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    

Antique Victorian Sterling Silver Persian Turquoise Cluster Puffy Heart PendantAntique Art Deco Neiger Bros Amethyst Green Czech Glass Enamel Pendant NecklaceRare Antique Victorian Gold Filled Mechanical Dog In A Can Pendant Or CharmAntique Victorian Gold Plate Garnet Snake Serpent & Heart Pendant NecklaceAntique Art Deco Czech Max Neiger Jade Peking Glass Amethyst Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Etruscan Revival 18k Gold Amethyst Pendant Chain NecklaceRare Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Devil Face Cigar Cutter Pendant CharmAntique Victorian Mourning Enamel Laurel Wreath Gold Filled Locket PendantRare Antique Art Deco Egyptian Revival Silver Plate Enamel Galalith NecklaceVintage Art Deco Czech Turquoise Glass Pendant NecklaceVintage Jewellery Gorgeous Silver & Labradorite Moonstone Pendant NecklaceVintage 1930’s Art Deco Signed Czech Glass Carnelian Step Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian 9ct Rose Gold Aesthetic Puffy 1 1/4” Locket PendantVintage Oriental Carved Bone Pendant Engraved Bird On Branch Filigree Silver Antique Sterling Guilloche Pendant W/chain Beaded Guilloche Square Photo LocketVintage Art Deco Lapis Glass Millefiori Dangle Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Turquoise Enamel Lady Portrait Glass Photo Locket PendantAntique Silver Austro Hungarian Tourmaline Garnet Pearl PendantPair Superb Antique Carved Whitby Jet Mourning Pendant Earrings Vintage Jewellery Signed Shetland Silvercraft Sterling Silver PendantLadies Antique 14k Gold Filled Carved Shell Cameo Bust Necklace Pendant Charm NrVintage Antique Jewellery Delightful Hand Painted Collie Dog Sheltie PendantVery Rare French Art Deco Lapis Lazuli Sterling Marcasite Pendant Drop Earrings Gerda Lynggaard For Monies Pendant Necklace Black Faceted Wood Grain Beads Vintage Art Deco Signed Czech Chrysoprase Green Glass Dangle Pendant NecklaceFabulous Victorian Gold Filled Book Chain Necklace W/pendant No Scrap 52g K6Vintage Vendome Pink Blue Green Rhinestone Reversible Pendant NecklaceArt Deco Silver & Citrine Glass Spider Bug Insect Brooch / Pin & Pendant C1930'sVintage Jewellery Signed Aquamarine Crystal Drop Pendant NecklaceOld Authentic Vintage Chanel Paris «gripoix» Brooch/pendant, 1980’s – With Box! Fine Quality Vintage Sterling Silver & Crystal Hinged Magnifying Pendant LocketVintage Signed Kupittaan Kulta Finland Sterling Silver Cat PendantAntique Vintage Pendant Lot Deco Chinese Silver Asian Enamel Carve Foo Hediao Antique Neiger Brothers ? French ? Collar Necklace Cherub Heads Shields PendantVtg Kenneth Lane Kjl Mogul Jeweled Maltese Cross Glass Baroque Pearl 62" SautoirVintage Jewellery Silver & 22 Carat Gold & Carnelian Pendant Drop EarringsVintage Unsigned Schreiner New York Faceted Lucite Brooch Or Pendant & EarringsVintage Art Deco Sterling Silver Camphor Glass Rhinestone Pendant NecklaceHuge Antique Edwardian Gold Filled Paste Rhinestone Rose Flower Locket PendantVintage Jewellery Gorgeous Silver And Lapis Lazuli Tear Drop Pendant EarringsVintage Art Deco Guilloche Enamel Photo Locket Pendant Old Chinese Export Hand Carved Two Tone Jade Floral W Vase Basket Amulet PendantVintage Necklace Pendant Lot Art Glass Buddha Lapis Jade Apple Quartz Onyx 95Pair Beautiful Antique Sterling Silver & Gold Flower Design Pendant Earrings Vintage Jade-green Glass Bead Filigree Pendant NecklaceRare Antique Gold Tone Scarab Beetle Tiffany Studios Ladies Pendant 16 X Vintage Silver Brooches / Ear Pendants Ect No ReserveHuge Lot Antique Victorian Etruscan Art Deco Gold Filled Lockets PendantsRare Vtg Signed Panetta Amethyst Glass Modernist Parure Bracelet Brooch Pendant13 X Vintage Sterling Silver Gem Set Necklaces / Pendants Sherman Lavender Blue Ab - Rigid Cluster Motif Pendant Necklace & Earring Set NrAntique Victorian 10k Gold Filled Gf Etched Buckle Pendant LocketVtg Mma 1977 Egyptian Revival King Tut Gold Tone PendantVintage Jewellery Delightful Silver Celtic Children Of Lir Pendant Signed TjhVintage Sterling Silver Amethyst Drop Pendant Vintage Jewellery Signed Metropolitan Museum Of Arts Etruscan Pendant NecklaceLot Mexico Sterling Silver 925 Turquoise Cuff Bracelet Pendant Ring Earrings RdrVintage Scottish Sterling Silver Blue Enamel Birdhouse PendantAntique Victorian Grand Tour Micro Mosaic 'roma' Rome Cross Pendant On ChainAntique Hand Painted Miniature Portrait Pendant Brooch 800 Silver