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    

Signed Austria Vintage Brooch Pin Purple Pear Glow Leaf Rhinestone Fruit U79Signed Austria Vintage Brooch Pin Peach Leaf Rhinestone Branch Fruit U71Gorgeous Huge Vtg Unsigned Austria All Ab Glass Rhinestone Brooch Pin!! Lo172Deco Vintage Estate Jewelry Lot Weiss Sterling Bakelite Austria RhinestonesLot 6 Vtg Mourning Jet Beads Black Faceted Glass Crystal Austrian Long NecklacesStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6173b45+pc Signed Rhinestone Jewelry Mix Lot #1b Austria Trifari Pcraft Monet FlowersStunning Vintage Estate Blue Rhinestone Signed Austria Detail Earrings!!! 6132jVintage Swarovski Clear Austrian 8mm Crystal Channel Bezel Set Signed BraceletVintage Estate Signed Austria Ind Knotted Double Strand Glass Necklace!!! 6131kVintage Art Deco Austrian Crystal Memory Choker And Bracelet SetDazzling Signed Austria Topaz Forest Green Rhinestone Starburst Design BroochVtg Unsigned Austria Crystal Sapphire Rhinestone Crown Royal Brooch Pin Q2Stunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Gold Tone Red Rhinestone Earrings!! 6126pVintage Catherine Popesco Green Enamel Austrian Crystals Filigree Flower BroochStrawberry Brooch Pin Austria Red Glass Navette Rhinestone Jewelry Vintage Ww713Stunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Rhinestone Clip Earrings Minty!!! G413Vintage Austrian Crystal Signed Glass Rhinestone Circle Silver Turtle Brooch LotVtg Unsigned Austria Crystal Open Back Chandelier Cluster Brooch Rhinestone Q45Vintage Sky-blue Rhinestone Turtle Pin AustriaVintage Austria Signed Black Diamond Tiered Flower Gray Ab Brooch Pin ChunkyVintage Signed Hattie Carnegie Rhinestone & Turquoise Brooch Austria EarringsStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6166kVintage Swarovski Black Austrian Crystal Vintage Earrings Clip-on ChandelierVintage Jet Black Glass Austrian Bead Necklaces44+pc Signed Rhinestone Jewelry Mix Lot #1c Judy Lee Austria Trifari Monet CoroVintage Estate Silver Tone Signed Austria Blue Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6131xStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Orange Rhinestone Demi Set!! 6162iStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Gold Tone Rhinestone Earrings!!! 6161iVintage 1950s Made In Austria Signed Floral Pin In Silvertone With Purple GlassStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Rhinestone Bow Brooch Minty!!! G500Stunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Earrings!!! 6165eStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Silver Tone Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6155aAustria Dark Green & Clear Rhinestone Flower Clip On Earrings Silver ToneStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Gold Tone Rhinestone Burst Brooch!! 6157nStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Green Rhinestone Brooch!! 6177lVintage Estate Caterpillar Signed Genuine Austrian Crystal Brooch!!! 5270jStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Flower Signed Austria Brooch!!! 6161aStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Gold Tone Detailed Brooch!!! 6157tSigned Made In Austria Pearl Rhinestone Gold Metal Christmas Tree Pin BroochVintage Austria Ice Ax Edelweiss Cowbell Hat Pin Lapel Brooch 1 1/2" X 1 1/8"Vintage Marked Austria Rhinestone Pin~gold Tone Green & Ab Rhinestones~2 9/16"Vintage Ab Rhinestone Paisley Shaped Golden Clip On Earrings From Austria Vintage Austria Rhinestone Deep Blue Brooch PinStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Gold Tone Rhinestone Brooch!!! 6155cStunning Vintage Estate Signed Austria Rhinestone Enamel Earrings!!! 6187g2 Vintage Austria Clear Crystals Rhinestone Pin BroochAustria Orange Faceted Stone Clip On Earrings & Brooch Gold Tone SetGrandmas Estate Beautiful Austria Rhinestone Brooch