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 Modernist Copper Blue Enamel Link Necklace Earring Set~matisse Renoir?Vintage Eames Era Modernist Matisse Renoir Blue Green Enamel Copper BraceletAntique Amber Crystal Rhinestone Copper Dachshund Doxin Dog Pin 2" Vtg BroochFabulous Vintage 18p Bracelet Lot's Of Sterling Cuffs Bangle Charm Signed CopperSchreiner Copper Fluss Glass Golden Rhinestone Vintage Clip EarringsVtg Copper Jewelry~enamel~southwest~renoir Earrings~necklace Bracelet Ring PinsVintage Rebajes Signed Copper Tribal Brazilian mask Figural Bracelet Earring SetMatisse Renoir 1 3/4" Wide Mcm Copper Enamel Panel Cuff Bracelet Nice NrVintage Eames Era Matisse Waltz Copper Enamel Necklace A71Vintage Renoir Parisien Copper Cuff Bracelet Earrings Set Hinged Clamper SignedPeter Pan Style Vintage Copper/white Neclace And Matisse Matching Earrings Vintage Art Deco Copper Repousse Indian Chief Head Red Rhinestone Figural PinVintage Aqua Blue Copper Enameled Matisse Cleopatric Necklace Earrings Set Vtg Renoir Matisse Designer Signed Costume Jewelry Copper Bracelet Vintage Old Renoir Matisse Modernist Copper Enamel Gracelet Space Age Earrings Vintage Cloisonne Copper Necklace Pendant Earrings Bracelet Laurel Burch JewelryVintage Signed Matisse Copper 3-strand Choker Necklace 1 Strand Aqua Blue EnamelVintage Old Renoir Modernist Signed Wide Copper Abstract Swirl Link BraceletVintage Modern Copper Brass Bronze Egyptian Revival Collar Statement NecklaceStunning Vintage Renoir Graceful Swirls Copper Necklace, Earrings Set Vintage Signed Renoir Modernist Copper Bead Necklace, No Reserve Estate Item!Vintage Green With Copper Glitter Venetian Glass Bead Single Strand NecklaceMatisse Renoir Vintage Mid Century Abstract Design Copper & Enamel BraceletMatisse Copper And Green Enamel Clamper Bracelet, Wow Nr!!1950's Renoir Signed Copper Hinge Cuff Bracelet Mid Century Modernist JewelryVintage Heavy Copper And Green Bracelet 7 3/4"Rebajes Copper & Silver Tone Leaves Vintage PinVintage Juilanna D&e Copper Gold Fluss Amber Necklace, Bracelet, Earrings SetVintage Clip On Earrings Over 90 Pair Lot Enamel Copper Retro Early Plastic CoolLarge Gorgeous Lot Of Vintage Jewelry Napier Sterling Trifari Copper Tigers EyeVintage Art Deco Style Brass/copper Choker NecklaceGorgeous Vintage Estate Copper Tone Flower Designed Cuff Bracelet!!!! 843jVintage Earrings Signed Matisse Copper Modernist Red Enamel Clipon RenoirRenoir Matisse Nefertiti 1950s Vintage Bracelet Turquoise Enamel Copper - Wow!Vintage Signed Schreiner Copper Tone Open Back Ice Rhinestone Earrings ClipAwesome Renoir True Vintage Lily Clamper Copper Bracelet Modernist Mid CenturyVintage Southwest Copper & Faux Turquoise Costume Jewelry Lot-copper Bell,scVintage Modernist Retro Renoir Matisse Enameled Red & White Copper Necklace1928 Copper Dragonfly Tealgreen Enamel Blue Rhinestone Slide Pendant NecklaceVintage Old Matisse Renoir Modernist White Sand Enamel Copper Earrings SignedVintage 1 1/3" Wide Hand Crafted Solid Copper Cuff Bangle Bracelet Mid Century Modern Matiisse Renoir? Shiny Copper 1" Wide Cuff 6" Vtg BraceletVintage French Turquoise ~ Wide Bracelet ~ Copper ChainVintage 1950's Rebajes Modernist African Mask Copper EarringsRenoir Copper Cuff Bracelet & Clip-on Earrings Set Mid Century ModernItaly Venetian Murano Aventurine Glass Bead Copper Twist Necklace & Earring SetVintage Bracelet Enamel On Copper 7 Link Stle Modern DesignVtg Silver Brass & Copper Metal Wider Hand-made Bold Cuff Bracelet Vintage Bracelet Wide Chunky Modernist Solid Copper CuffVintage Copper Spider Ab Rhinestones Head Pink & Mauve Body Stunning 11616Signed Renoir Vintage Brooch Pin Copper Leaf Branch Tier Metallic Overlay F919Vintage Earrings Signed Renoir Copper Modernist Retro CliponJoblot X 3 Vintage Rings - Unsigned - ? Gold ? Copper - Tiny Signet RingJunk Copper And Bronze Jewelry LotNice Lot 8 Pairs Vintage Copper Earrings Modernist Clip On Screw Back1960's 70's Vintage Copper Cuff Bracelet By RenoirRenoir Copper Bangle Floral Leaf Bracelet Fashion Signed 4997Vintage Copper Jewellery Handmade Irish Celtic Enamel Earrings Made In IrelandVintage Avon Amethyst & Pink Stone Pendant Necklace, Copper ToneCopper Statement Cuff Bracelet, Vintage Braided Design