During the Georgian Period, the Austro-Hungarian Empire established itself as a place to buy jewelry of the highest craftsmanship. In the 1800s, jewelers of the region, which became a center for glass artisans, started to combine their elaborate filigreed metalwork in silver and gold-tone with shimmering experimental pastes (glass stones), semi-precious stones, seed pearls, and brightly colored enamels in ostentatiously regal pieces. These Renaissance Revival pieces, like intricate pendants depicting the legend of St. George and The Dragon or ornate paste chandelier earrings, are highly sought-after today.

Thanks to one Daniel Swarovski, who invented the modern rhinestone, Austria has an enduring place in costume jewelry history. The 19th century glass cutter and jeweler, originally from Bohemia, developed a special foil backing that gave his cut leaded glass the appearance of diamonds. His multi-faceted crystals were such a hit, in 1892 he patented an electric glass cutter so his factory could produce these "gemstones" in significant numbers.

In 1895, Swarovski moved his company from Bohemia (now known as the Czech Republic) to Austria, and his sons joined his company in the early 1900s. All the top 20th century costume jewelers in the U.S. and around the world—including Eisenberg, Joseff of Hollywood, Trifari, and Sherman—have used Swarovski crystals, as they are considered the finest and most brilliant rhinestones available.

Prior to Swarovski's move, around 1890, a group of Viennese artists inspired by the Art Nouveau movement emerging in France called themselves Secessionists and began to openly dismiss the frilly, Rococo adornments of the past. These architects, sculptors, and painters (including Gustav Klimt) rejected the country's proud historical traditions, which they felt were stifling new artistic expression, and embraced the sinewy, organic lines of Art Nouveau.

Secessionist designers Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser, backed by financier Fritz Warndorfer, established the artist cooperative Wiener Werkstätte in 1903. This influential group was known for its symmetrical geometric forms and works of art in contrasting black and white. These aesthetic motifs appeared in Wiener Werkstätte furniture, glassware, pottery, metalwork, and jewelry. Foreshadowing the Art Deco style of the '20s, the jewelry pieces, often made from enamel and metal, had clean, eye-popping lines that made them elegant in a way that worked for both dressy and casual outfits.

Coco Chanel's 1920s concept of "costume jewelry" gave Austria's rhinestone industry a tremendous boost. Naturally, local jewelers took advantage of this resource, too. Austrian firm Schoffel & Co. began producing top-notch, precisely set crystal costume jewelry in the 1930s, each piece marked with a crown, often accompanied with the words "Austria" or "Made in Austria." Schoffel jewelry, made until the 1960s, is now difficult to find and coveted by collectors.

Austria entered its darkest period in 1938, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. Many countries banned jewelry from Nazi-occupied regions, so Austria produced very litt...

When the restrictions on manufacturing Czech and Austrian pastes, or rhinestones, was finally lifted, glass makers returned to producing "gems" in a marvelous rainbow of colors. These vivid rhinestones were often cut into large, obviously fake stones and worn in showy bib necklaces popular in the early 1950s. That same decade, Swarovski introduced its "aurora borealis" rhinestones, diamanté crystals with a special iridescent sheen. New innovations also led to machines that could cut rectangular and baguette-shaped stones, which Schoffel would set in trademark arrays.

Postwar, a newly prosperous America was crazed with consumerism, and a particular taste for whimsy. That's why, during the late '40s and '50s, Austria began manufacturing glass fruit pins almost exclusively for export to the U.S. These little brooches, made of glass that was molded or carved into the shapes of strawberries, pears, cherries, or bunches of grapes, came in vivid colors like scarlet, violet, tangerine, amber, cobalt, and emerald green.

Using Swarovski's foil-backing technique, these pieces have an even deeper shine. The stems and leaves tend be silver, gilt, or japanned metal, but those with leaves made of navette-cut or enamel crystals are even more valuable. Some fruit pins even came with matching earrings, and particularly rare pairs are marked "Germany."

