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 Eames Era Mid Century Modernist Green Enamel Copper Necklace64 Vintage Bracelets*sterling Gold Fill Milk Glass Copper Alpaca Rhinestones+++Vintage Matisse Renoir Blue Enamel Copper Link BraceletVintage Matisse Signed Choker Necklace 3 Strand Copper Enamel Renoir MarkedVintage 50's,60's Modernist Copper & Brass Bangle Bracelet 'dandelion' MarkVintage Eames Era Matisse Waltz Copper Enamel Necklace A71Matisse Renoir Vintage 18" Copper Aqua Turquoise Enamel NecklaceVintage 46 Bold Cuff&bangle Bracelets Jewelry Lot-copper/monet/1-925/r.laurenVintage Art Deco Geometric Czech Pearlescent Moonstone Glass Enamel Brooch PinVintage Enamel Over Copper C Clasp Flower Brooch Pin Lot 1959 Signed Hedy Large50's Lot Of 4 Book Piece Multi Design Renoir / Matisse Copper Necklace EarringsLovely Matisse Signed Vintage Copper Enameled Palette BroochMatisse Vintage Speckled Pink Enamel Copper Necklace Bracelet & Earrings SetVintage Copper Copper Plate & Brass Jewelry Lot Rebaji Mexico Bracelets NecklaceVtg & Modern 17 Pc Boho Earthy Jewelry Lot - Teresa Goodall 1928 Lucite CopperMid Century Matisse Renoir Green Enamal On Copper Leaf Brooch & Clip Earring SetPretty Signed Hogan Bolas Enamel On Copper Dangle EarringsVtg Unique Solid Copper Necklace Modernist Flower Coral Pendant Made In FinlandMatisse Renoir Copper Red Enamel Set, Vintage,necklace, Retro, Deco NiceMid Century Kaye Denning Signed Modernistic Enamel On Copper 7 Inch BraceletVtg Signed Hogan Bolas Modernist Pearl Copper Earrings Screw Back Chevron 3gVintage Genuine Copper Brass Large Modernist Leaf Link BraceletVintage Norway Hand Made Solid Copper Large Modernist Multi Color Enamel PendantYsl Vintage Collectible Amber Earrings Copper Setting Vintage Quality JewelrySigned Renoir Vintage Calla Lily Flower Copper BroochVintage Older Modernist Copper Square Leaf Fur Clip Brooch Double Pin BackVintage Copper Jewelry Lot Comedy Tragedy Theatre Mask Necklace & BraceletVintage Murano Sommerso Copper Sand Glass Beads For Restring/sparesStunning Vintage Estate Enameled Copper Faux Pearl Leaf Sweater Clips!!! 1785xCopper Tree Of Life Pendant Goddess Jewelry Wicca Pagan Supplies Nr! VintageVrg Gorgeous Matisse Renoir Copper Scalloped Fringe Link Necklace/choker~signedAntique Vintage Charm Bracelet 23 Charms Copper-look Saves PetsStunning Vintage Estate Copper Floral Autumn Leaves Designed Bracelet!!!! 1786pVintage Matisse Renoir Copper Enamel Modernist Earrings Unique Clip OnVintage Signed Renoir Copper Leaf Brooch Pin & Matching Clip EarringsVintage Matisse Enamel ~ Copper Autumn Leaf Clip On EarringsVintage Matisse Signed Copper & Red Enamel Clip On EarringsVintage 3pc Designer Signed Lot-renoir Copper Earrings Heavy Hobe Ers Sarah CovWeaved/braided Copper Shades Glass Seed Bead 18-21 Long Vtg NecklaceSouthwest Blackened Patina Handwrought Copper Cuff Bracelet Vintage #237a2 Pair Lot Vintage Renoir Signed Copper Earrings. Estate ItemVintage Bracelet Cuff Copper Navajo Native American Arrow Tribal Southwest K143Lot Of Vintage Copper Pins, Earrings, NecklaceVintage Renoir Copper Tulip NecklaceVintage Modernist 2" Wide Copper Cuff Bracelet , 6"Mid Century Modern Pink Enamel Large Link Copper Bracelet Eames EraVintage Hammered Repousse Copper Wide Cuff Bangle Ethnic,tribal Animals,fish3 Vintage Copper Costume Jewelry Brooch / Pins LotVintage Mens 8 Bolo Tie Lot Enamel Wood Figural Copper Reverse Glass Intaglio +Vintage Antiqued Goldtone Green Orange Rootbeer Rhinestones Flower Brooch.Vintage Copper Tn Clip Earrings Antiqued Floral Hoops Near Mint Estate Lot O621Antique Copper Tone Topaz Crystal Flower Bracelet #219aVintage Copper (tone?) Flower Brooch. Textured, Filigree. Beautiful. Estate ItemVintage Edelweiss Gold Daisy Purple Rhinestone Copper Flower Brooch Pin Lot Vintage 70s Cuff Bracelet Copper Pennies 60s/70s 6 1/2" UniqueGrandmas Estate Beautiful 1940's Copper NecklaceVintage Rebaje Copper Necklace Mad Men Vintage Renoir Copper Botanical Hinged Bracelet And EarringsModernist Couture Copper Cartouche Panel Style Link Adjustable Necklace 18.5"Lovely Vintage Large Link Red Enamel On Copper Bracelet, 7 X 2 Inches Wide