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Vintage Costume Jewelry: The Other Fine Jewelry!

Feb 3, 2008
The popularity of vintage costume jewelry began to rise shortly after World War I and then peaked in the 1960's. Today, vintage costume pieces are considered collectibles worth several times their original sale price. Costume jewelry actually originated on the stages and theatres in Europe before becoming popular in the States. American companies began dominating costume jewelry design and manufacturing from the late 1920's onward. Some popular and highly coveted vintage costume pieces are made by some of these American companies, such as:

Art
Carnegie
Weiss
Eisenberg
Coro

But what makes costume jewelry valuable and how do you identify it? The true origins of vintage costume pieces can be traced to the stages and theatres in Europe. The cheap yet fashionable jewelry became popular in the United States when it was brought back to the country by GI's returning from the first world war. American manufacturers began dominating the industry from the 1920's onward. Signed vintage costume necklaces, rings, and other pieces are worth more money. Some popular American companies known to produce high quality and highly collectible pieces include:

Trifari
Eisenberg
Art
Carnegie
Coventry

For anyone who can identify the valuable pieces, collecting vintage jewelry can be a very profitable hobby or side-line. Value is determined by:

Rarity of Piece
Demand
Design
Quality of Construction and Materials
Current Condition

Vintage jewelry prices vary greatly and one of the big reasons is because the supply is so varied. While there were dozens of manufacturers, they all produced jewelry in varying quantities. Larger companies like Coro and Trifari would commonly produce thousands of pieces of each design. DeMario, McClelland, and other small companies might only have batch sizes numbering in the hundreds. Therefore, if all other factors remain the same, a signed piece from a company like DeMario would typically sell more than a similar piece from Trifari. But you really do need to do your homework because even some of the larger players produced some specialty pieces in limited batch sizes and will thus be worth more.

While rarity plays a large part in the overall value of any particular neclace or bracelet, demand always plays the largest role. Higher demand translate into higher price. Despite having some rather odd designs, signed Miriam Haskel jewelry is in high demand right now. If you want to collect vintage jewelry and make money, then you need to do a little homework and find out which pieces are in demand and which are not. True collectors seeking profits need to remember that the popular pieces do not always have great designs or materials--but they still tend to be more profitable to collect.

Why do people actually prefer one piece over another even when their choice was the necklace, brooch, etc. of lower value? Demand for a piece is stimulated most by the actual design of the jewelry. Novice collectors tend to focus exclusively on signed pieces but it is often the case the unsigned, well-designed pieces prove to be the most profitable to collect. Many vintage costume pieces, including those made by some of the largest manufacturers, are actually unsigned but still very valuable. You can identify the unsigned pieces and usually snap them up for little money by simply being able to spot great designs. Unsigned pieces by companies like Bergere and B. David are highly prized by collectors and can be identified by their distinctive but high quality designs.

The overall design is accentuated by the quality of craftsmanship and materials used to produce each piece. Gemstone quality, in particular, plays a key role in determining the value of a particular piece of costume jewelry. A handful of vintage jewelry manufacturers were famous for using gemstones of exceptionally high quality. Bogoff, Eisenberg, and Weiss are all great investments because they almost always had great designs featuring fabulous, high quality stones.

Eisenberg costume necklaces, earrings, and other pieces tend to be hard to find at the flea markets or via online auction. If you are trying to find some profitable pieces to purchase at cheap prices but still command a lot with serious investors, look for jewelry made by these companies:

Danecraft
Kramer
Bogoff
Weiss
Monet

As with all antique valuations, the final condition of the piece plays a pivotal role in the price determination. Lost stones, excessive scratches, peeling, and discoloration are all factors that will lower the value of a piece of vintage costume jewelry. Still, even vintage necklaces, rings, and other pieces are coveted by investors and collectors as they are worth big money even in less than perfect condition. Collecting vintage costume pieces is still a very profitable venture for anyone knowing how to identify the truly profitable pieces.
About the Author
Jon Kreps is a vintage costume jewelry expert specializing in vintage cameos, Indian jewelry, and other fine jewelry. To learn more about vintage costume jewelry, visit: http://www.vintagetemptations.com .
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