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-now Turquoise & Coral Tone Southwest Jewelry Lot * Copper Silver LuckyVintage Matisse Renoir Copper & Enamel Retro Modernist Bracelet Collectors PieceVintage Austria Pink Art Glass Rhinestone Brooch & Earrings Set2 Antique Vintage Enamel On Copper Brooch Green Art Deco EraVtg Navajo Indian Copper Brass Sterling Silver Twisted Men’s Cuff Bracelet 1930sVintage Marjorie Baer Sf Earrings Copper Brass 1938 Coins San Francisco Unique!!Vintage Necklace Pendant Yellow Enamel Flower Big Copper ModernistVintage Kay Denning Wide Copper Enamel Bracelet White Blue Leaves SignedVintage Renoir Copper Necklace, Bracelet And Earrings Set Renoir Modernist Copper Bracelet. Vintage In Seattle Auctions: Beautiful Copper Concho Belt Or NecklaceVintage In Seattle Auctions: Great Bracelet Renoir Signed Handmade Copper Cuff3d Vintage Chunky Copper Carved Soapstone Mayan Aztec Inca Glass Bead NecklaceStunning Vintage Estate Signed Renoir Copper Flower Cab Brooch!!! 6917vVintage Bracelet Earrings Set Confetti Lucite Glitter Copper Tone TennisVintage Bracelet Tennis Copper Colored Lucite Glittery Gold Tone Jewelry Lot AVtg J Crew Copper White Freshwater Pearl Semi Precious Stone Cluster NecklaceVtg Wide Heavy Cast Navajo Indian Solid Copper Engraved Torque Cuff Bracelet 30sVintage Matisse Renoir Copper Retro Modernis Brooch Pin & Earrings Very Nice!Vintage Pin Lot - Fun, Animals, Enamel, Mice, Horse, Scotty Dogs, Copper!Vintage Necklace Choker Copper Leaf Renoir? Flower Southwest Native S59Vintage Renoir Style Embossed Modernest Leaf Copper Link Panel BraceletVintage Mid Century Copper Tone White Gold Foil Glass Rhinestone Brooch PinVintage Costume Jewelry Lot Funky Statement Red Copper Belt Necklace As IsVintage Copper Renoir NecklaceStunning Vintage Estate Flower Signed Kate Hines Copper Glass Brooch!!! 6910fVintage 1928 Copper Tone Dragonfly Brooch Pin Pink Rhinestone Enamel JewelryVintage Copper Swirl Necklace And Earring SetStunning Vintage Estate Multi Colored Enameled Copper Bracelet!!! 6910xVtg Matisse Renoir Artist Palette Copper & Enamel Brooch & Clip Earrings Set Vintage Renoir Copper Demi Parure "ebony Lace" Choker Necklace & Bracelet SetVintage Renoir Matisse Copper & Enamel Clip EarringsTribal Mask Copper Earrings. Mid Century Modernistic, Unsigned RebajesRenoir Signed Vintage Wide Copper Hinged Cuff Bangle BraceletLot Of 2 Vintage Solid Copper Cuff Bracelets #861aVintage Retro Atomic Space Age Mixed Copper Jewelry Lot Earrings Bracelet CharmVintage Sterling Silver Bracelet Lot #1Vintage Marjorie Baer Sf Mixed Media Clip Disc Earrings With Multiple DanglesLovely Lot Of Vintage Copper Enamel JewelryVintage Copper Cuff Bracelet With Cut Work CenterVtg Signed Solid Copper Huge Turquoise Cabochon Pendant Necklace Southwest I772eVintage High Quality Copper Repousse Cameo Brooch Pendant Necklace Greek Key D14Stunning Vintage Estate Signed Maltese Enameled Copper Painter Earrings!!! 6913sVintage Brooch Pin Flower Bow Clear Rhinestone Copper Gold Jewelry Lot JVtg Antique Navajo Indian Copper Sterling Silver Twisted 20’s Mens Cuff BraceletBerebi! Southwestern Enameled Copper Vintage Pierced Dangling Earrings!Vintage Brooch Pin Modernist Copper Cat Kitten Jewelry Lot JVintage Rare Whimsical Pedro Pujol Face Brooch - Pin Vintage Lady Tribal Face Copper Tone Metal Ceramic Glazed Mask Brooch ModernistVintage 7pc Copper Brass Lot-4 Cuff Bangle Bracelets Tigers Eye 2 Brooches PinsVintage Matisse Renoir Copper Enamel Brooch Clip Earrings Set Free Shipping UsaVintage Copper BraceletEstate Vtg*art Deco Copper Green Tribal Mask W Headdress Brooch & Earrings SetRenoir Matisse Copper Enameled Clip EarringsModern Estate Copper Tone Green Enamel Rhienstone Flower Necklace!!! 2108y2 Vintage C Clasp Brooches Sterling And Copper Bar And Gold Filled ShellStunning Vintage Estate Signed Renior Copper Swirl Apple Fruit Brooch!!! 6911rMostly Vintage 10pc Brass Copper Silverplate Pewter Lot Bracelets Cuff BangleVintage Copper Brass Shiny Pewter Hammered Plate Beaded Adjustable Bib NecklaceVintage Earrings Signed Renoir Puffy Leaf Modernist Copper Clipon Nice