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Costume: Is It Fake?

For many people the term “costume jewelry” suggests gaudy, over-the-top necklaces they once used for playing dress-up at a grandmother’s house.  For others it brings up thoughts of gold rings that turn your skin green.  Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile less satisfactory pieces with the high quality costume jewelry you can find on the market now because our instinct may be to assume that anything “fake” is not worth our money.

In reality, though, costume jewelry has quite a bit to offer if you give it a chance.  True, the cheaper options, produced in bulk by machines, go for quantity over quality, and you’ll find the gold or silver plating chips easily and the rhinestones fall out.  But there is a higher quality available, too, on that bridges the gap between costume jewelry and fine jewelry.

The main difference between costume and fine jewelry, aside from price, is the materials that are used.  Fine jewelry will be made with precious metals, namely, silver, platinum, titanium, or gold that is 10 karats or higher. All natural stones are classified as fine jewelry, including cultured pearls (which are still naturally formed). Diamonds that were created in a lab are still considered fine jewelry because they have the same chemical properties as mined diamonds, but when sold they must be identified as having come from a lab. (They are also significantly cheaper than their naturally formed counterparts.)

In contrast to that, costume jewelry can be made with any other type of metal, like copper and stainless steel; often these non-precious metals are coated with silver or gold.  Gems used in costume jewelry are synthetically made, the most common of which are quartz, rhinestone, cubic zirconium, and even glass. When you talk about jewelry that stains your skin, you're referring to the lower end of the costume jewelry spectrum.  Those are pieces made with nickel, copper, or silver, all of which react with the acidity of lotion or sweat. But metals like stainless steel, if pure, are fairly nonreactive with the skin.  In the higher quality fashion jewelry, you will often find semi-precious stones, like jade or high quality crystal.  Stones like cubic zirconia, which simulates real diamond, don’t cheapen the look of the piece and are just as durable as are precious stones.

Chanel, a major purveyor of jewelry, has costume pieces reaching prices in the thousands — with one vintage necklace made of gold-tone metal and faux pearls.  For an heirloom that you can pass on for years to come, fine jewelry is still probably your best bet.  It’s made to last for generations, using materials that are more durable in the long-term.  But costume jewelry shouldn’t cause an upturned nose.  There is much more to costume jewelry than what you may have gleaned from a first impression, and if you give it a chance you’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised.


The new trend among earring wearers is something people are calling ‘Askew Crew’ — that is to say, mismatched jewelry on either side of your face.  This style takes various forms — from different colors to different sizes, even single-earring designs that leave one ear completely bare. Maybe the next time you lose an earring, instead of pocketing the other one, you can make your own statement by leaving it in!

Some of the most well-known designers have decided to get in on this action, like Louis Vuitton, Betsey Johnson, and Oscar de la Renta. Louis Vuitton has gone all out, with a whole array of single studs from the Monogram Idylle collection. They offer simple four-petaled flowers encased in a thin-rimmed circle, dangling from a single round diamond, a piece that comes in one of three shades of gold (white, yellow, or pink). This earring can be worn as one of a set, but it also is a great statement piece as a single earring or as a mismatched pair with one of the other golds. Another option is the asymmetrical Monogram Resille, with one thin-petaled flower inscribed inside a square while its partner, a round-petaled flower, is inscribed in a circle.

Betsey Johnson takes a more playful perspective, like their mismatched partners of the Ear Cuff with Arrow: one, a silver star-shaped stud with a single diamond core, and the other heart-tipped arrow that dangles, the entire head encrusted with ten small diamonds. Oscar de la Renta, meanwhile opts for a bolder imbalance with its Swarovski Crystal Ear Cuff. Created for only one ear, this three-piece set includes separate pieces for the upper and middle part of the ear, as well as a single pearl for the lobe. If none of these feel right for you, there’s plenty more where each one came from. After all, this new wave is just getting started!

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Last week marked the launch of Nikki Erwin’s new jewelry collection, Established.  Nikki Erwin, who until now was known for her extensive handbag brand Donatienne, has decided to branch out in the fashion market. The event was hosted by actresses Erin and Sara Foster at Soho House in West Hollywood.

Erwin’s collection is made up of 14 karat and 18 karat pieces that Erwin describes as a blend of “edgy and sexy”. Pieces include a diamond torpedo necklace, pyramid dagger earrings, a “Thug Life” chunky gold ring, and many others.  Some, like a necklace in the shape of a razor blade, are studded with diamonds. Others call on religious symbolism, like the evil-eye diamond bracelet.  Although this is Erwin’s first line, she has been designing jewelry on an individual basis for nearly a decade. The recent choice to come out with a complete collection wasn’t so much of a decision as it was a natural progression.  She found herself with a sudden “influx of creativity” that simply developed into a fully functional jewelry line.  The results of this influx — well, they speak for themselves.

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Joseff Hollywood, part 2

After Eugene Joseff’s untimely death in 1948, his wife Joan filled his role in all his companies (including Joseff Precision Metal Products, which built aircraft and missile parts) until her own passing only five years ago.  With almost ninety years in the film business, Joseff-Hollywood accrued quite a collection of jewelry… not to mention an equally boastful collection of anecdotes to match!

