Vintage costume jewellery: a collector’s guide
In the past few years, Sarah Burns has become what she calls “an accidental collector” of late-20th-century costume jewellery. Among the London-based entrepreneur’s treasures – all of which cost less than £500 – are a Givenchy medallion, a Chanel necklace with discreet interlocking Cs, a Christian Dior bangle and a humdinger of a gold butterfly necklace by Kenneth Jay Lane, a version of which was worn by Carrie Bradshaw with a strapless black mini dress in an episode of Sex and the City. Burns also has a dress to match.
“I grew up in the 1980s and I tend to buy the kind of pieces that were worn by supermodels on the catwalks when I was a teenager,” says Burns, who runs a marketing agency and buys all her jewellery from Cheshire-based Jennifer Gibson Jewellery. “It’s so different to the more delicate jewellery that is fashionable now. I’m just drawn to it.”
She’s not alone. In June, sales of vintage costume jewellery on the resale site Vestiaire Collective were up 142 per cent year on year. “We’re seeing a lot of interest around designs from the 1980s,” says Alice Hebrard-Lemaire, the site’s head of vintage. “Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Dior, particularly necklaces, earrings and brooches. Women are buying it to wear, but this type of jewellery can also be an investment. We expect that certain pieces from the ’80s and ’90s will increase in value over the next few years.” At 1stdibs – where the most sought-after jewels are by Oscar de la Renta and Chanel – prices are already rising. “A comfort level has been reached of plus-$2,000,” says Cristina Miller, its chief commercial officer.
Costume jewellery has been worn since the Georgian era, when powdered glass, or paste, was used instead of diamonds, silver and gold, but the association with fashion houses began in Paris in the 1920s. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli commissioned non-precious jewellery for their haute-couture collections – bijoux de couture – from masters such as Maison Gripoix. Chanel was particularly vehement about faking it. “It’s disgusting to walk around with millions around the neck because one happens to be rich,” she once said. “I only like fake jewellery… because it’s provocative.” Her long chains with coloured stones, multiple strings of pearls and Byzantine crosses became house signatures.
Chanel pieces from this era, as well as those made postwar with Maison Goossens, are rare. “They have skyrocketed in the past couple of years,” says Jennifer Gibson. “Fine examples can be found for around £5,000, while the largest and most exquisite creations, especially collar necklaces and cuffs, command more than £10,000.” A multicoloured Chanel by Gripoix demi-parure, comprising a cuff and two pairs of ear clips, was auctioned by Sotheby’s Milan last December with an estimate of €200-€400. It sold for €5,250.
Jewellery by Christian Dior, from his 1947-1957 tenure, also commands high prices. During his lifetime, Dior collaborated with the best ateliers – Daniel Swarovski, Henkel & Grossé and Mitchel Maer, as well as Goossens, Gripoix and Francis Winter. Gibson has a 1950s pair of delicate cast-bronze and sparkling-glass Bal des Oiseaux earrings, signed “Mitchel Maer for Christian Dior” (£1,395); and a 1964 full parure, its necklace, earrings and brooch adorned with faux rubies (£2,425).
Yves Saint Laurent’s costume jewellery is less familiar than that of Chanel and Dior. It appeals to those with an eye for unique pieces beyond the logo – although logos do pop up on later pieces. Large statement designs created with Robert Goossens are fabulously eye-catching and can be found for around £400; one of his signature branch coral necklaces is on 1stdibs for £1,040.
But if it’s the blinginess of the supermodel era you’re seeking, look to the outsized proportions and CC logos by Victoire de Castellane (now the artistic director of Dior’s fine jewellery), whom Karl Lagerfeld brought to Chanel in 1984. “I always say Chanel is an investment. It will never go down in price,” declares Susan Caplan, a jewellery dealer of over 40 years who also sells in Harvey Nichols and Liberty. “Even in the past six months, the more usual pieces have gone up about 15 per cent.” Standouts in her current stock include a 1995 braided gold-plated Chanel necklace with faux ruby cabochons (£1,975) and 1993 articulated gold-plated earrings with round logo drops (£1,675).
After recent trends in oversized earrings and gold chains, the next big thing in costume jewellery could be statement brooches. At 1stdibs, sales of this category have increased by 78 per cent this year, while Caplan agrees that “any type of brooch – organic, floral, animal or the classic Dior with faux pearls – is doing really well”. As if to confirm the trend, the next item on Sarah Burns’ wishlist is… “a really big Chanel brooch”.
WHERE TO BUY
1stdibs, 1stdibs.com. Chiswick Auctions, chiswickauctions.co.uk. Daisy Lain, daisylain.co.uk. Jennifer Gibson Jewellery,
jennifergibsonjewellery.com. Sotheby’s, sothebys.com. Susan Caplan,
susancaplan.co.uk. Vestiaire Collective, vestiairecollective.com.
WHAT TO READ
Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture by Florence Müller. Jewelry by Chanel by Patrick Mauriès.
WHERE TO SEE
The Jewellery Gallery at the V&A, London.