As the daughter of a jeweler and jewelry designer, my admiration or even appreciation for custom jewelry was below zero. My father rather sponsored me to buy a ‘real’ of ‘ fine’ piece of jewelry, than a piece of … Well, think of a somewhat dirty word that had something to do with garbage.
More than 99% of my collection is made of gemstones and high-quality silver. Other materials, unless they were very extraordinary are not used by me.
Then the other day there was an exhibition of custom jewelry in The Netherlands and a friend talked me into visiting it. When I entered the exhibition room I was standing there open-mouthed and with staring eyes looking at the beautiful, no stunning pieces of jewelry exhibited there.
I did not change my mind about what material I use for my collection, I stick to high-quality gemstones and precious metals. But I really valued custom jewelry after that visit and I want to show you some of it in this blog. So read on!
What is custom jewelry?
It is not only good to know what custom jewelry is, but also why people started to make it.
Fashion or custom jewelry is the opposite of ‘real’ or ‘fine’ jewelry. It is designed by excellent jewelry designers but produced from less expensive materials. In this way, it is affordable for the ‘normal’ lady, who loves to look stunning with the right jewelry.
Not only did the lady with a ‘normal’ budget love the custom jewelry, but also the ladies that owned very expensive pies of jewelry loved this type of jewelry. An example is Barbara Bush, who wore a three-strand faux pearl necklace, designed by Kenneth Jay Lane to the inaugural ball of her husband.
Because the materials are less expensive and the jewelry is made in mass-production (most of the time), it is easier and more affordable to change your jewelry collection. Therefore the jewelry designers made more jewelry according to the then-popular fashion style. You can easier recognize in which period a certain piece of custom jewelry is made.
Another remarkable fact is that due to the fact that fashion in jewelry started to be more important and more followed, great cooperation between jewelry and fashion designers bloomed. Jewelry designers that made special collections for the fashion industry, added that jewelry into their shows. A lady could buy a matching piece of jewelry with her new outfit.
In what period did we see custom jewelry?
Custom jewelry exists already for about 300 years. In the 18th century jewelry designers started to make jewelry using inexpensive glass. When in the 19th century the semi-gemstones became more known and available, designers started to use them to make their jewelry more affordable for more people.
Custom jewelry became very popular and frequently used in the mid of the 20th century. The bourgeoisie could afford more money to buy jewelry, but could not and did not want to pay the price for unique pieces of jewelry.
They knew the power of mass production and knew that the price goes down when using that mass production for making jewelry. So they asked for well-made replicas of pieces of jewelry worn by actresses or famous people.
Fashion and jewelry designers saw the future in this way of designing and producing jewelry and answered the demand by making custom jewelry. A lot of brands started to include affordable jewelry in their collection, like Dior, Coco Chanel, Miriam Haskell, and Kim Craftsmen, the name a few.
Coco Chanel accomplished a lot in the popularity of custom jewelry. Besides her famous pearl jewelry designs, she got famous for using historical motifs in her jewelry designs. With her friend Fulco di Verdura, she designed jewelry with the Malthezer cross as the most important theme. That cross shows up regularly in the designs of the Chanel fashion house, even nowadays.
The popularity of custom jewelry got a boost from Hollywood movies. Actresses like Bette Davis wore a necklace made by Joseff of Hollywood and you could buy a copy in the stores. And also in the movies, the historical theme in jewelry became popular.
For instance, when the famous tomb of Tutankhamon was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, Egyptian elements started to be seen in jewelry. The necklace of Cleopatra in the movie ‘Cleopatra’ worn by Elisabeth Taylor is a great example of how the movie showed the public a piece of jewelry.
And a copy of that necklace could be bought in a shop by the public for a reasonable price. Elisabeth Taylor or Vivien Leigh wore jewelry in popular movies that could be obtained at Woolworths. And all for a reasonable price, so available for almost every lady.
Not only historical themes were used but also depictions of animals, flowers, and fruit are popular in custom jewelry. And made in a very colorful way.
Why custom jewelry anyway?
Using gemstones and precious metals in jewelry is expensive. They are expensive because they are rare and hard to mine or cut. And because most of the time they are used in a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. A design is used only once, or only a few pieces are made with this design.
