Pendants were first worn as amulets, meant to ward off evil or disease or bring the wearer good luck. In medieval Europe, all precious and semiprecious stones were believed to possess powers: Sapphire could chill lust, while ruby, when worn by princes, endowed them with fiery leadership. Such examples of protective medieval jewelry were often shaped like crosses, while others were made into containers for holy relics. As big collars, closed by brooches, fell out of favor, protective gems were hung on light chains, ribbons, or lace worn around the neck. Later, they were attached to metal girdles worn as belts.

Costume jewelry pendants, obviously, are often made of non-precious materials like enamel, rhinestones, Bakelite, Lucite, and pot metal, and lack any magic the superstitious ascribe to fine jewels. However, the costume pendants made in the 20th century, and even today, often take inspiration from early amulets, particularly the cameos, whose carved-relief surfaces were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman motifs.

Fine cameos returned to fashion during the Georgian and Victorian eras, carved from gemstones and, later, shell, ivory, and coral. In the 19th century, cameos carved from the lava excavated at Pompeii were particularly popular souvenirs for women touring the ancient ruins in Italy. Costume jewelry cameos, often depicting mythological figures, religious motifs, or a profile of a woman, are made from shell, glass, porcelain, and plastics like celluloid and Lucite. These grew in popularity at the end of World War II.

The locket is another form of pendant that has its roots in ancient magic, as a container for herbs or ancient remedies. From the 16th century to the Victorian Era, they also served as “memento mori” or mourning jewelry, where an image or lock of hair from the deceased could be kept close to one’s heart. Not surprisingly, some lockets were actually shaped like hearts and contained tokens of romantic love. Around 1860, Victorians took to large, oval gold and gold-filled lockets they hung on wide, thick chains, but toward the end of the century they ditched those for smaller, more discreet lockets. They also had a renewed interest in religious jewelry, like cross pendants made in Berlin ironwork, as well as the trefoils and quatrefoils seen on Gothic churches. By the 20th century, lockets had become a staple of costume jewelry, made in affordable metals and often containing a photograph.

Ancient Egyptians and other cultures often made their gold amulets in the shape of sacred animal totems such as scarab beetles, cats, antelopes, snakes, and birds. In China, amulets were more likely to take the shape of dragons and phoenixes. These Egyptian and Chinese animal themes became popular for enamel pendants, made using techniques like plique à jour, champlevé, and cloissoné, in the Victorian Era. Egyptian themes were employed through the Art Nouveau movement to the Art Deco style, reaching their peak when King Tut’s tomb was discovered in the '20s.

Other utilitarian pendants include bottled-shaped jewels that served as containers for perfume or alcohol. In the Renaissance, bejeweled pendants with long, pointed ends were used as toothpicks. Victorian pocket watches could also be worn like a pendant on a chain around the neck. In the 20th century, pendants were made as mini-photo frames, which didn’t hide the image the way traditional lockets did.

A popular motif for costume-jewelry pendants, especially those by Kenneth Jay Lane, is the Maltese cross, which was the badge of the rulers of Malta island, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, starting in 1530. But jewelers didn’t start using this cross for pendants until 1814, when the Treaty of Paris confirmed British sovereignty...

Thanks in no small part to costume jewelry pendants, we associate these pieces with adornment. In fact, the practice began in the Renaissance, when pendants were first worn simply for decoration. Some featured enameled and bejeweled scenes from classical literature. That tradition continued clear through to the 20th century, when characters from stories and children’s books were made into brooches and pendants alike. These pieces were particularly welcome after World War II, when war-weary women sought out whimsy.

In the 17th century, Georgians favored pendants with a girandole (chandelier) or pedeloque (pear-cut gem) shape—styles that were widely imitated in costume jewelry centuries later. Famous 17th century jeweler Castellani copied the bulla, a double-sided round pendant the Etruscans used as an amulet. Meanwhile, the glass artisans at Murano came up with the millefiori technique for making glass which appeared to contain “a thousand flowers” used in beads and pendants. Millefiori pendants are still made today.

