Decorative Arts – November/December 2017

Have you ever gone to a garage sale, auction or estate sale and looked disbelievingly at the mounds of costume jewelry on offer? Boxes of the stuff, unceremoniously heaped up as if there was little to no value in any of it. Well I’m here to tell you, there’s gold in them there are mounds of it, and you best pay attention!


The market for the once lonely brooch or necklace is changing. Grandma’s jewelry is suddenly in fashion and the demand is heating up. Like all things though, we have to have a little back ground knowledge to separate the good from the not-so-good and sometimes the downright ugly. Vintage or costume jewelry was very prevalent starting in about the 1920s until the late 1970s. Of course, it is still being made today, but this earlier period is considered the time when the best quality was produced. Due to rising popularity over the past number of years, values have risen sharply, particularly for the more iconic and best-made pieces. Like all things in the art and antique world, quality and rarity usually drive the price. Another important consideration is style and eye appeal. The sparkle and contrast of a well designed piece may contribute greatly to its overall desirability and eventual price. Good pieces have stones set in metal clasps and are well cut. The quality and colour of the stones will add to desirability. The best crystal stones came from Austria, while good glass beads were made in Murano. Condition is also important, so be sure to examine potential purchases for missing stones or other aspects that may impact value.


Good signed pieces are where the demand lies. I like to look for high quality pieces that are really different and speak to timeless fashion.  Look out for brands such as Miriam Haskell, Coro and Eisenberg. They have been in this space for a long time and have produced a wide range of wares at affordable prices. If you like well-cut crystal stone brooches then Sherman would be a name to look for.  Many of the top brands signed their work, usually on the back. Sherman was famous for using Austrian cut crystal which added a deep level of brilliance and quality to their pieces.


Enameled jewelry was produced by Napier in the ‘60s through to the ‘90s. Their designs are modern and simple in basic geometric forms, in the manner of Scandinavian designs. Canada joined into the act with Serbian-Canadian Rafael in the early 1970s. His avant-garde designs produced in the ‘70s and ‘80s are known for their moving parts and use of mixed metals. Look for large pieces set with Murano glass stones. Rafael always signed his work on the back. A good piece will set you back several hundred dollars these days.


Moving into the Haute Couture area, you have Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) and Christian Dior. Dior did some amazing work in the ‘60s and ‘70s. As the current generation is now starting to downsize, these pieces are starting to come onto the market with more prevalence. Outstanding design and production quality, jewelry from this famous house will set you back several hundreds of dollars, maybe even thousands. The designs and workmanship are at the top of the so called “costume jewelry” field. Your best bet here would be to try and find items that have not yet made their way to the retail market. Auctions, and even garage sales, might be a good bet if you are looking to acquire a piece from this famous designer.


This is only a small commentary on a very large and complex collecting area. It’s filled with fascinating items from numerous periods and even more designers. It is an area of growth based on affordability, functionality and size. Start with what you can afford and grow from there. Most of all have fun with this glitzy and popular area of collecting.

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