The financial crisis of 1929 and the 1930s, and the worldwide crisis of WWI and WWII caused a much lower budget for the potential clients. The precious metals were used for warfare. Gemstones could not be mined or transported to the jewelry makers in a safe way. The world was upside down and the jewelry industry collapsed.
The politicians realized that you cannot stress people all the time and there must be some relaxation for the soldiers and their families. They supported the movie industry to make entertaining movies, not about war, but about love and wealthy people.
You needed jewelry for those movies, not plain jewelry, but exorbitant statement jewelry, that could be seen from a distance. It had to be a bit matte or opaque so that it could not catch the film light too much. Otherwise, it looks like a light bulb instead of a piece of jewelry. And the price was important.
The alternative materials
Great jewelry designers like Joseff of Hollywood, started to look for alternative materials. They came up with brass or vermeil for gold, nickel for silver, rhinestone for diamonds, glass for gemstones, etc. The movies were a success and a lot of ladies wanted a necklace just like in the movie… Custom jewelry was born.
The use of material depended on external circumstances, not only on the choice of the designer. For instance, in WWII no metals were used for making jewelry because the industry used all of them. Instead sterling silver became popular, also because it looked so much like platinum.
One time the mining and cutting of rhinestones became too expensive. And rhinestone was the alternative to diamond. No worries, high-quality crystals, and cubic zirconia could do the job as well. When precious stones were unavailable or unaffordable some semi-precious stones were the alternative. Garnet or spinel could replace the ruby, jade could be a substitute for emerald or even serpentine could.
Sterling silver could replace the platinum, brass, or vermeil used for gold, nickel was the substitute for silver until the day the war industry claimed all the nickel from the private sector. Another way of replacing precious metals was to make the base of a piece of jewelry from cheap metal and cover it with gold (gold-plating or vermeil).
From 2011 these substitutes for gold had to be used since the gold price went through the roof and using it made the jewelry too expensive.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the focus was on colorful (glass) beads to represent color gemstones in custom jewelry. Loved by people who did not like crystals, gold, and pearls.
Jewelry designers, like Coppola and Toppo, made very complicated, statement jewelry using very small colored beads. These pieces were frequently used in the fashion shows of Pucci and Valentino and got well-known to the public this way.
If you can afford pieces of jewelry made of gold, and you love them, buy them. There is no better investment than gold. Especially when the mines are running out of gold and the industry needs it desperately. Also old gold is valuable at the moment.
But in the years of crisis in the 20th century, there was no gold available and if so, it was way too expensive. One of the designers that were looking for alternatives was Joseff of Hollywood whose name was actually Eugene Joseff. But since he became famous for making custom jewelry for the movies, he changed his name or was called, Joseff of Hollywood.
He developed the so-called ‘Russian gold’. Actually, it has nothing to do with ‘gold’ since it is a matte electroplated finish on the surface of the bronze. It looks like real gold, but it does not shine as much. Ideal for the movies. These Russian golden pieces were shown by famous actresses on screen and in ‘real’ life and became very popular with the public.
Pearls in custom jewelry
One of the first and most famous designers that promoted custom jewelry was Coco Chanel. She started by designing alternatives for the ‘corset’ fashion in the 1920s. She came up with the ‘garçonne’ or ‘boy’ style, wearing women’s sweaters and pleated skirts with dropped waists.
Coco Chanel designed the ‘black dress’ and the so-called ‘Chanel suit’ or Deux-piece. And while being a revolutionary in fashion, she did not mind at all designing jewelry, custom jewelry, and combining real with fake pearls. Long pearl necklaces became the fashion.
Wearing pearls stated for a long time for status and wealth. But the pearl jewelry of Coco Chanel is stated for the modern, fashionista, and beautiful. It helped a lot that in the world people started to arterially grow great-quality pearls.
Due to the world wars, the availability of gemstones and especially diamonds was low or not at all. As a replacement for diamonds, jewelry designers used rhinestones instead, until the day that even the production of rhinestones became too expensive.
