The term "costume jewellery" was first coined by Coco Chanel in the 1920s when she came out with a line of inexpensive, bold and colorful jewellery to match and finish the outfits of the season. ItUnsigned vintage setCredit: Cattie Coyle Photography was intended to be affordable for everyone and something you could wear in every situation without worrying about it being scratched or damaged (like you would with precious jewels). And when the fashions changed, it was easy and affordable to update your jewellery as well.

It was an instant hit, and other designers followed suit. Soon "everyone" had their own line of costume jewellery, and by using inexpensive materials like glass, base metals, pâte-de-verre, faux pearls, plastic, etc. they were able to keep the costs down. But what could be had for a song back then often comes with a hefty price tag today. They have become much sought after collector's items, and costume jewellery pieces in good condition, especially by famous designers, can go for thousands of dollars.

Having said that, it is still possible to find those coveted pieces at a reasonable price. You just have to know what to look for and shop in the right places.

Know Your Vintage Style
Vintage costume jewellery technically describes pieces 20 to 100 years old. Most of it is heavily influenced by the prevalent style during a specific period; pieces from the 1900 to 1920s often reflect the Art Nouveau movement; in the 1930s - 40s, Art Deco was huge, and during the Victorian era, bracelets of all kinds were extremely popular (Queen Victoria especially loved charm bracelets). Women often wore several on each wrist, interestingly the same trend we have seen so much of this spring and summer. Everything old is new again. :-)

It is also important to be familiar with the names of the costume jewellery designers who haveDemi-parure by KramerCredit: Cattie Coyle Photography made their mark in the industry. Some of the major players include Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Monet, Miriam Haskell, Tiffany, Trifari, Lisner, Boucher, Peruzzi, James Avery, Kramer, and Coro. If you have a specific designer you want to center your collection around, make sure to read up on their style, makers marks, materials used, etc. so that you are able to easily recognize even unsigned pieces, which is where you can make your best finds. Signed pieces are more valuable (and consequently more expensive), but there are tons of unsigned pieces by these famous designers, which means you will end up with a fabulous designer item without paying the hefty price.

Another reason why you should educate yourself is that there are unscrupulous sellers out there selling fakes. Once demand for a particular style rises, you can be sure that the number of listings for sale will also increase. If you know your vintage jewellery, you can buy confidently.

Where To Buy
The easiest way these days is to shop online. There are several online stores that have a large inventory with many one-of-a-kind pieces, and many of them have been in business for a long time. Good non-online options are estate sales, antique stores and auctions. The downside of shopping this way is that you will usually not be able to find a bargain, because the sellers are very well educated in their field and know the value of the jewellery.

Then there are online auction sites, classified ads and Craigslist. Be careful if you're going this route though - check the seller’s reputation and ratings, return policy and whether or not they guarantee their products.  

Unsigned necklaceCredit: Cattie Coyle PhotographyIn my opinion, your best bet for finding hidden treasures are flea markets, yard and garage sales. You are able to bargain, and often, the seller is unaware of the value of a piece, or simply doesn't care. If you're willing to gamble, go early and check out what they are selling, then come back towards the end of the day when they are about to close up shop - that's when you are usually able to negotiate the best prices since people would rather get rid of the stuff than have to pack it up again.

Collecting costume jewellery is a wonderfully addictive and fun hobby. Not only is it exciting to hunt for finds and learn about the history behind the pieces, but it is a collection you can actually wear and show off every day, and not just leave on a shelf behind glass doors. And they make awesome gifts.