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 Strawberry Molded Glass Fruit Leaf 3079Rhinestone Collection Vintage Jewelry Lot Juliana Weiss Schreiner Austria SetsLot 20 Pair Vintage Cluster Earrings Most Are Glass Japan Austria Coro Vintage Jewellery Rhinestone Brooch Signed Made In AustriaRhinestone Collection Vintage Jewelry Lot Juliana Ciro Weiss Austria Art DecoStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Austria Fire Opal Ab Brooch! 6185zVintage Deco Light Blue Bezel Set 38" Long Austrian Crystal Necklace Open Back Vintage Made In Austria Blue Gold Tone Round Brooch. 1.25"Vtg Swarovski 1-1/2" Brooch/pin Silver Tone Candy Cane With Austrian CrystalsStunning Vintage Gold Tone Ab Rhinestone Enamel Signed Austria Brooch!!!! 5138xVintage Z Austria Colorful Flower & Rhinestone Bouquet BroochRhinestone Collection Vintage Jewelry Lot Claudette Austria Black Pearl OpalineLot Vintage Jewelry Brooches Monet Rhinestone Trifari Austria Napier Givenchy NrVtg Signed Earrings Lot Hollycraft Trifari Florenza Austria Rhinestone JewelryVintage Enamel Screw Back Clip On Earring Lot 21prs Coro Robert AustriaFabulous Austria Vintage Alexandrite & Purple Rhinestone BraceletStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Black Beaded Made In Austria Necklace!!! 4228zSigned Austria Vintage Flower Green Rhinestone Pin Brooch Gold Tone Leaf JewelrySigned Made In Austria Vintage Scatter Brooch Pin Amber Topaz Rhinestone 4169Vintage Austria, Japanned Filigree & Black Rhinestone EarringsMarked Austria 30s Antique Red Pink Dome Rhinestone Art Deco 1.75" Vtg BroochStunning Green Austrian Crystal Pin And Earring Set Vintage Flower LeavesVtg Florenza Earrings Victorian Revival Austrian Crystals Drop/dangle Clip GoldW306 - Very Nice - Vintage - Pin/brooch - Beautiful Blue - Austria - RhinestonesVtg Signed Star Austria Rhinestone Clip On EarringsUnsigned Austria Vintage Brooch Pin Butterfly Figural Orange Rhinestone 3098Signed Austria Vintage Necklace Pendant Flower Wreath Purple Rhinestone 3392Stunning Vintage Estate Silver Tone Signed Austria Rhinestone Brooch!!! 5218fSigned Austria Vintage Brooch Pin Flower Wreath Brown Green Rhinestone 3487Vintage Signed Austrian Jet Black Faceted Glass Crystal Hand Knotted NecklaceStunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Rhinestone Flower Austria Clip Earrings! 4245oVintage Estate Gold Tone Glass Bead Signed Made In Austria Floral Brooch! 6192pVintage Austria Deep Multi Color Rhinestone Butterfly Pin Brooch Earrings SetOutstanding Vintage Austria Schoffel Signed Prong Set Brooch & Clip Earrings SetVintage Estate Gold Tone Green Rhinestone Signed Made Austria Brooch! 6185tVintage 1950-60's Colorored Rhinestone Faux Stones Brooch Retro Cool AustriaGorgeous Vintage 1950's Graduated Austrian Crystal NecklaceVintage Painted Shield Bracelet, Souvenir Of Austria, 7.5"Vintage Gold Pin Brooch Green Enamel & Rhinestones Austria (dm 0230)Stunning Vintage Gold Tone Signed Austria Ab Rhinestone Clip Earrings!!! 5216rVtg Austria Red Facet Celluloid Beaded Brass 2 Row Necklace Sgn Bangle BraceletVintage Austrian Pin / Brooch Earrings Rootbeer, Orange Topaz, & RhinestonesRare 1" Vtg Signed Austria White Frosted Molded Glass Japanned Peach Fruit Pin!Vintage Austria Fruits Rhinestone Pin Cherries Apples EarringVintage Pretty Star Burst Spakling Austria Rhinestone PinVintage Signed Made In Austria Yellow Moonglow Glass & Rhinestones Sweet Pin Vintage Karu Arke Blue Stones On Gold Brooch Pin AustriaVtg Signed Austria Clear Crystal Rhinestone Cluster Clip Earrings Ex.cond.Signed Austria Vintage Ab Ruby Red Rhinestone Clip Earrings Gold Tone Jewelry Vintage Floral Wreath Brooch, Pink Rhinestones, Gold Tone, Stamped AustriaVintage Enamel Pin Brooch Estate Signed Made In Austria Beads GlassVintage Designer Austrian Crystal Pin Brooch Floral Basket Costume Jewelry Stunning Vintage Estate Silver Tone Rhinestone Signed Austria Earrings!! 6217lStunning Vintage Estate Silver Tone Rhinestone Austria Made Clip Earrings! 4245fMade In Austria Multi Colored Enamel & Rhinestone Floral Costume Pin Brooch 7gVintage Crown Schoffel Austria Green Pink Crystal Rhinestone Flower Pin BroochAmethyst/lavender Austrian Crystal Brooch: Naked Eye Antiques And CollectiblesVintage Lot Of 6 Made In Austria Brooches/pins/rhinestonesVintage Crosby Austria Rhinestone Set Necklace Earrings Original BoxVintage Signed Austria Midnight Blue Pale Gold Rhinestone Circular Dome Earrings