When it comes to jewelry, copper is the poor cousin to gold and sterling silver. Indeed, many people associate copper with speaker wire, plumbing supplies, or, at best, its alloys, which are brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper and tin). But copper is a handsome metal in its own right, whose malleability makes it easy to form into bracelets, bangles, earrings, necklaces, and brooches. Whether polished to a high sheen, enamelled, or chosen as the backdrop for one or more signature stones, copper can hold its own in even the most gold-and-silver laden jewelry box.

Among collectors of costume jewelry, copper is usually associated with Jerry Fels, who founded Renoir of California in 1946 and Matisse Ltd. in 1952. Renoir pieces took their inspiration from the Arts and Crafts era, when copper was a favorite of artisans producing hammered hollowware. Renoir was known for its solid copper cuffs, as well as its hinged bangles. Decorations on these pieces ranged from twisted strands of copper wire, mimicking the look of rope, to spring-like wire coils that were gently flattened and then polished to produce rows of what appeared to be semi-circular loops.

In fact, playing with geometry was a favorite preoccupation of Renoir designers. The company’s “swiss cheese” bangles came in several styles, some featuring a wide ribbon of copper that had been punctured by holes, others flipping this effect so that the holes stood paradoxically in relief on their copper base. Squares and rectangles, chunky arrows and angle-shapes, and balls of various size were also incorporated in Renoir pieces, as were leaf shapes and other floral motifs.

One of Renoir’s most recognizable designs is the brooch-and-earrings demi-parure based on an artist’s palette, complete with brushes in the thumb hole. This same design would be updated by Matisse, with enamelling on the surface of the palette to differentiate it from the copper brushes. Matisse palettes came in shades of red, orange, green, and blue.

Like the palettes, Matisse’s maple leaf demi-parures were anchored by a uniform copper outline—in this case, a leaf with a stem that ends in a hypnotizing spiral—with different enamel treatments on top. Of these, the ones that paired gold, blue, or red with black, plus accents of copper berries sitting in relief on the surface of the leaves, are especially memorable.

Although copper jewelry is generally considered costume or fashion jewelry because copper is a base metal rather than a precious one, some fine jewelers and artists have made copper their own. Foremost among these were New York modernist jewelers Sam Kramer, Art Smith, and Francisco Rebajes.

Like many of his postwar contemporaries, Kramer worked primarily in silver, but he also fashioned rings, earrings, and pins out of copper, which he sometimes combined with found ...

Rebajes often took a more figurative approach, producing some copper pins and earrings that resembled primitive mask-like faces. One example of his economical use of his chosen material was the way he created hair from a long dogleg of copper attached to the rest of a face. Sometimes the dogleg would be coiled tight, as if to suggest a curl at the top of the head, other times it would dangle by the side of the face, crimped to resemble waves.

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    

Vintage  1950's - 1960's Modernist Orange Enamel BraceletVintage Necklace Copper Renoir Matisse Green Enamel EnameledVintage Matisse Renoir Copper Jewelry Set -matching Necklace,bracelet & EarringsBakelite Antique Vintage Copper Detail Classic Fleur De Lis Pumpkin Brooch B2Gold Enamel Matisse Copper Necklace Uncommon Art Deco Flower Vtg Renoir Jewelry1988 Alisha Designer Signed Modernist Hammered Copper Cuff BraceletRenoir Double Rectangular Necklace 18" Long Mid Century ModernSigned Copper Bell Vintage Belt Buckle 1881 Silver Dollar Coin Flower Leaf 3349Lovely Vintage~signed Renoir Copper Tone Cuff Bracelet, Necklace, Earring Set~Signed Vintage Matisse White Enamel Copper Egyptian Revival Peter Pan NecklaceMid Century Rebajes Signed Copper Sun And Moon Pendant Necklace 18.5 Inch ChainRare Vintage Rebajes Signed Modernist Face Copper Pendant Dimensional KineticsVintage Renoir Copper NecklaceVintage Copper Enamel Matisse Renoir Modernist Bracelet Red White Green BlueAntique Vintage Signed Rebajes Copper Jeweled Teardrop Earrings Screw-on See PicVintage Signed Renoir Copper Bangle BraceletVintage Mid-century Copper Hinged Rhythm Cuff Bracelet - 50's Renoir ModernistVintage Chinese Coral Lapis Turquoise Carnelian Rose Quartz Copper Leaf Pin Matisse Enamel Necklace OrangeVintage Clear Resin Bracelet With Gold Silver And Copper FlakesMatisse "peter Pan" Bracelet & Earring Set Enamel Copper Nice L@@k!!Vintage Copper Bracelet Marked Renoir, Estate SaleVintage Signed Renoir Copper Artist Palette Brooch1950's Vintage Renoir Modernist Geometric Copper Clip On EarringsVintage Renoir Copper Set Cuff Bracelet Clip Earrings Mid Century Copper SpokesModernist Renoir Matisse Copper Enamel Earring Lot 3 Pairs Turquoise Green Vintage Copper Jewelry Lot 11 Pc Necklace Bracelet Earrings Pin Demi Parure SetVintage Kay Denning White Purple Red Blue Copper Enamel Bracelet Brooch SetVintage Renoir Designer Signed Modernist Copper 1/2 " Wide Hoop EarringsVintage Beautiful Copper Bangle BraceletAntique 1950's Genuine Copper Floral Filigree Heavy Cuff Bangle BraceletVintage Signed Renoir Copper Palette Clip EarringsVintage Signed Enameled Copper Necklace & Earrings SetVintage 1950's/60's Holy Grail Warehouse Find Copper Tone Earrings Rv 37Enamel Copper Lot 5 Pin Vintage Chunky Large Figural Bird Farm Scenes Colorful Vintage Copper Coated Graduated 8 Strand 27.5” Chain Deco Bib Necklace N78Signed Matisse Renoir Copper & Enamel Pin - Interesting Shape - Corn?Brass Copper Vintage Now Lot Craft Junk Jewelry Lb Parts Wear Repair J25Renoir / Matisse Enamel On Copper Clip Earrings --1 1/2" -excellentVintage Copper BraceletVintage Venetian Art Glass Lampwork Murano Copper Foil Dust Mica 12k Gf NecklaceAbstract Copper & Enamel Brooch & Stationary Pinch Bail For Chain Orange EnamelVintage Unsigned Collar Choker Necklace & Faux Gemstone Copper Coated No ReserveVintage Copper Coated Steel Thick Rope 9mm Chain 18" Deco Necklace V821Large Vintage Art Deco Copper Brooch Pin Geometric Sunburst Vintage "1928 Boutique" Antique-style 3 Strand Layered Copper-toned NecklaceAuction 1.99 Copper Snake Coil Necklace Bracelet Ring Wrap N E U Want Unique!Matisse Vintage Copper And Red Enamel NecklaceMid Century Modern Copper Choker Necklace Nice DesignCoiled Copper Earrings Vintage Clips RenoirVintage Copper Repousse Art Nouveau Flower Link BraceletVintage Earrings Copper Renoir Mint On Card Moc LookVintage Copper Bracelets Lot, One Signed Matisse/renoirVintage Large Heavy Braided Copper Cuff BraceletCopper Brass Metal Rhinestone Purple Glass Lg Pendant Necklace 26"Vintage Copper And Enamel Clip On Earings Signed Matisse, Green LeafVintage White Glass/copper Colour Bead Triple Row Necklace Filigree Bead CapsCopper Brass Simple Heart Design Link Chain Bracelet 7"Vintage Earrings Signed Gret Barkim Copper Modernist Retro ScrewbackVintage Penny Coin Cuff Bracelet Pretty! I64p76