In the 1990s, vintage and antique costume jewelry gained recognition as a valid mainstream collecting field, and designers and those in the public eye fell over themselves to acquire and show off their latest piece. More research was done on the history of costume jewelry in this decade than in all the previous decades put together. There was a real interest and thirst for knowledge, in many cases not idle or simply for its own sake. Many of the best pieces were produced without a maker's signature, and identifying them was a very hit or miss affair (mainly miss). Attribution became very desirable and on many occasions, in the author's personal experience, a jewel has gone from an unidentified and almost unwanted piece to a thing of great value and sudden beauty, commanding astronomical prices, simply because the dealer had done their homework and found a picture of said piece in an old magazine, sold under a famous name. Dealing in costume jewelry became international, and developing technology was vitally useful for the trade and in the dissemination of pieces.
Images were faxed, and later emailed, and pieces couriered, across huge distances all over the world.
Although the connoisseur's eye had well and truly turned to vintage, there was also interest in contemporary pieces. Butler & Wilson continued to enlarge their sales base and their ranges. Gripoix produced beautiful poured glass pieces which were snapped up by collectors as soon as they hit the shops. Van der Straeten continued to make unusual and surreal jewels which also appeared to be sold before they were even made. As the availability of vintage jewels began to decrease and prices increase, attention was again turned to the artisanal designers such as Iradj Moini, LarryVrba, and Stanley Hagler. The large fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel Yves Saint Laurent Versace Moschino Givenchy, and Lacroix were also doing well and many of their 1990s pieces are very collectable.
Although there was a lot of energy and imagination in the '90s and great jewels were produced, one just could not get away from the fact that the heyday of jewelry design and production was over. A lot of the old firms were still in business Trifari in fact still produces costume jewelry, as does Haskell but ask anyone with a good knowledge of jewelry and they will tell you that they are just a fading shadow of their former selves. Materials were becoming impossible to find for example, the beautiful minute seed pearls used by Haskell, which were hand-wired onto the Russian gold plated filigree backings, stopped being produced. This was also the case with what were thought to be more usual materials, such as rhinestones, the variety of which has drastically reduced.
New marketing methods were also employed to huge success, such as companies selling through shopping channels on the television. Many "designers ordered pieces in bulk from factories and sold them under their own name direct from the television to the client The desire of the more pedestrian collector was huge and vast amounts were sold. However, some firms of genuine designer pedigree heard opportunity knock and rereleased classic lines and introduced new ones. Eisenberg re-released its Eisenberg Ice range and Ken Lane remade his classiciewels of India line, which is very popular.
At the more unscrupulous end of the market, it was during the 1990s that forgers became a real problem. Although copies were being made earlier on, some contemporaneously with the jewels' production, the high prices being realized by many ranges spawned a thriving trade in copies. Reputable and knowledgeable dealers know forgery at a glance, and should also be aware of which pieces were favoured by the copyists. The first copies that came to the attention of the author were the very good copies of the early Eisenberg pins, as these were some of the first pieces to fetch high prices, and Trifari Jelly Bellies were the next to succumb.
The 1990s were the best of times for the collector. Clever collectors bought both vintage and contemporary jewels and many great collections now exist. However, it is not too late to start collecting. I have had almost 20 years experience in the field I am still coming across designs and even designers I have never heard about and am still actively researching.
Writer – Steven Miners