But… never underestimate the ingenuity of creativity of a jewelry designer. A high-quality glass, cut and faceted, from Czechia and Austria, replaced the rhinestone.
At this time Swarovski became very famous and popular. That lasted until today when the company even forbids selling Swarovski glass beads when you are not a Swarovski company-driven shop!
For a few years, there is a new replacement for rhinestones and gemstones in general on the market, and this material is called Hydro Quartz. It is the most fantastic quality glass I have ever seen in a color that resembles a genuine gemstone.
Well-known companies and famous designers keep this kind of custom jewelry made from rhinestone, Swarovski glass, or Hydro Quartz in their collections. Eisenberg, Weiss and Kramer are one of them.
You can recognize the period certain custom jewelry is made
Above I mentioned that because custom jewelry was cheaper, ladies could afford more jewelry. Or could afford at least one piece. The cooperation of the jewelry and the fashion designers made it possible to match your jewelry and outfit perfectly. Since there is a ‘new’ fashion every year or you better say there is at least a fashion trend each decade, you can recognize in what period the custom jewelry is made.
Art Deco (the 1920s-1930s)
This movement tried to give an alternative to mass production by introducing more focus on art and design. Tried to give people something more beautiful, after leaving their factories, where everything was dirty and ‘black’. At this time women started to work in the factories to replace the men who went to war.
The fashion designer Coco Chanel worked together with Joseff of Hollywood and Fulco di Verdura (jewelry designers) and introduced in her new fashion show custom jewelry, to add to the outfit. The themes of jewelry in this period were geometric and symmetrical themes. Long pendants, bangles, cocktail rings, and accessories like cigarette holders and cases.
The Art Deco Period ended in the 1930s due to the Great Depression and financial crisis and the start of WWII in 1939.
The Retro Period (1935-1950)
Also in this period, the designers wanted to combine mass production, which was the daily life of many people, and getting the focus on art, to distract the public. Also in this period, natural materials were scarce and expensive, and even plastics were used for making jewelry.
Jewelry, and especially custom jewelry, was only designed and produced in Northern America. In Europe, there was a war going on and many (a lot of them Jewish) jewelry designers emigrated to the United States.
You can recognize custom jewelry from the Retro Period because of its glamour, elegance, flowers, and bows, moonstones, horse and military motifs, and (oops) plastic custom jewelry.
Modern Art Period (1945-1960)
WWII ended and thanks to the Marshall Plan economy recovered. There is a funny automatism in fashion and jewelry. What I mean is that when the economy is low, the skirts get shorter and the jewelry becomes size XXL. Now after the war, the economy picked up statement jewelry becomes a more tailored style and skirts went down again.
This period produced custom jewelry recognizable by the lavishness of the pieces, large chunky bracelets with or without charms, using a lot of jade, topaz, citrine, opal, and a lot of rhinestones.
In the 21st century, this vintage custom jewelry is very popular again. But now you pay a fortune for a good piece of jewelry, made by a well-known designer. Especially when the pieces of jewelry are signed, usually at the back of a piece makes the price goes up.
Famous custom jewelry and fashion designer
The Spanish fashion designer Balenciaga designs great fashion that matches perfectly with the custom jewelry, he designs too!
Balenciaga was known as a strict fashion designer who regards his work as a religion. His sculptural and complex shapes are best known in one of his favorite colors: black!
FlorenceJewelshop designs and makes unique and exclusive pieces of jewelry, made from gemstones and high-quality precious metals. My designs are used only once and you buy a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry, a unique piece for a unique lady like you.
No custom jewelry in my collection, with one exception. Also, my clients want an affordable piece of jewelry, that looks gorgeous and makes them beautiful. Therefore I introduced Hydra Quartz to my earrings collection. It is a very high-quality glass, having the color of real gemstones, but you pay much less. Have a look in my shop to find out: the FlorenceJewelshop earrings collection.
What type of jewelry do you wear, custom or ‘real’ jewelry, you need to know what kind of jewelry makes you look stunning, accentuates your best features, and what jewelry will make you feel confident. FlorenceJewelshop published a PDF with dozens of tips on how to find out what jewelry looks best on you.
It is free of charge. Just let me know where I can send it to!
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop