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Return of the Celluloid Rhinestone and Old Paste

February 16, 1990|SUZANNE STONE | Stone, a free-lance writer, regularly contributes to the Times fashion pages

Vintage jewelry is having its moment--again. Ask Joan Collins, Diana Ross, Cher, Farrah Fawcett. All of them are clients of Connie Parente, a jewelry collector who lately has supplied the stars, and anybody else who likes the aging baubles, from her Ali Baba-like studio in Los Angeles. Madonna, who was covered with Parente's trinkets for her "Material Girl" music video, picked up another stash for a new video in the works.

Consequently, Parente has made a living out of a childhood passion. Growing up in St. Louis she played with costume jewelry from the '20s and '30s that her mother's friends passed on to her. At the local department store she made a beeline to the estate jewelry counter.

"I always loved old stuff," she says, "the voluptuous, romantic pieces. Finally I couldn't stand it; it drove me crazy. I just wanted jewelry."

In 1969 when she moved to Los Angeles, a career was born. To make a living and do what she loved, she began going to flea markets and swap meets where she would buy, and later resell.

She collected rhinestone bracelets from the '20s made from the same celluloid as movie film. Later the material was declared illegal because of its flammability. Now, celluloid rhinestones are very rare. She bought Bakelite plastic jewelry from the '30s and '40s, now prized by collectors.

The serious collector buys with an eye toward design, color and craftsmanship, Parente says.

The hottest name these days is Miriam Haskell, whose '40s pearls and baroque-style jewelry has skyrocketed in price in the last year and a half, Parente explains.

Parente's first rule of flea market shopping for jewelry is this: be sure stones are securely set and clasps work. Repair jobs can cost more than the original purchase.

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