After falling in love with the world of fashion while working at Vogue magazine, Kenneth Jay Lane briefly became a shoe designer. He then turned his attention to costume jewelry and achieved some spectacular results. His bold, larger than life pieces caught the eye of Vogue's influential editor, Diana Vreeland, and she featured them in the magazine.
Lane quickly became the designer of choice for wealthy, fashionable women of the 1960s, expressing many of the decade's strongest trends in his highly imaginative creations. The Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor were all fans.
Lane's pieces were largely inspired by his belief in the value of outright glamour, coupled with a typically 1960s spirit of quirkiness. His massive jewel-encrusted bibs cried out to be noticed, and his giant brass knuckle-rings were so sparkling that some women wore one on every finger.
His pieces proudly flaunted their fakery, but, notwithstanding this, the designer was highly influenced by trends in precious jewelry, particularly Jeanne Toussaint's work for Cartier in the 1930s and '40s. One of Lane's most successful lines was based on Toussaint's "big cat" jewels, originally made for the Duchess of Windsor. Lane reinterpreted these in witty ways, stating: "I made leopards with polka dots and I got away with it because it was costume jewelry"
Today's collectors hold in high regard Lane's "big cat" pins, along with other charming figurals such as his walrus, chameleon, mermaid, and ram's head (featured on a bangle below). Enamelled figura.ls particularly desirable if the condition is good. Huge chandelier earrings and gigantic paste necklaces, as shown opposite, which were so beloved of his glamorous fans of old, are also widely collected.
• Make sure that the signature on the reverse reads "K.J.L.". This is the signature used in the 1960s. If it reads "Kenneth Lane" or "Kenneth J. Lane" then it is probably a reissue. Some of the more elaborate pieces are also being reissued with the old signature, so be careful.
• The highest prices for K.J.L. jewels are realized in the United States. Collectors in New York and Los Angeles greatly value this jewelry.
Ken Lane once told me that in a flea market in the United States he asked the price of one of his earlier pieces on display at somebody's stand. The dealer, not knowing that the maker of the piece was asking the question, told him the price. Ken Lane was surprised that the asking price was so high and asked why this should be. He was then told by the dealer that Ken Lane had recently passed away and all Ken Lane jewelry was now very collectable. Ken Lane later confided that he did not know whether to be flattered or not!
Obviously this anecdote serves as a reminder to be on your guard at all times when on the look-out for jewelry in general, and to be suspicious of inconsistent pricing or characteristics.
Ken Lane Bangle, c.1960s
Lane borrowed his popular ram's head theme from ancient jewelry and used it on bracelets, pins, and earrings. Other designers followed suit, so rams' heads appear frequently in 1960s and '70s pieces. Heavy bangle bracelets were popular at this time and most are hinged. The best are cast in intricate figural shapes such as dragons, panthers, rams, and snakes. Simple bangles are less valuable.
Ken Lane Jeweled Collar, c.1960s
Lane's legendary bibs and collars reflected the 1960s taste for bold, high-impact jewelry a look popular with today's collectors. Based variously on the most spectacular of precious western jewels or traditional designs from Lane's beloved India, these necklaces are among the largest, most elaborate costume jewelry produced for retail sale. Their nearest equivalents are one-of-a-kind pieces made for theatre and films.