Around the turn of the century, expert glass makers and jewelers in Czechoslovakia and the rest of Bohemia were turning out beautiful crystal glass pendants with delicate openwork filigree metal trim.

Camphor glass pendants were first made as mourning jewelry around 1890. These were a milky white piece of glass, blown or pressed, carved with a starburst pattern. A diamond, marcasite gem, or symbol is usually set in the center of the pendant, which might be square, rectangular, round, or oval. These pendants, which were made until the 1940s, reached the height of popularity in the 1930s when they were available in a stunning array of colored glass.

Jewelers of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco period made pendants in the same styles and shapes of their brooches (many brooches could be attached to chains and worn as pendants, too). The Art Nouveau favored swirling, organic, asymmetrical figures in metal, enamel, and glass; while Art Deco costume jewelry would be made of rhinestone and plastics, in stern geometric patterns and shapes celebrating machines and precision.

After the World War II, many costume jewelers like Trifari, Coro, Mazer, and Pennino patterned their pendants off the fine jewels sold by the likes of Cartier and Tiffany. Pendants emphasized motion with swinging chains and tassels cascading from windmill and propeller shapes, or dangling inside complex circle and spiral motifs. Goldette, starting in the 1950s, even made pendants in old-fashioned antiqued gold that had mini-pendants, or charms, like cameos and faux-pearls.

Miriam Haskell made several unusual large pendants, like her wooden octagon pendant with a gilt metal hinge and lock, or her hand-painted floral cartouche pendant. Paco Rabanne, meanwhile, made bright, plastic modern pendants for Givenchy, while Whiting and Davis produced old-fashioned oval pendants, with centerpiece intaglio cameos or crystals framed by beautiful silver- and gold-tone metalwork.

In the '50s and '60s, many artisans and jewelers, like Monet, abandoned the traditional jewelry styles and cute figurals in favor of modernist, abstract pendants made of metals and plastics, inspired by the Scandinavian concept of “democratic design.”

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Costume Jewelry Owl Pendants

Vintage Costume Jewelry Owl Pendants

Daniel VanArsdale loves owls. He must, because his online collection of costume jewelry owl pendants numbers more t… [read review or visit site]

