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    

Vintage 1930's Art Deco Czech Carnelian Glass Enamel Pendant NecklaceSigned 925 Vintage Sterling Silver Necklace Pendant Aquamarine 4054Bakelite Antique Art Deco Vintage Necklace Carved Green Leaf Pendant 3588Vintage Old Art Deco Lapis Blue Glass Brass Floral Fringe Drop Pendant NecklaceJuliana Vintage Set Necklace Pendant Bracelet Amber Rhinestone Flower 4096Vintage Art Deco Czech Peking Glass Brass Rhinstones Pendant NecklaceSigned Sterling Vintage Silver 925 Necklace Pendant Lapis Cabochon Choker! 6045Vintage Boucher Lariat Necklace Pave And Ruby Lantern Gold Tone PendantsVtg Antique Victorian Irish Diamond Pyrite Collar Necklace Maltese Cross PendantAntique Victorian C1860's 14k Turquoise Enamel Heart Locket PendantVintage Sterling Silver 925 Necklace Pendant Lot Choker Bib Collar 4051Vintage Italian Micro Mosaic 42mm Wide PendantSigned Zina Mexico 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Super Long 1259Estate Sterling Silver Jewelry Salt Spoon Charm Bracelets Locket Pendants LotHuge Vintage Juliana Rhinestone Maltese Cross Brooch/ Pendant..book Piece!!Vintage Micromosaic Job Lot Collection Bracelet Brooch Pendant Pin Yellow Gold Filled Flower Design Link Carved Amethyst Dangle Necklace 18.25" VtgVery Old Czech Citrine Blue Lady Glass NecklaceVtg 40s Miriam Haskell Gold & Green Jade Pendant Necklace W/ Original Hang TagSigned Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Tag 46.9g 1084Sterling Silver 925 Vintage Lot Set Necklace Cuff Collar Pendant 3338Signed Hobe Vintage Necklace Green Peking Glass Rhinestone Pendant Gold Tn 3555Vintage Cameo Mix Lot Locket Necklace Pendant Earring Brooch Pin Flower! Se281Signed Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Heart Tag 1279Vintage Castlecliff Hms Jelly Belly Lucite Fish Bowl Necklace Pendant Statement Vintage Art Deco Czech Neiger Red Glass Enamel Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Gold Filled Vintage Necklace Locket Pendant Rhinestone 3646Vintage Japanese Toshikane Ceramic Goldtone Pendant CharmVictorian Rolled Gold  star Stamp Design Book Chain Front Clasp  necklaceVintage Antique Jewellery Box Contents Rg Locket Brooches Studs Pendants EtcSigned Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Heart Tag 1278Vtg Art Deco Nouveau Filigree Tiny Faux Pearl Blue Sapphire Czech Glass NecklaceSigned Coro Vintage Necklace Flower Pendant Emerald Green Rhinestone! 502Joan Rivers Hope Bee Pin Pendant Pink Crystals & Plique A Jour Wings - Mint CondSigned Crown Trifari Vintage Set Necklace Pendant Bracelet Lucite Gold Tone 6090Estate Find Joan Rivers Russian Jeweled Enamel "v" Egg Pendant Necklace SignedVintage 50+ Estate Lot Sterling Silver Fine Jewelry Rings Bracelets Pendants NrVintage Sterling Silver 925 Necklace Pendant Malachite Crystal Native 4081Sign Brand 1928 Vintage Necklace Pendant Perfume Flower Engrave Gold Tone 4217Lawrence Vrba Convertible 7x3.75" Huge Pin / Pendant Necklace - Maharaja Sultan2 Pieces Of Signed Joan Rivers Jewelry ~ Brooch/pendant & Bee PinSigned Kjl Avon Kenneth Lane Vintage Necklace Jaguar Knocker Pendant 3165Sign Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Heart 67.7g 1237Signed Van Dell Sterling Silver 925 Vintage Necklace Pendant Wave Abstract 1071Sign Trifari Vintage Necklace Pendant Choker Pink Lucite Orb Engraved 4101Signed 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Carved Jade Flower! 7Vintage Signed Scotland Cj Scottish Pale Amethyst Silver Brooch Pin / Pendant Vintage Amazing Unique Magnifying Glass Gold Links Pendant Necklace - 26 InchesVictorian Antique Bohemian Garnet Bar Pin Pendant & Pat Pend Earrings.Stunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Schiaparelli Glass Cab Pendant!!! 5269zVintage Pools Of Light Genuine Pressed 4 Four Leaf Clover Orb Pendant CharmAntique Lot Gold Filled Victorian Watch Fob Charm Pendant Locket Heart CameoSign David Grau Vintage Style Necklace Pendant Glass Cabochon Rhinestone 4221Vintage To Modern Lot Necklace Pendant Rhinestone Cross Heart Flower! Lr161Signed Florenza Vintage Big Magnifying Glass Necklace Pendant Gold Tone JewelryVintage Joan Rivers Faux Pearl, Onyx, & Rhinestone Statement Pin/brooch/pendantVintage Scottish Celtic Jewellery Agate Glass Cabochon Cross Pendant NecklaceJoan Rivers Faberge Inspired Pearl Lily Of The Valley Egg Pendant Necklace Signed Corocraft Vintage Necklace Flower Pendant Purple Rhinestone Gold Tn 3156Signed 925 Sterling Silver Vintage Necklace Pendant Foil Glass Hefty 25.9g 1186