I don’t know about you, but I like vintage jewelry. Not so much the diamonds and emeralds and rubies other women covet (although those are nice—and I am sort of obsessed with Van Cleef and Arpels creations with all of those wonderful things…go big or go home, right?), but more so the big, bright, bold (and costume) pieces that can totally make or break an outfit. Coco Chanel once said, “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.” I think she’s sort of spot-on there.
If anyone knew costume jewelry, it was Coco Chanel—she practically invented the very notion, for goodness sake. Most images of Chanel show her with big round earrings, neck draped in lengths of pearls, bracelets and rings on either arm. It is a casual put-togetherness of layers of jewelry I always want to achieve (but which I usually fail at because hey, I’m no Chanel).
Chanel first introduced her accessory line in Paris in 1921 (with specific pieces meant to be worn with specific clothes), making her the first designer to use costume jewelry to create an overall ensemble. While Chanel’s clothing was revolutionary (think jersey knits, the little black dress, the classic Chanel suit), it was often simple and rather understated—the jewelry was the place to make a statement. Her signature look was always with pearls—ropes and ropes of faux pearls in different lengths were draped around her own neck as well as those of her models.
Chanel’s costume jewelry did not stop at faux pearls, though. By 1924 she had forged a relationship with Maison Gripoix, a company that specialized in stunning pieces of glass jewelry. They made poured glass pieces for her for many, many years. In addition, Chanel was soon designing brooches, rings, chains, and bracelets.
Costume jewelry was meant to be something more affordable than the real, and something that could be worn without fear of loss or breakage. Chanel’s designs were clearly not trying to masquerade as the real things, but presented women a more affordable alternative to what had previously been available to them. Chanel is quoted by one biographer as once saying:
“A woman should mix fake and real. To ask a woman to wear real jewelry only is like asking her to cover herself with real flowers instead of flowery silk prints. She’d look faded in a few hours. I love fakes because I find such jewelry provocative, and I find it disgraceful to walk around with millions around your neck just because you’re rich. The point of jewelry isn’t to make a woman look rich, but to adorn her; not the same thing.”
Here at Rice and Beans Vintage, we love love love all things Vintage Chanel, but especially her jewelry (and her handbags, obviously). My personal favorite thing is taking a classic Vintage Chanel belt and wearing it as a necklace. All of the sudden you’ve got varying lengths, textures, and bling—a true statement I like to think Coco Chanel would be proud of!
Written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage.