Costume jewelry was popularized in the 1930s for practical reasons. Women often possessed valuable pieces that were passed down from mother to daughter as family heirlooms. It was too risky to wear these pieces due to potential damage, loss, and theft, so consumers had replicas made from cheaper materials for everyday wear. The practice of creating faux jewelry became popular because women could expand their jewelry collections for versatility and wardrobe accessorizing without spending a fortune on fine pieces. Costume jewelry became fashionable accessories for commoners who could not afford valuable metals and precious stones.
The name "costume jewelry" stems from its use in stage performances. In theatrical plays, directors wanted the audience to see the dazzling jewelry, but the cost of real pieces was not feasible for most productions. Prop departments created costume jewelry with faux gems and sparkling rhinestones that the audience could see and the budget could afford. The fake jewelry also prevented theft among cast and crew members. During the early development of costume jewelry, women paid jewelers to craft pieces to be worn with only one outfit. This tradition differs from modern consumers who purchase jewelry to match a variety of outfits that they own. Costume jewelry made the practice of buying fashionable pieces for individual outfits more affordable. Consumers could buy fake jewelry for the purpose of fashion and purchase new pieces as trends shifted.
Fashion jewelry is the evolution of costume jewelry and differs only slightly in its intended use. This type gained popularity in the 1980s as young women wore fashion jewelry to make statements to symbolize their status and power. The term "fashion jewelry" is more recent than "costume jewelry" and incorporates fun and playful styles. Consumers wear this type to dress up outfits and follow current fashion trends. Fashion jewelry styles are constantly changing as new trends emerge whereas costume jewelry encompasses timeless pieces that are now considered vintage or antique. Some fashionable women prefer fashion jewelry over higher end pieces because they can spend less money on jewelry that will only be in style for a season or two.
Fine jewelry is typically made with precious materials such as gold, diamonds, and pearls. It is distinct from fashion jewelry, which tends to be made from inexpensive, commonplace materials such as brass. Fine jewelry often costs quite a bit more than costume jewelry, but not always. Designers have begun offering more affordable versions of existing pieces, for example using silver rather than white gold, bringing prices down but still allowing them to market their pieces as fine jewelry.
The terms ‘fashion jewelry’, ‘costume jewelry’ and ‘fine jewelry’ have often been used interchangeably. However, although subtle, they differ in the period they were introduced and according to their purpose. Therefore, evolving style statements and purposes of jewelry have not only led to an evolution of the designs of the jewelry but also the terminology of the different types of jewelry, which in turn reflect these evolutions.