Vintage Designers

Stories Vintage Costume Designers
and the industry they helped create:

Avon began in 1886 as a cosmetics company selling perfume door to door. By the 1960s, perfume was only one of the company's many offerings; cosmetics, bath products, house wares and gifts had been added to the catalogs. Jewelry was also offered sporadically.

In 1971, jewelry became a notable addition to the Avon catalog and was offered during each campaign. Soon, costume jewelry would be one of the company's most popular lines. By the 1980s, Avon's reputation for offering high-quality yet affordable costume jewelry began to attract notable designers to the line.

The company was founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1929 as the Monocraft Products Company by brothers Michael and Joseph Chernow. They begin by making quality costume jewelry in addition to their gold-, silver- and brass-plated handbag monograms. One of the oldest costume jewelry companies still in existence, for over 70 years they have made jewelry that cannot be surpassed for its quality, craftsmanship, and audacious design. The company has changed hands several time in its long history. Most recently, in 2010, Monet was purchased by Liz Claiborne Inc.

Once considered "junk jewelry," vintage Lisner become collectible in the 1990s. It was then that collectors realized that the clever shapes and bright colors of the company's cheaply made plastic leaves and baubles possessed a unique beauty.

Founded in 1904, Lisner imported and sold Elsa Schiaparelli's Parisian jewelry in the United States. In the '30s, the company achieved a higher profile by finally selling its own designs that employed Dupont's new colored acrylic plastic called Lucite, as well as clear and colored rhinestones (particularly aurora borealis) and lava stones, as well as chromed, silver-plated, and black japanned metal. 1

Since the 1920s, Trifari has been one of the most respected and admired producers of costume jewelry in the United States. Founded in the 1910s by Gustavo Trifari, the Italian-immigrant son of a Napoli goldsmith, the company has designed jewelry that’s been worn by countless high-profile clients, from Mamie Eisenhower to Madonna.

The success of Trifari, and the reason for its collectibility today, is most often credited to French designer Alfred Philippe, the company’s chief designer from 1930 until 1968. His use of invisible settings for stones, which he originally developed for Van Cleef and Arpels, added a level of craftsmanship and technique that had not been previously seen in costume jewelry.

Among Philippe’s countless contributions are the Trifari Crown pins from the late 1930s to the 1950s. The crowns were so popular that Trifari incorporated a crown into its mark in about 1937. Authentic Trifari jewelry is typically marked with "Jewels by Trifari," "TKF" (for Trifari, Krussman & Fishel), or "Trifari," depending on when it was made. Since about 1994, Trifari has been a part of the Monet jewelry group.

Terms of some of our favorite vintage details:

AB is the abbreviation for a special finish which was applied to rhinestones and beads in the early 1950's to make them more radiant. The finish was given the celestial name Aurora Borealis, taken from the phenomena in the northern skies known as the Northern Lights. The same shimmering rainbows of color can also be seen radiating from a glass bead or rhinestone that has been treated with this now famous coating.

During the early decades of the 1900's, in the era of Paris couture, Swarovski's exclusive mechanical process of cutting and polishing crystal had a dramatic effect on design. The fashion world and crystal experts began a mutually creative cooperation. In the mid 1950's the designer Christian Dior turned to Manfred Swarovski, grandson of the founder, when he was looking for a new expression for crystal and jewelry to complement his New Look--exquisitely feminine clothes for the new woman of a new era. Where once chatons and fancy stones were popular suddenly cut beads became more popular.

It was a scientific process developed for Swarovski's optical mechanisms that sparked the idea for a crystal stone: a stone that reminded one of 18th-century splendor with iridescent colors so like candlelight. Under the direction of Dr. H. Schmied, technicians had invented a blue metallic coating for optical lenses. Manfred saw the stunning ornamental effect and began to apply it to his stones. He experimented with the vaporization of metal in a vacuum, coating the lower facets of each stone with a micro-thin metal sheet. The results dramatic filling the stone to which it was applied with electrically charged flashes of rainbow like colors. At first only the wealthy could afford the jewelry made with the stones and beads by the designers, but it was licensed for use by manufacturers such as Corocraft for their Vendome line. Later more and more plastic beads crept in and jewelry became cheaper. The glory of Aurora Borealis slowly faded and, by the mid-1960's, it had disappeared. AB jewelry is in ascendancy once more, but those who would like to collect and wear the quality pieces will be looking for those from the 1950's.

To this day, the company guards the processes it developed and demands the highest quality production of its crystals. Aurora Borealis costume jewelry delighted the women of the 1950's, just as it does today.

"Lucite is the queen of diversity, appearing in many forms, colors and styles in jewelry from the 1940's on, although it was most popular during the '40's and '50's. It is an acrylic resin, and one type of thermoset plastic (Bakelite is another, although Bakelite is a phenol formaldehye resin)." Developed in the 1930s, the clear acrylic plastic branded as Lucite became a wildly popular for material for costume jewelry. Less expensive to produce than Bakelite, Galalith, and Catalin and more chemically stable than celluloid, Lucite made these earlier jewelry plastics obsolete.

In its pure form, Lucite is translucent, resembling glass or rock crystal, but it can be dyed in a wide range of colors and opacity, making it the perfect material for bold blocks of Mid-century Modern colors. Hard, water-resistant, and lightweight, Lucite can be carved and polished, and it is easy to wear.

The scientists at two rival chemical companies, DuPont and Rohm & Haas, spent the 1930s working on glass-like acrylic resins (a.k.a. polymethyl methacrylate). Rohm & Haas launched its version, the clear and nearly unbreakable Plexiglass, first in 1935. DuPont brought Lucite to the market in 1937. 2

Moonglow Lucite - Probably one of the most popular forms of lucite, Moonglow pieces look as if lit from within, and come in a complete range of colors."


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