The '50s saw a great surge in popularity of costume jewelry, and for many the style is typified by an innovative use of materials and a great expansion of designs. Rhinestones came into their own during this time and there was a great proliferation of jewelry using bright, colourful, and unusually shaped stones. Almost no manufacturer or designer could resist the use of sparkling stones, and so there is a great variety of pieces to choose from.
However, there is also a great variation in prices. For the collector there are some basic rules to help judge the value of a piece, and the first is the manufacturer or designer there are strict hierarchies of price and collectability that depend on this. At the top end are designers such as Dior, Schreiner, Schiaparelli, Weiss, Regency, and Vendome, whereas one would expect to pay less for pieces by Lisner or Sarah Coventry. Such a list of designers and relative prices generally changes annually, but one can begin to judge the relative merits of a piece by other criteria, such as the quality of the stones.
One of the reasons why Schreiner is in such high demand is its use of unusually shaped and coloured stones. Some Regency pieces are more collectable than others simply because of their use of differently shaped and textured stones. The other main criterion for judging value is the quality of the settings. Normally a good sign of quality is the use of light, open-backed settings that hold the stone in prongs or cages. Always check stones for chips or replacements because these can affect value.
Regency Black/Chocolate Pearl Necklace & Earring Set, mid-1950s
This set by Regency is among the most collectable of Regency jewelry owing to its use of the unusual oval black faux pearls, which are prong-set by hand, three in the necklace and one in each earring. The design is simple and is meant to complement the "bateaux" necklines that were popular in the '50s.
Vendome Keystone Pin & Earrings Set, late 1950s
"Vendome" was the premium line of jewelry created by Corocraft, and was produced from 1945 onward. Vendome jewelry almost always uses high-quality crystal stones and is generally very well made. As in this example, pieces by Vendome also display a high degree of three dimensionality, an effect created by overlapping stones and settings. The use of aurora borealis stones adds an iridescent effect full of shifting colours and light, making these pieces even more appealing. The main difference between this set and the pieces opposite is in the greater amount of work done by hand this piece is all hand-soldered and set.
Vendome Hematite" Necklace, mid-1950s "
When creating pieces for its premium line of jewelry, Corocraft was not averse to the use of more unusual stones and materials. In this bib necklace (valued at 05-125/S160-210), glass coated with a reflective sheen imitates hematite, which itself imitates jet. The glass beads are hand-faceted and capped with rhinestone rondelles. These are in turn suspended from a chain of faux-hematite glass beads.
Overall the effect is striking and the play of light is almost miraculous. The fact that aurora borealis-coated hand-faceted glass beads were used instead of real hematite is, in today's market, actually a plus point, because nowadays it would be harder and more expensive to make this necklace from glass beads than from hematite itself.