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Researching Costume Jewelry

Researching Costume Jewelry

Jewelry lovers, venture through this amazing database of vintage jewelry articles, catalogs, and brochures, as well… [read review or visit site]

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

It looks like we're not in Kansas anymore with Elizabeth Rowlands' site on vintage costume jewelry from the 1940s a… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice 61 Vintage Jewelry Sets-made Germany,austria,coro,celebrity,cto Sterling ++Signed Austria Vintage Earrings Ruby Red Glass Rhinestone Flower Fruit Leaf 6102Gorgeous Big Vtg Austria Ab Aqua Glass Rhinestone Brooch Pin Re544Exquisite Large Vtg All Ab Sapphire Glass Rhinestone Brooch Set Austria? Re544Vtg Gold Austrian Crystal Necklace Golden Amber Triple Strand Adj Choker GermanyVintage Michaela Frey Austrian Enamel Flower Designer Brooch 70s Art NouveauVintage Signed Austria Molded Glass Double Red Raspberry Fruit Pin BroochVintage Pair Michaela Frey Austria Pink Enamel Bangle BraceletStunning Vintage Gold Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Circle Brooch!!! 6342uVtg Juliana Style Austrian Rhinestone Brooch Crystal Bead Tassel Necklace LotVintage Jewelry Box Sterling Austria And Other Awesome BeautiesVintage Carnival Peacock Glass Necklace 1950's Austrian Crystal Signed1950's Foreign Coin Charm Bracelet - India, Austria, South Africa, Mexico5 Piece Vintage Rhinestone Fruit Brooch Lot - Austria*outstanding* Vtg Swarovski Austrian Crystal Teardrop Aurora Borealis Necklace Vintage Signed Austria Austrian Fruit Pin Brooch Green ApplesVintage Efbi Austria Amber & Clear Crystal Floral BroochVintage Pasadena Jewelry Fantastic Earrings Signed Austria Enamel Beaded MetalVintage Pistol Gun Revolver Tie Clip Bar Clasp 1.5" 4cm Austria Made Silver ToneStunning Vintage Estate Signed Made In Austria Pink Rhinestone Earrings! 5302rSigned Austria Vintage Brooch Pin Flower Sky Blue Rhinestone Gold Tn Repair 3021Necklace Bezel Set Austrian Crystal Usa Aurora Borealis Iridescent 34" W/ PearlsVintage Designer Michaela Frey Austria Art Nouveau Pink Enamel Bangle Bracelet Vintage Genuine Swarovski Austrian Clear Bezel Cluster Pierced EarringsVintage Austria Gold Tone Multicolored Rhinestone Insect Bug Brooch/pin K19Vintage Austria Signed Gold Tone Floral Rhinestone Brooch Estate Collection2 Strand Aurora Borealis Ab Faceted Cut Glass Crystal Necklace Austria EarringsStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Clip Earrings! 6373mVt Brooch Pin Signed Austria Flower Art Nouveau Rhinestone Chunky Crystal Wow174Vtg Venetian Blue Sommerso Aventurine W/ Austrian Crystal Beads Necklace, Murano2 Vintage Austrian Enamel Pin By Michaela Frey Both In Excellent ConditionVintage Austria Breathtaking Rhinestone Brooch Vibrant Ab & Red Rhinestones Vintage Austrian Blue And Clear Cyrstal Brooch Pin And Clip On Earrings MarkedBeautiful Red Austrian Crystal Necklace And Bracelet Vtg Austria Topaz & Clear Rhinestones & Faux Pearls Goldtone BraceletVintage Austria Clear Rhinestone Nosegay - Silver Tone SettingVintage Signed Made In Austria Blue Rhinestone EarringsVintage Made In Austria Dark Gold Tone Metal & Red Rhinestone Domed PendantStunning Vintage Gold Tone Ab Rhinestone Flower Signed Austria Brooch!!! 6342iVintage Gold Tone Rhinestone Enamel Flower Signed Austria Clip Earrings!! 6353nSign Austria Vintage Earring Clip Flower Clear Rhinestone Silver Tn Wedding 3263Antique Austria Austrian Crystal Filigree Pendant Necklace SignedAustria Purple Crystal Round Clip Earrings Round 1" Gold Tone Very NiceVintage Smokey Grey Faceted Unfoiled Rivoli Austrian Crystal Clip On Earrings*austrian Pink Flowers/pearl/rhinestones PinVintage Austria Signed Rhinestone Dangle Clip On Earrings So ElegantGold Toned Necklace Chain With Genuine Austrian Crystal Pendant, Mint In Box!Dazzling Vintage Gold Tone Signed Made Austria Pink Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6356lVintage Austria Silver Tone Prongset Rhinestone Floral Earrings Clip On 5/8"