For a trio of thieves in 1942’s The Jungle Book, Joseff created a swirling red and gold armor breastplate with faux gold faces, all studded with rhinestones. Due to the considerable amount of jumping and wrestling during scenes, the colorful rhinestones would come loose, forcing the crew to pause several times a shoot just to replace them.  In 1963’s Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor had the famous snake belt designed for her — a thick gold rope clasped by a coiled snake with an emerald crown in its head constructed specifically to her body. Enough changed between the day of measurement and the fitting that by the time Joan Joseff returned with the belt, it was 2½ inches too small. Elizabeth Taylor insisted Joseff had measured incorrectly and although Joan knew the truth (after all, she was known for her meticulous cuts) she didn’t argue.

Like her husband, who crafted heavily ornate jewelry for 67 royal children in Anna and the King of Siam as well as thousands of pieces for a treasure trove in The Jungle Book, Joan enjoyed the hard work for its own sake. Their devotion and determination to their trade are likely what carried Joseff-Hollywood to the top during Hollywood’s Golden Age of film. They left behind quite a legacy and a wealth of ornaments, each with its own glittering history.


Fashion Tips

Women’s fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar offers some basic tips and tricks for how best to accessorize:

First, keep it balanced.  Having too much at once can be visually overwhelming and may ultimately detract from the overall appearance. Don’t be afraid to suit up with an armful of bangles, but be sure to offset that with simpler jewelry everywhere else. The same goes for clothing; if you’re wearing a blouse with extra flair, like ruffles down the front, you’ll want to keep your necklace simple — a thinner chain — and forgo any ornate pendants.  And if you decide go with a wide choker or bib necklace instead, the best way to show it off is to make sure it’s your only piece.

For earrings, Harper’s explains a few simple ways to wear them, depending on your preferences. For many, earrings are casual ornaments worn day-to-day. If you plan not to change your earrings daily to match your outfit, you probably want small studs; worn on the lobe, these stones — often diamonds, but sometimes gold, silver, or pearls — add just a dash of shimmer to your outfit, and they go with anything.  The opposite alternative is a pair of chandelier earrings, long dangling earrings designed to draw attention. When you wear these, consider limiting the rest of your jewelry to give them the limelight they deserve. The middle ground between these two options is a couple of dainty drop earrings for a modest — but not overlooked — addition to your wardrobe.

One major tip for bracelet wearers is to show of your arms! Whether it’s a single elegant chain or stacks of bangles, you want to make sure your friends will see those accessories. Make sure to wear three-quarter or short sleeves, or roll up long ones so that your wrists are on display. The exception is a wide cuff, which at times can slide over long sleeves for a rather chic look.  You may think that a women’s magazine like Harper’s would extol the use of authentic gems and metals, but Harper’s is all for using costume jewelry to accent your look.

You’ll have plenty to work with, regardless of economic boundaries. Just beware of anything that appears too cheap (like a poorly made imitations) because that will cheapen your whole ensemble.


Bangle Bracelets

Nowadays, bangle bracelets adorn millions of wrists from Europe to the United States. But before it came into popular fashion to wear a score of bands up the forearm, bangles were a symbol of status in West Indian and West African cultures.  Once known under a myriad of names — manillas, okpoho, okombo, or abi — ­­ bangles could identify how wealthy a woman’s husband was.  For West Indian families, more gold in the piece indicated a higher status for the wearer.  Those who could not afford gold made bangles of copper or silver.  In West Africa, however, where the style seems to have originated, the most prestigious material to use was copper, known in Africa as the ‘red gold’.  The sound they made when clanking together also added to its value.  Later, when Portuguese merchants realized the jewelry’s significance in West African culture, bangles began to act as a form of currency.  Unfortunately, it became the primary method of payment for people sold to the Americas beginning in the 16th century.

The original form for manillas was a horseshoe-­shaped bracelet, what we often call a ‘cuff’, with a thin body tipped on either end by a rounded knob.  Now the style is as diverse as the people who wear them, from diamond-­studded to knitted to lanyard-spun. Sometimes they are family heirlooms, like the passed ­down manillas of the Caribbean, and sometimes they are ‘friendship bracelets’ passed between adolescents.  It’s clear these artifacts come in all varieties for people of all backgrounds and ages — a ‘cuff’ that links different cultures together.

Nikolai Rose

Back in 2006 Nikolai Rose was launched to cater specifically to the male population, a section of the jewelry market often disregarded. Founders Jacob Melinger and Alan Paukman design cuff-links, pins, tie bars, and an assortment of other pieces for men looking to dress with style.  Nikolai Rose demonstrates a flair for some darker themes, taking inspiration from things like chains and insects.  This handmade New York line makes jewelry from array of materials — often utilizing common metals but also dipping into sources as bizarre as bone!

One men’s ring, its thin band made from a choice of either sterling silver or yellow gold, is cut to reveal a smooth piece of bone just under the surface of the metal.  Another, like the Hand Pin, is made completely out of silver but shaped to imitate the bony structure of a skeleton hand; the pin has a deliberately rusty, rustic semblance that expresses a more ominous theme.  Despite its small niche created by providing for only half of the population, Nikolai Rose’s business does not seem to suffer.  It has expanded its stock to include bracelets and necklaces as well. Nikolai Rose’s designs appear simple, but on further inspection reveal endless intricacy, as in the brass or white-bronze Cuff Bracelet, which is shaped like a hexagon (one side absent to slip easily onto the wrist), with each side connecting to the next in an Escher-like Möbius strip illusion. With its wide range of options, it’s clear Nikolai Rose has found a corner of the market in which to excel!

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