Vintage jewelry has a certain glamor that can’t be found in contemporary jewelry and its history and allure are seductive for those who love fabulous statement-making pieces. Palm Beach jewelry dealer D. Brett Benson specializes in vintage and antique jewelry with a selection that spans more than 130 years, and a focus on jewelry designed and produced between the 1950s and 1990s.
“Our biggest sellers are designers of the 1970s and 1980s. YSL, Lagerfeld, Lanvin, Kenneth Jay Lane, and Chanel,” Brett explains. He sources pieces from estate sales, private collections, auctions, and other dealers to provide vintage jewelry customers with exactly what they’re looking for: “simply, statement pieces,” he says. “Obviously, fashion plays a big part, however, it still comes down to what appeals personally.” Here are seven pieces of vintage jewelry that are sure to steal the show.
Ever wondered where the term ‘costume jewelry’ comes from? Rumor has it French designer William Hobé had a hand in coining the phrase when he created costumes and jewelry for Florenz Ziegfeld in the 1920s. The theater producer wanted the flash and fashion of fine jewelry for his Ziegfeld Follies but at an affordable price. After Hobé’s successful start in the world of American showbiz, it soon had dedicated admirers and wearers in the likes of Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Ava Gardner. This elaborate filigree bracelet has clear and amethyst-colored crystals and gold mesh braids.
Belgian-born designer William deLillo cut his teeth at Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston, and the Miriam Haskell Company before establishing his own firm in 1967 with Robert F. Clark, a former head designer for Miriam Haskell. The House of William deLillo, Ltd. only produced jewelry until the mid-1970s but its revered client list included Nina Ricca, Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as exclusive commissions for Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson. This set of clip-on earrings has turquoise cabochons ringed with small faux pearls and soft blue, pink, and clear-colored stones.
This Gripoix necklace has adorned the neck of a Chanel model strutting her stuff on a Paris runway in the 1980s. Made of poured glass, faux pearls, and rhinestones it demonstrates the ingenuity and inventiveness of the House of Gripoix whose artisans are credited with developing a technique for sheening glass pearls to imitate cultured pearls, as well as for setting and enameling colored, cast glass in metal mountings. Indeed as Coco Chanel, famous for mixing real and fake jewels herself, once said: “Nothing looks more like a fake jewel than a beautiful jewel. Why get mesmerized by a beautiful stone? One might as well wear a check around one’s neck.”
The trend of wearing large, statement jewelry came to the fore in the 1980s as more women than ever before pursued careers, took up high-profile positions, and purchased their own jewelry. Indeed, gone were the days of wearing many items of smaller jewelry pieces. Instead, women wore one bold item, such as this dramatic Armani necklace. Made with loosely crocheted strands of tiny seeded glass beads, Armani produced this scarf-like necklace in the late 1980s and it measures 3 feet end to end.
Canadian-born fashion designer Arnold Scaasi created couture clothing for stars and socialites throughout the twentieth century and added jewelry to his bow from 1958 to 1965. With a penchant for color, print, and embellishments, his costume jewelry designs were big, bold, and exuberant—much like his fashion designs. “I am definitely not a minimalist,” he once conceded and to which this pin attests. Textured gold-colored knots are laden with coral and jade-colored stones, faux pearls, and clear rhinestones.
Jana Homsay was a studio artist in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Little is known about Homsay but these sterling silver earrings with carnelian cabochons show a strong modernist influence. They reject any reference to historic styles and instead embrace organic and sculptural form. Modernist designers, like Homsay, believed they had more in common with painters, sculptors, and artists than traditional jewelry makers of the era and created one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Bakelite jewelry according to Brett and store manager Kevin. “Whimsical necklaces of colorful fruit or geometric shapes, figural pins, and carved bracelets.” Bakelite was once dubbed “the material of a thousand uses” and its lightweight, durable, and moldable properties revolutionized manufacturing in the early twentieth century. During both World War I and II, when base metals were reserved for wartime production, Bakelite took its place. The innovative plastic also transformed the jewelry industry, with Bakelite jewelry, such as this red carved bracelet from the 1940s, being an affordable and attractive alternative to more traditional materials.
For more fabulous vintage and antique jewelry from Palm Beach jewelry dealer D. Brett Benson and other retailers, check out the one-of-a-kind selection on The HighBoy.