Tag Archives: paste jewelry

Rhinestones

No more yucky silver.

No more yucky silver.

Some of my favorite costume jewelry pieces are rhinestone pins.  When I was a kid I was convinced they could be diamonds, but no one else could figure it out but me!  I should mention here, I was born blond and sometimes I still am! I also thought the gold color under the yucky silver on the backs of the pins my great grandmother and great aunt gave me was actually gold.  Actually, it was a brass alloy that was cheaper to use then plate with a silver color during the world wars when most metals were diverted to the war effort.  And if you wanted to keep those pretty rhinestone pins worth something, you shouldn’t scrub the silver off! Rhinestone costume jewelry is worth some money, given it is in good condition.  Even pieces with authentic designer names like Coro, Lisner or Kramer, lose most of their value if they are damaged. Damaged or lost good pieces is kind of how the rhinestone industry started.   Back a long time ago, like a few centuries, beautiful crystals were found along the Rhine river in Germany.  These quartz crystals had a high lead content that helped them sparkle and shine.  Of course, these beautiful stones were quickly mined into oblivion. That’s just what we do when we like something.  So some enterprising glassrhine manufacturer found ways to make artificial ‘rhine stones’ (get it? Rhine+stone?).

These artificial gems were also called paste, diamante, or strass.  I have found 2 stories on why they are called paste.  The first one claims it was from colorful glass that was ground up like a paste and poured into molds.  The other story involves the aristocrats of the era.  As they would travel to court to present themselves and their families to the king and queen they would carry large chest full of gems and jewels to make a good impression.  Highway robbers figured this out pretty quickly and would rob the aristocrats on the way to court.  To save their precious jewels, people began to commission fakes of the real ones they kept at home.  This way if they were damaged or stolen it wasn’t such a big deal.  The name Strass comes from the brilliant inventor that realized coating the glass stones on one side with a metal powder would improve their sparkle!  The foil, as it is now called, acted like a mirror to reflect light from the underside of the gem. That’s dazzling!

 
Meanwhile, lost or damaged rhinestones would still have been a big deal to the non-aristocrats because they were extremely costly to make.  That is until about 1891 when Daniel Swarovski developed a way to automate glass cutting to create rhinestones in a more cost effective way.  Rhinestones for everyone! Well maybe not everyone, but at least the middle class could afford them.  And in the 20th century, this was a big deal.  After World War II, the middle class was growing like crazy! And as I mentioned in another post, they were looking for ways to show off their new found wealth.  Costume jewelry was one way to do this.
In Europe, designers like Coco Channel made fashion jewelry to go with their new lines of clothing.  America was a little more inclined to hold onto their preference for gold and silver jewelry but eventually got on board with faux gems too as the Ziegfeld Follies made costume jewelry more popular.
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One of the things the jewelry crafters of the 20th century couldn’t have anticipated was how time would affect their work.  Through wear and tear, the original owners would have knocked a few stones loose, at least the ladies I inherited from did!  Both the original crafter’s glue and the glue used to replace the loose stones has yellowed over time. But, that’s ok. We can just say those are yellow rhinestones.  The worse offense came when someone (it could have been me; I don’t really recall) would immerse a piece in water.  If it wasn’t dried (and it mostly wasn’t) then the foil on the back of the stone could be damaged or wear off.  This causes spots in the rhinestone.  Now, that’s just my advice.  I’m not an expert obviously!  I made a playlist on my YouTube channel of several different people’s suggestions for cleaning vintage jewelry.  I suggest watch them all (it isn’t very long!) and decide what will work best for you.  Personally, I now just use one of the cloths that come with my phone or tablet to polished and dust them.  If I ever decide to sell them, the next person can figure out the best way to clean them!

Resources:

Leshner, L., Warman’s Vintage Jewelry, Krause Publications, 2008, Ioloa, WI.

Cora

Pretty Coro, but damaged by moisture