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    

Chanel Gold Plated Cc Logos Imitation Pearl Long Chain Necklace Pendant #742aAntique Vintage Art Nouveau Enamel Amethyst Silver Pearl Pendant Chain NecklaceMiriam Haskell Designer Pendant Necklace "turquoise" Bead Rhinestone Gold PlateChanel Gold Plated Cc Imitation Pearl Double Chain Necklace Pendant #743aVintage Art Deco Ornate Camphor Glass Sterling Marcasite NecklaceVintage Jewellery Sterling Silver & Labradorite Moonstone Pendant Drop NecklaceArt Deco Czech Red Opaque Step Glass Ornate Brass Bead Lavalier Pendant NecklaceVictorian Micromosaic Beetle Locket PendantGivenchy French Couture Runway Mogul Spinner Gripoix Glass Pendant Necklace Vintage Foil Glass Fire Opal Dragons Breath Modernist Brutalist Pendant NecklaceAntique Gold Plated & Fouled Anchor Enamel Mourning Woven Hair Pendant Vintage Jewellery A Lovely Job Lot Of 20 Brooches & 10 PendantsVtg Antique Art Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver Paste Parrot PendantVintage Jewellery Mixed Lot Of Enamel Damascene Brooches Pendants BraceletsVintage Jewellery Very Pretty Silver Filigree Pendant Drop Bow Brooch Pin50+ Pieces Costume Vintage Retro Jewelry Pendants, Necklaces, Beads Estate LotAntique Vintage Filigree Art Deco Frosted Camphor Glass Pendant NecklaceVintage Stone Set Signed Miracle Scottish Drop PendantVintage, Authentic Gripoix Glass Chanel Brooch/ Pendant/pearl EnhancerStunning Victorian Gold Filled Necklace W/14k Gf Lion Head Pendant No Scrap 33g Antique Victorian Rolled Gold & Turquoise Etruscan Pendant NecklaceVintage Trifari Chandelier Pendant Necklace Silver Tone & Turquoise Acrylic Vintage Jewellery Pretty Real Moonstone & Amethyst Bracelet & Pendant EarringsA Nice Antique Victorian Carved Floral Whitby Jet Pendant - Lovely ShapeAntique Victorian Etruscan Photo Locket Pendant Brass Gold Filled Seed Pearls Vintage Signed Trifari White Enamel & Gold Tone Rectangle Pendant Necklace (14")Vintage Art Deco Carved Green Peking Glass Bead Necklace Vintage Jewellery Beautiful Marbled Jasper And Sterling Silver PendantVictorian Gold Filled Lot Of 5 Pieces Locket Pin Brooch Bracelet Pendant Vtg Antique Victorian Art Deco Necklace Pendant Charm Picture Locket Gold LotLot 9 Vintage Now Vermeil Gold Sterling Silver 925 Ring Bracelet Pendant JewelryGorgeous Vintage Jewellery Solid Sterling Silver Pink Crystal Pendant EarringsVintage In Seattle Auction Lot#145 Bronze Carved Iridescent Glass Face PendantVintage Signed Schreiner Jewelry Convertible Broach Pendant New York Rhinestone Verified Juliana Green Art Glass Stones & Ab Rhinestones Brooch Pin / PendantVintage Jewellery Rolled Gold And Mother Of Pearl Shell Pendant NecklaceVintage Carved Pink Coral Flower Design Necklace Pendant Floral Lot Of 2Vintage Large Purple Stone Set Scottish Thistle PendantVintage Mid Century Gold Tone Czech Peking Art Glass Bead Cluster Charm PendantVtg Real Amber & Bakelite Sterling Silver Pendant Necklace Jewelry 25pc Lot 109gLot Of 30 Vintage Costume Jewelry Cameo Brooches Necklace Rings Earings PendantsVintage Stone Set Signed Miracle Scottish Celtic PendantAntique Vintage Small 3d Pistol Gun Watch Fob Pendant W/ Green HandleLot French Antique Vintage Art Nouveau Deco Brooch Pendant Jewelry Enamel Vtg Antique Art Deco Victorian Necklace Pendant Clear Rhinestone Spider Bug RareVintage Jewellery Sterling Silver & Real Pearl Pendant NecklaceVtg Antique Art Deco Victorian Necklace Pendant Blue Enamel Gold Tone Chain GoldAntique/vintage German Silver Repousse Art Nouveau Purse Pendant Necklace*ornateVictorian C1880 Austro Hungarian Silver Enamel George & Dragon PendantVtg Antique Art Deco Victorian Necklace Pendant Cross Pink Rhinestone Gold ToneVintage Crown Trifari Gold-tone Metal Tassel Design Pendant NecklaceLarge Vintage Stone Set Scottish Thistle PendantVintage Antique Art Deco Jewellery 1930s Marcasite Flower Pearl Pendant NecklaceChanel Silver Plated Cc Flower Necklace Pendant Choker #735a Rise-onVtg Chinese Export Silver Enamel Jade Cloisonne Necklace Pendant Jewelry Lot 58pVintage Juliana D&e Coral Matrix Glass Cabochon Brooch Pendant Earrings!Vintage Jewellery Scottish/celtic Green Agate Bracelet And PendantVintage Sterling Silver 6 Stone Art Deco Design Artisan Unique PendantVintage Jewellery Art Nouveau Style Sterling Silver Flower Girl Pendant NecklaceVintage Jewellery Pretty Silver & Amethyst Tear Drop Pendant Earrings