"Buying real jewellery is like shopping for vegetables," says London dealer Richard Gibbon. "What you are paying for is the weight of the stones and the metal. With costume jewellery, you are looking at the complete design created by the jeweller - it's like choosing a work of art."
Very little quality material was made in Britain, but there is plenty of European and American stuff around, both period and contemporary. Antique markets and collectors' markets are a good place to look, as are dealers in period costume and accessories. Limited-edition reproductions of period costume jewellery are sold by department stores, as are modern designs.
Like pictures, the best examples are signed; check the backs of brooches, and necklace and earring clasps. Many leading costume jewellers trained with the likes of Cartier. Their designs were inventive, the finest crystals were imported from the Rhineland (hence the term Rhinestone), and manufacture was time-consuming.
On Richard Gibbon's glittering stall in north-west London, objects range in price from pounds 10-pounds 1,500, and in design from ruby-eyed poodle brooches to imperial encrusted necklaces. Unsigned mass-market pieces - such as coloured glass necklaces from the 1930s, and decorative brooches from the 1940s to the 1960s - can be picked up for less than pounds 5 from junk shops and flea markets.
Moving up the financial and collectable scale, dealer Michael Sinclair (based in Bath) sells good-quality designer earrings and brooches from pounds 25, necklaces and bracelets from pounds 150-pounds 250. At the top end of the market, you can spend thousands.
London dealer Sue Mautner specialises in jewellery by the late 1920s New York designer Miriam Haskell, known for her large paste and pearl necklaces (the pearls gained their special lustre from being dipped in fish scales). "This is big jewellery, like sweeties, almost edible," says Mautner. Her prices range from pounds 50 for a pair of earrings, to pounds 2,500 for a necklace - serious money. "My clients don't want their jewellery to look real," she says. "They want it to look glamorous."
Fine costume jewellery is still being produced today, by specialist firms (such as Butler & Wilson) and by the new generation of couturiers such as Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Slim Barret (jewellery designer to John Galliano). According to Liberty's, the London department store, prices for such designer pieces begin at pounds 25 for a pair of earrings, and at pounds 100-pounds 300 for a necklace - similar prices to the antique market.
Richard Gibbon, Unit G081, Alfie's Antique Market, 13-25 Church Street, London NW8 8DT (0171-723 0449). Michael Sinclair, Glitterati, Great Western Antique Centre (Unit 38), Bartlett Street, Bath BA1 2QZ (01225 333 294). Sue Mautner, Antiquarius Antiques Market, 131 King's Rd, London SW3 4PW (0171-351 5353).
Costume Jewellers: The Golden Age of Design by Joanne Dubbs Ball (Schiffer Publishing Ltd, pounds 34.95). Jewellery of the Stars by Joanne Dubbs Ball (Schiffer Publishing Ltd, pounds 34.95).Reuse content