costume jewelry include:

Coro
Eisenberg
Weiss
Coventry
Trifari

An Antique costume piece is any piece of jewelry that does not prominently feature precious metals (though some feature silver and may be gold plated) or gemstones while also being mass produced. The cheap jewelry could be purchased for a fraction of what the fine pieces cost. Essentially, the fashion pieces became the "cheap" alternative to similarly designed fine pieces made of out precious metals and displaying precious gemstones like sapphires or rubies.

Virtually any vintage costume bracelet, necklace, or pendant could be purchased for $4-10 in most cases prior to World War II. Poor sales and the Great Depression forced some manufacturers to close their doors. Surprisingly, however, a lot of the companies survived and did quite well after the second world war.

All-time record sales were seen all throughout the 50's-60's thanks in no small part to advertising advances like television. Today, high quality costume pieces are more popular than ever and make great gift for young girls, teenagers, and even adults just looking to add some diversity to their jewelry collection.

Despite costing relatively little when first launched, vintage fashion jewelry produced in the years 1920-1970 potentially are worth many times their initial value. Incredibly, there are many pieces being sold in flea markets for a few bucks while being worth hundreds! There are three main things that help determine the value of vintage costume jewelry:

Available Supply
Material Quality
Craftsmanship

Indeed, there were dozens of companies competing in this massive market but they produced jewelry in varying quantities. There were the larger companies such as Coventry and Coro who quite often produced thousands of pieces in each design. Then again, you also had manufacturers such as McClelland and Barclays who produced much smaller volumes. Accordingly and when all other factors are held constant, such pieces made by them both rarer more prized by collectors. Doing your homework is important because even the large players produced some designs in small quantities making them more valuable than typical pieces from the company.

Without question, stone quality is a large variable when it comes to assessing the value of a piece of vintage 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 and gemstones, such as:

Eisenberg
Bogoff
Weiss
Hollycraft

Eisenberg is famous for using exceptional stones so finding a piece that is not already high-priced is very difficult. However, it is still possible to find an inexpensive yet valuable an unsigned one. Focus your efforts on locating pieces by Weiss, Bogoff, and Hollycraft as they tend to be somewhat undervalued on the market and thus make a better investment.

Other than the stones and materials, the quality of metal and craftsmanship will factor into the value of a piece. Manufacturers known to consistently craft superior pieces were:

Eisenberg
Trifari
Kramer
Money
Danecraft

If you develop a sharp eye and really learn how to identify the unsigned vintage pieces by top manufacturers like Eisenberg, you can really turn a hefty profit just by browsing e-Bay and flea markets. In many cases, the vendors don't realize the value of the piece and a buyer can have it for pennies on the dollar.
About the Author
Jon Kreps is a vintage jewelry expert specializing in Cameo's, Native American Jewelry, and vintage costume pieces. To learn more about collecting costume jewelry for profit, visit http://vintagetemptations.com
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