The word “bling” wasn't added to the Merriam Webster dictionary until 2006, but the concept has been familiar to costume jewelry designers for decades. One of their favorite expressions of bling was the necklace, which is perhaps the showiest of all jewelry forms, thanks to the way it puts its bright baubles and sparkling effects front and center.
Hollywood stars such as Joan Crawford were hip to costume jewelry necklaces early on—she was a regular client of acclaimed costume jeweler Miriam Haskell. Vintage Haskell necklaces are among the designer’s most sought-after pieces. Some have only a single strand of faux pearls. Others have multiple strands in matching or different sizes and hues—from traditional white to smoldering dark brown. Even the clasps are opportunities for embellishment, with pearls, rose montées, and filigree decorating their ends.
Legendary designer Coco Chanel was another fan of costume necklaces, providing faux-pearl and glass-bead necklaces to such stars as Katherine Hepburn and a very young Elizabeth Taylor. After World War II, Christian Dior combined faux rubies or emeralds with sparkling rhinestones. Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, and Vivian Leigh are just a few of the other influential movie stars who routinely wore costume necklaces.
One designer whose main focus was Hollywood was Eugene Joseff. His company, Joseff of Hollywood, designed stunning costume jewelry necklaces for such films as “A Star is Born” (1936), “Casablanca” (1942), and “To Catch a Thief” (1955). In that Alfred Hitchcock classic, Grace Kelly wore a Joseff necklace with a spectacular strand of fake diamonds.
Indeed, by the 1950s, costume jewelry necklaces had become so respectable that Mamie Eisenhower felt perfectly comfortable wearing Trifari costume jewelry to the 1953 inaugural ball.
To match the First Lady’s pink satin gown (dripping with 2,000 rhinestones), Trifari’s Alfred Philippe designed an "orientique" pearl choker with matching three-stranded bracelet and earrings, each laden with eight pearls. Three sets were made: one for the First Lady, a second for the Smithsonian, and a third for the Trifari archives. Mrs. Eisenhower was so pleased with the ensemble that she had Trifari make jewelry for her second inaugural ball in 1957.
Other collectible vintage costume jewelry necklaces include Coro’s Vendome rhinestone-studded chokers, Elsa Schiaparelli’s “shocking pink” lava-rock collars, and Stanley Hagler’s faux coral floral necklaces.