Are diamonds really a girl’s best friend? Or could costume jewellery actually be her closest companion?
Long before Lorelei Lee sang those immortal words in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, diamonds – indeed all precious stones – had exerted their sway over feminine fashion.
In the past few centuries in the West, gems have dominated the jewellery market, as a symbol of social status, wealth and family history. Cheaper jewellery made from glass or semi-precious metals, and “folk” or “tribal” jewellery had their fans, but they were by no means a fashion trend. However, in the 1930s, things started to change.
The war and economic turmoil affected a social structure that was breaking down and everyone wanted some sparkle in their life. Costume Jewellery made statement pieces more affordable – and more wearable for those who had the real thing, but wanted something that worked with a party outfit or fitted a fashion trend. Costume, or Fashion, Jewellery was born.
It wasn’t just middle and working-class women who loved the new pieces. Rhinestones, cubic zirconium, faux gold and less-precious metals were finding fans everywhere. Costume Jewellery is more fashion-led than “real” jewellery, designed to be purchased to match an outfit or a trend.
Because of this transient nature, Costume Jewellery was able to be more daring and more exciting. It appealed to fashion-forward women, such as Coco Chanel, who popularized the use of faux pearls and gold in her designs. Fans of costume included Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor or Jacqueline Onassis. Today, statement pieces by costume jewellers such as Kenneth Jay Lane are stocked in designer temples such as Barney’s New York or Net-A-Porter, while more and more fashion-forward folk turn to Costume Jewellery as a way of expressing themselves through fabulous pieces (Swarovski skull necklaces at Butler And Wilson, anyone?). Paste has definite pulling power.
“I don’t mean rhinestones!” sings Lorilee, “but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Don’t speak to soon, Miss Lee, you might be missing out on a real gem!