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Womens Vintage Jewellery

March 10, 2015

Womens vintage jewellery can encompass everything from fine jewellery, including that made in gold and platinum, set with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pearls, to pieces made in silver, set with semi precious stones like jade, marcasite, turquoise and jet, to costume jewellery, made from glass, enamel and plastics, set in copper and base metals.

Vintage Jewellery for Women

Most often, when people talk about womens vintage jewellery they’re not talking about diamonds and heirloom pieces, because they’d class that under antique jewellery. “Vintage” jewellery is usually costume jewellery, or small pieces in silver or with gold plating.


This doesn’t make it worthless at all: people often enjoy collecting Womens vintage costume jewellery from a particular brand or designer, and something like a beautifully enameled pendant on sterling silver can go for quite a lot when it’s in good condition. In fact, throughout the 20th Century artists and designers experimented with alternative materials to create jewellery, and the aim was not just in imitating real gems.


Meret Oppenheim designed a bracelet of fur and brass for Elsa Schiaparelli, and Elsa Triolet designed an “aspirin” necklace made in white porcelain for her too. Other creators experimented with acrylic, fabric, glass, wood and leather to create abstract shapes to accessorize their outfits with.

Womens vintage jewellery-Chanel

Coco Chanel wore some quite outrageous Womens vintage jewellery, designed to look like real gems but in a way that was obviously fake. She liked to mix and match with real gems, or wear costume jewellery to an evening event when everyone else was wearing priceless diamonds, slinging her ropes of real pearls over a bathing costume instead.

What eras can I collect womens vintage jewellery from?

Womens vintage jewellery comes from all eras, of course.


Sometimes it’s exciting to find very old pieces of Womens vintage Jewellery, and you still find some vintage Victorian jewellery in good condition. To me the interesting pieces are the ones that seem macabre to modern eyes.


There was a huge focus on mourning jewellery at the time – lots of black jet (or glass imitating jet), jewellery incorporating locks of hair from the deceased, bracelets of plaited hair, lots of things to do with hair, crying enameled eyes, lockets or tiny carved picture frames as pendants, with photos of living or dead beloveds.

Victorian era

Of course, Queen Victoria herself was in mourning for much of the period, so it was terribly fashionable to copy her and a high infant mortality rate plus perhaps the death of husbands and sweethearts in the Crimean war provided personal tragedy too.


Incidentally, the hair from mourning bracelets (and confusingly, you can get Victorian friendship bracelets from plaited hair too) was not always from the person you were remembering – if you didn’t get a chance to chop off a length while you still had time, prostitutes of the time did a brisk trade in providing a substitute.


Womens Vintage Jewellery - Victorian jet necklace from Blue17

victorian jet necklace from Blue17


The popularity of jet bewilders me a little – yes, it is black and can be finely carved, but unlike natural materials such as, say, pearls, it possesses no brilliance or luster. Jet jewellery commands a high price, now as then, but watch out for imitations: glass feels cold and heavy, and plastic you can stick a hot needle into and it will melt. Real jet is quite light and feels a little warm, like wood.


Womens Vintage Jewellery - 1970s mirror-glass jewellery cabinet

1970s mirror-glass jewellery cabinet



costume jewellery

hedy lamarr wearing costume jewellery

elsa triolet ‘asprin’ necklace


victorian woven hair mourning jewelry

Victorian mourning brooch with hair in the Prince of Wales feather motif