Costume jewelry is made with base metals that are gold, rhodium or silver plated and is normally set with faceted glass stones such as rhinestones or crystals such as the brand name Swarovski. This term to describe nonprecious jewelry came into wide use in the 1930's when coined by movie producer Cecil B. DeMille.
To follow is a guide to three popular contemporary costume jewelry designers:
Monet - This company started in 1937 as an offshoot of a company that produced metal art deco monograms for purses. The goal of Monet was to create elegant yet affordable women's jewelry. To add that special touch to their line Monet was the first costume design house to stamp their trade name into every piece of jewelry.
Monet has remained popular since then and is sold in just about every department store in the USA and Canada. Liz Claiborne has a fabulous Monet line that includes gold and silver plated jewelry set with coral, common green opal and blue and green crystals. The coral appears to be stabilized which means that a colorless bonding agent such as plastic has been used to insure a uniform color.
There is also a pair of just stunning pear shaped CZ stud earrings included in the design line and necklaces set with clear crystal stones. Unless examined by a trained professional CZs are basically the same in appearance as diamonds - and if you loss one of the earrings it will not be a major catastrophe.
Kenneth Jay Lane - One of Lane's most famous customers is former USA First Lady Barbara Bush - he was the designer of her signature three-strand pearl necklace. In business for over 40 years vintage Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry is very popular - the company is still in existence marketing it's jewelry in many different outlets.
Lane graduated from the world famous Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and made his start by designing shoes prior to designing jewelry. Some truly gorgeous pieces of Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry can be purchased from QVC.
One of Lane's great contemporaneous costume designs is that of a necklace fashioned from gingko leaf shaped gold plated base metal. A similar necklace appears in a recent issue of W Magazine - only crafted from 18K gold and of course, much, much more expensive. Kenneth Jay Lane's goal is 'creating affordable, beautiful jewelry'. Mission accomplished.
Another QVC alumnus is Joan Rivers. Unlike Monet and Kenneth Jay Lane Joan Rivers came into designing jewelry in the recent past. She is one of the most popular celebrity jewelry designers. None of her designs are old enough to qualify as 'vintage'. However, the style of many of her designs brings to mind jewelry from the 1930s and 1940s.
Purchasing non-vintage costume jewelry from department stores and online vendors is quite easy. However, smart shopping in the world of vintage costume jewelry is not for the uneducated. Make sure you do your research prior to making any purchase.
A good starting point is The Official Price Guide to Costume Jewelry by Harrice Simons Miller. This book is readily available at most public libraries and gives an awesome tutorial into the world of costume jewelry collecting.