Kenneth Jay Lane is a relative newcomer to the world of costume jewelry, launching his first line of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces in 1963. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Lane got his start with Hattie Carnegie before designing shoes for Christian Dior. He made his mark immediately on the fashion world when he covered inexpensive plastic bangles with rhinestones, added findings, and turned them into excessively large earrings. Before long, Bonwit Teller, Henri Bendel, and Saks Fifth Avenue were selling his pieces to such clients as Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn.
In the 1960s, K.J.L. (as the company was known until the mid-1970s, when the periods were dropped) produced brooches and other pieces that reflected Asian influences, incorporating everything from Buddhas to dragons to Indian goddesses in his work. Lane was also known for costume jewelry animals, including pins in the shapes of faux-emerald eyed lions, bangles ending in pairs of rams heads, and rhinestone-studded Scottie dog brooches. Lane’s “big cat” pieces were inspired by the Cartier fine jewelry created in the 1940s and ’50s for the Duchess of Windsor. And while other costume-jewelry designers strove to create an aura of cachet and exclusivity around their products, Lane did a KJL for Avon line in the 1980s, hawked his gaudiest pieces in the late 1990s on QVC, and marketed Christmas pieces via The Franklin Mint.