Stylistically, the '80s were a difficult time, because retrospective after retrospective diluted any pure design movement. All the same, costume jewelry was never more popular than during this, the "me" decade. Accessories were the thing, and every clothing designer and maison de couture had lines of costume jewelry with which clients could make a mass-produced outfit their own in style and look. The '80s saw the popularization of vintage and antique costume jewelry but many women snapped up the offerings of contemporary designers.
Names to look out for include couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Dior, and Lacroix, and especially dedicated jewelry designers such as Butler & Wilson, Larry Vrba, Iradj Moini, Ciro, and Fior.
The overriding theme was "flash": it had to be visible and showy and, by extension, it got you noticed. The two main ways of making sure jewelry was noticed were the generous use of rhinestones, and in this style the kings were Butler & Wilson (see pp.148-49), and the age-old device of the copious use of gold, which was the method most other designers used to great success.
In many ways, the passion for fake gold is a fitting summary of the 1980s and the ethos of conspicuous consumerism. It no longer mattered that it was not real; what mattered was that it looked expensive, and its cheap price added to the throw-away mentality of the day. The designer pieces were far from cheap, however, and they were either limited edition or invitation-only purchases. On the back of the designer names, vast amounts of copies were produced, which commonly hit the streets days after the originals went on sale. It was a fast-moving and cut-throat business a sign of the times.
Lacroix Charm Bracelet, mid-1980s
Lacroix, like so many other couturiers, commissioned jewelry to accompany his creations. The addition of costume jewelry to the overall look was an absolute must and Lacroix was both trendy and mainstream. Here we see a classic combination of gold and pearl, albeit faux. Pieces such as these will not reach collectable status for some time yet, but they are still worth buying.
Yves Saint Laurent Charm Necklace, mid-1980s
Here lies proof that the art of the French jewelers was alive and kicking in the '80s and that quality pieces were being made. This necklace is signed "Yves Saint Laurent" and also carries a limited-edition number on the flat panel by the chain (029/300). The piece is evocative of the Empire style with its restrained scroll work and fluting.
• The names to stick to when collecting 1980s jewelry are the large fashion houses such as Chanel and Dior, etc.
• There appear to be two extremes of costume jewelry made in the 1980s: it is either of quite fantastic quality and wonderful design or it is junk.
• As in all jewelry of all ages, it is not simply the name that counts but the quality of design and execution. Even with a great designer's name on it, a poor piece of jewelry remains just that.
The Birth of the Collector
The beginning of the 1980s saw the first serious vintage costume jewelry dealers appear. Before this time there were collectors of Art Deco and Art Nouveau jewelry who also resold, but until this time costume jewelry from the Art Deco years onward had been ignored. The opulence of the 1980s saw all this change, as designers ravenous for inspiration turned this way and that to satisfy demand. These designers' customers realized what was going on and a new breed of costume jewelry buyer was born: the collector. It is the collector whom we have to thank for the burgeoning interest in the subject.
Many collectors have conducted important research, searching archives for their latest unsigned treasure, while dealers have simply resold the piece, knowing that it was a great piece of design but not taking the time to check on its provenance.