MIX AND MATCH: Miriam Haskell collage statement necklace, $900; J. Crew… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
Long before the economy slipped into its current swoon, stylish women understood the joys of high-quality costume jewelry.
Coco Chanel made the look of luxury accessible by reproducing the fine jewelry from her personal collection with faux materials. Former First Lady Barbara Bush famously donned a Kenneth Jay Lane faux pearl choker to wear to one of her husband's inauguration ceremonies. And on recent red carpets, celebrities have been wearing costume pieces that make a statement just like the real thing, and sometimes even better.
Now some of that quality is coming to the masses. Indeed, with the increase in design and quality of the jewelry found in mall stores such as J. Crew and Ann Taylor, and a steady stream of high-low designer collaborations at stores such as H&M and Target, "faux" is far from the four-letter word it used to be.
"I love costume jewelry," says celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez, whose client, Rachel Bilson, recently wore a striking, jade-enamel necklace from Chanel's costume jewelry collection. "I find [it] to be a great accessory for the red carpet, because it's less formal and more accessible." Chavez, who also dresses Kristen Bell and Scarlett Johansson, favors costume jewelry from Marni and House of Lavande when styling her starlets for movie premieres and parties.
Designer Melinda Spigels' costume jewelry line applies the same techniques in setting and stone cutting as those used in making fine jewelry. Her series of costume pieces, called Melinda Maria, has been a favorite of celebrities, including Vanessa Hudgens and Julia Roberts.
Spigel started her collection as a fine jewelry line but quickly realized that she could design more pieces and be more creative by cutting back on her use of precious materials. The result is a series of earrings, cuffs and large necklaces that blur the line between faux and fine, stumping even some of the most seasoned jewelry connoisseurs.
"Some of my private customers come in and start putting on costume pieces right next to their $150,000 bracelet," Spigel says.
This season, it should be easy to brighten a holiday look. Club Monaco and J. Crew have heaps of vintage-inspired baubles that add character to a simple black dress or blouse. Ann Taylor's striking offerings include elastic rhinestone bracelets, which are especially eye-catching when mixed with gold bracelets.
Though these pieces sell for $60 to $150, prices can certainly climb much higher. Necklaces from Miriam Haskell sell for closer to $1,000, but those who own them believe they are the ultimate statement makers. The pieces have a strong vintage inspiration, with a feeling that is reminiscent of styles that were popular when the company was founded -- in 1929. The creations are heavily textured, with mixed materials and unexpected flourishes on pieces that include bracelets and brooches.
To duplicate these pieces -- or any of the current, stylish offerings -- with platinum, gold or precious gems would place them out of reach of most holiday revelers. It's good to know we can still sparkle and pay the mortgage.