If one of the aspects of conspicuous consumerism was plenty of gold, then the other was rivers of diamonds. But not any old diamond would do it had to be the rhinestone, and lots of them. And the kings of rhinestones in the latter part of the 20th century were the two British designers Niki Butler and Simon Wilson.
Their pedigree was exceptional because they came from an antique jewelry background, collecting and selling Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry. They had an unerring eye and infallible taste, and soon spotted a niche in the "antique" new jewelry market, so they started to produce jewelry of their own, copying small silver and enamel brooches, often adapting and reworking the designs to suit their market.
Their first shop opened in 1972 on the Fulham Road, London. At this time Art Deco was very popular and the style strongly influenced their designs. Through the rather poorly self-adorned years of the 1970s, the kings of rhinestones showed the '80s how to dress up, and almost exploded onto the fashion scene. Glamour was alive once more and Butler & Wilson stayed at the top of costume jewelry design.
Their designs may at first glance appear frivolous, but with greater understanding one can see the decades of historical context that underlay their jewelry. With some firms one can identify one or two signature pieces, jewels that can immediately be attributed to the designer, but in the case of Butler & Wilson there are almost too many to count. Their most famous designs include the articulated Lizard, the Teddy Bear, Christmas jewelry, the high-domed Spider Pin, the Waltzing Couple, the Crown, the Elephant, and the Monkey.
During the Korean War, the wives of the American soldiers stationed in South Korea are rumoured to have sent little Christmas tree brooches to their husbands as a symbol of peace and wishes for their safe return before Christmas. Ever since this time Christmas jewelry has become increasingly popular, and has blossomed to include anything even remotely related to Christmas. Butler & Wilson also produced Christmas jewelry, but their pieces, as may be imagined, are larger than life and both cute and amusing. This is demonstrated by the 1990 Santa brooch illustrated here (valued at E100-150/$170-255). Other brooches show Christmas trees, Santa on a sleigh, reindeer, and other related subjects.