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 Mid Century Modernist Matisse Renoir Pale Blue Enamel On Copper NecklaceVintage Renoir Matisse Signed Black Red Enamel Copper Nefertiti Fringe NecklaceStunning Vintage Estate Signed Renoir Copper Cuff 6" Bracelet!!! 5191m Lia Sophia Vintage Artesia Amethyst Copper Bracelet, Necklace,earrings SetVintage Renoir Matisse Copper/ Blue Enamel Peter Pan Choker NecklaceCopper Color Jewelry Lot Necklaces Earrings Bracelets Medallions As IsVintage Mid-century Modernist Renoir Copper Bib Fringe Cleopatra Necklace Vintage Solid Copper Necklace, Choker Style, Unbranded, Stunning Kenneth Jay Lane Signed Kjl Double Giraffe Heads Bangle Bracelet Copper EnamelVintage Sergio Lub Signed Copper Cuff Bracelet Silver InlayTimna Copper Mines Floral Leaf Design Cuff Bracelet, New2 Gorgeous Vintage Takahashi Hand Painted Wooden Birds Pair Cardinal Mint Cond.Vintage Signed Matisse Renoir Copper Enamel Hinged Clamper Bracelet & EarringsVintage Rare Huge Copper Brass Dangle Earrings By Kate Hines Tribal Beads FabVintage Enamel On Copper Cuff Bracelet & Clip Earrings Set Signed MatisseGorgeous Vintage Takahashi Hand Painted Wooden Bird Yellow Blue Mint Cond.Vintage 1950'5/1960's Bold Geometric Copper Link Bracelet Mid Century RenoirPididdly Links Vintage Charm NecklaceJob Lot Vintage / Antique Silver Tone & Copper Brooches Inc Sarah Coventry X 23Renoir Vintage Solid Copper Beautiful 18" Long Necklace, + Cuff Bracelet SignedVintage Mid Century Matisse Copper And Enamel Butterfly Pin Brooch2 Gorgeous Vintage Takahashi Hand Painted Wooden Birds Pair Bluebird Mint Cond.Vintage Signed Rebajes 1950's Copper Leaf Segmented Bracelet, 7" Length, 1" WideVintage Large Smoky Quartz Cuff Bracelet~copper, Silver, Brass Artsy Find NrSigned Renoir Large Copper Flower Pendant Chain Necklace Wow ! Dealer Lot 16 Pair Cufflinks Toggle Vintage Jewelry Copper Enamel Horse Jade EtcVintage Modernist Large Bronze Copper Abstract Flower Link Necklace Bracelet SetLarge Vintage-now Costume Cocktail Estate Antique Ring Lot All TypesGrandmas Estate Beautiful Western Chunky Copper Bracelet Grandmas Estate Beautiful Western Chunky Copper Bracelet Sergio Lub California Rainbow Wave Magnetic Copper Therapy Cuff Bracelet Pre-owned Copper Cuff Bracelet Bear Paw PatternVtg Brass & Copper Cross Pendant Cannetille - Filigree Antique Etruscan DesignMonet Vintage Antique Cross Faux Pearl Black Enamel Brooch Pin Costume JewelryVtg. Unsigned Renoir/matisse Layered Geometric Copper Cuff Bracelet Earring SetGrandmas Estate Beautiful Western Copper NecklaceVintage Renoir Modernist Copper Sputnik Starburst Flower Pin Pendant NecklaceHigh End Vintage Estate Enamel Flower Bridal Bouquet Brooch Pin Jewelry Lot AVintage 50's Modernist Wide Abstract Floral Copper Clamper Hinged Cuff Bracelet Vintage Lot 5 Copper Link Necklaces Unisex Mens Ladies NosVintage Renoir Modernist Signed Copper Abstract Peter Pan Bracelet Earring SetVintage Lot 4 Copper Link Bracelets W Chunky Mens Ladies Nos NwtVintage Renoir Matisse Modernist Red Enamel Butterfly Copper Figural Pin BroochStunning Vintage Estate Signed Renoir Copper Spiral Clip 1 1/4" Earrings!! 5152tVintage Lot Of 12 Misc. Copper & Brass Costume Jewelry Pieces - Wear/repair Rebaj Signed Brooch Pin Copper 2.5 X 2" Two Leaf Design Hammered Edge $70 RetailArts Crafts Intricate Enamel & Copper Home Water Boat Scene Vintage Antique NrTurquoise Tone Southwest Style Jewelry Lot * Alpaca Mexico * Natural Gemstones High End Vintage Estate Enamel Flower Butterfly Bridal Bouquet Brooch Pin Lot AVintage 13pc Copper Brass Alpaca Lot-southwestern Ers Bangle Wood Bone+Retro Chunky Juliana Copper Ring Loaded With Rhinestones Sz 7 1/2Vintage Copper 70" Seed Bead Flapper Lariet Necklace Belt High End Vintage Estate Enamel Flower Bridal Bouquet Brooch Pin Jewelry Lot AHigh End Vintage Estate Enamel Rhinestone Flower Bouquet Brooch Jewelry Lot AHigh End Vintage Estate Enamel Flowers Bridal Bouquet Brooch Pin Jewelry Lot AVintage Copper Silver Pewter Brooch Pin Trio Of Smiling Cats Mid-centuryRenior Vintage Copper Clip-on EarringsHigh End Vintage Estate Enamel Rhinestone Flower Bouquet Brooch Jewelry Lot AHigh Quality Vintage Square Enamelled Brooch Fish Design Signed Piece CopperStunning Enamel Copper Jewellery With Sparkling Rhinestones Flower Brooch Pin