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    

Huge Vintage Schreiner New York Rare Pink Ruffle Pin-pendant StunningAntique Art Deco Green Czech Glass Bird NecklaceVintage Jewellery Beautiful Moonstone Tear Drop Pendant Silver ChainVtg Sign Art Maltese Cross Brooch/pendant Purple Red Rhinestones Turquoise BeadVintage Jewellery Beautiful Silver & Australian Opal Pendant NecklaceVintage Sterling Silver Scottish John Hart Cairngorm Thistle PendantWilliam De Lillo Red Art Glass 4 Strand Beads Geometric Huge Pendant Necklace4 Vintage Silver Marcasite Mounted Shell Cameo Brooch PendantsVtg Art Deco Czech Austro Hungarian Amber Glass Enamel Pendant Necklace NeigerChunky Antique Victorian Carved Faux Tortoiseshell Mb Monogram Pendant NecklaceHattie Carnegie "sardines In A Can" Pendant Necklace, Original Tag — No Reserve!Vintage Deco Edwardian Glass Camphor Rhinestone Pendant Necklace Lot Q141Vintage 1930’s Art Deco Czech Glass 2 3/8” Sapphire Blue Filigree PendantVintage Art Deco Czech Lapis Glass Marcasite Large 2.5” PendantVintage Jewellery Gorgeous Crystal Marquise Tear Drop Silver Pendant NecklaceTrifari Limited Edition Enamel Zodiac Pisces Fish Pendant Necklace MoonstoneKenneth Jay Lane Kjl Black Silk Cord Gold Tone Jeweled Cross Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian 19thc Tussy Mussy Tussie Mussie Bird Posy Holder Pendant C1890Pretty Vintage 1950's Marcasite Bluebell Flower Link Pendant Chain Drop NecklaceVintage Art Deco Czech Citrine Topaz Glass Marcasite Large 3 1/4” PendantMassive Vintage Oscar De La Renta Jeweled Starburst Pearl Necklace Pendant PinLot Of 4 Antique Victorian Etched Gold Filled Photo Locket Pendants Some StonesD&e Juliana Pink Birthday Cake Stone Pink Ab Rhinestone Brooch Pin Pendant HtfAntique Victorian Gold Filled Locket Pendants Lot Of 6Fabulous Rennie Mackintosh Sterling Silver Pendant And 22" Chain - V8 E09Vintage Art Deco Molded Glass Crystal Pendant NecklaceVintage Jewellery Stunning Real Pearl & Quartz Crystal Drop Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Gold Filled Heart Locket Pendants 1 Signed Jmf & Co Lot Of 9Vtg Signed 585 14k Gold Lapis Amethyst Gem Carved Elephant Pendant Necklace Q201Antique/vintage Art Deco Czech Embossed Brass Topaz Keyhole Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Faux Tortoiseshell Necklace Pendant - 54mm Diameter (t88)French Art Deco Sterling Silver, Lapis Lazuli & Marcasite Pendant Drop EarringsVintage 5 Italy Micro Mosaic Flower Cameo Brooch Pendant Lot Filigree Colorful2 X Malachite Bead Necklaces 30" Art Deco Knotted & 20" Inc Pendant 198 GramsAntique Silver On Brass Enamel Glass 18" Chain 2 1/2" X 1 3/4" Pendant NecklaceVtg Art Deco Silver Filigree Topaz Citrine Marcasite Dangle Pendant EarringsVintage Art Deco Signed Czech Glass Topaz Citrine Pendant Necklace2 Vintage Silver Mounted Wedgwood Brooches And A Silver Mounted Pendant & ChainVintage Chiming Globe Ball Pendant #17 166Vintage Scottish Stone Set Thistle Pendant #17 161Vtg Sterling Silver 925 Huge Genuine Amber Dragonfly Pendant Necklace Q196Vintage Antique Art Deco 1930s Marcasite Stone Pearl Pendant Chain Drop NecklaceVtg Genuine Salmon Coral Carved Nautical Whale Charm Necklace Pendant Lot Q198Stunning Vintage Gold Silver Tone Hideaway Watch Necklace Pendant!!! 6175iAntique Art Deco Sterling Silver Marcasite Red Coral NecklaceBeautiful Antique Silver Suffragette PendantVintage Lot Of Micro Mosaic Jewelry -- 3 Pins, Pendant, Pair Of Earrings - ItalyVintage Antique Art Deco Turquoise Glass Flower Link Pendant Chain Drop NecklaceRare Large Hattie Carnegie Signed Pendant Magnificent! *rare* Vintage Signed De Nicola Fluer De Lis Rhinestone Pendant Brooch!!! G558Vintage Stunning Silver Art Nouveau Design Abalone Shell Flower Pendant Necklace Vintage Silver Cameo Pendant With Silver Cameo Screwback Earrings Vintage Crown Trifari Necklace With 5 Interchangeable Lucite Pendants W/box10k White Gold Genuine Diamond 20mm X 30mm Heart Pendant 20" Chain Necklace 4 GrVtg Real Baltic Amber Encased Bee Agate Necklace 96gram Huge Pendant Q200Vtg Victorian Revival Picture Portrait Cameo Pendant Brooch Pin Filigree Q34Vintage Cloisonne Lot Bracelet Earrings Necklace Pendant Enamel Flower Fish Q331Vintage Estate Signed 925 Sterling Silver Sports Pendant Charm Lot 68 Grams G75310k Yellow Gold 3mm Diamonds 10mm X 30mm Pendant 20" Chain Journey Necklace 2 Gr14k Yellow Gold 10mm Emerald Gemstone 11mmx 20mm Pendant 18" Chain Necklace 2 Gr