Imitation gems have been substituted for their costly brethren in necklaces, bracelets, and other types of jewelry since the late 18th century, when Georg Friedrich Strass first mimicked diamonds by coating glass with metal powder. Made of rock crystal, acrylic, and leaded glass, these fakes were originally called paste or diamante, as well as strass after their Alsatian originator.

In the late 19th century, Austrian jeweler Daniel Swarovski produced the first real rhinestones as we think of them today. After painstaking experimentation, Swarovski devised a foil backing that made his high-quality faceted crystals almost indistinguishable from diamonds. Demand was so great that in 1892 he patented a mechanical cutter so his “stones” could be mass-produced.

The family business was originally located in the Gablonz area of Bohemia, but in 1895 Swarovski moved it to Austria near the Rhine River—his faux gems have been known as rhinestones ever since. Still manufactured in Austria today, the quality of Swarovski crystal remains unmatched.

While most people associate rhinestones with clear glass, these head-turning fakes aren’t only used as diamond copycats. Rhinestones also perform admirably as turquoise, carnelian, onyx, opals, rubies, and just about any other gemstone a jeweler might care to imitate.

Mass production made rhinestones popular during the Art Nouveau period, but it wasn't until the 1920s, when Coco Chanel championed costume jewelry, that rhinestones captured the popular imagination. With Chanel as their advocate, rhinestones matured from shabby second cousins of the genuine article—emerald earrings dusting the shoulders of debutantes, sapphires perched on matronly knuckles—into a credible fashion statement.

Fellow Parisian Elsa Schiaparelli nabbed a corner of the costume jewelry market with her own line, developed at approximately the same time as Chanel's but with a different aesthetic. While Chanel made simple floral rhinestone earrings for her clients, Shiaparelli's Dada-esque bracelets had a decidedly surreal bent, and her rhinestone chokers were packed with staggered rows of dangling hot pink lava-like stones.

In the United States, some of the earliest customers for rhinestones were costume jewelry designers such as Eisenberg, Trifari, and Hobe. These designers packed their rhinestones into tight, pave settings, which worked well with the overall sleekly angular Art Deco look of their creations...

Most American costume jewelry was made on the East Coast in Rhode Island and the New York City area, with stones imported from Swarovski and other European manufacturers. One important exception was Joseff of Hollywood, whose owner and designer, Eugene Joseff, crafted jewelry for "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Casablanca," and many other classic films. The key to Joseff’s success was a special setting that allowed rhinestones to better reflect studio lights on movie sets.

In fact, the silver screen had an enormous impact on the acceptance of rhinestones in the United States and around the world, as stars like Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford lent their swan-like necks to the rhinestone cause. After World War II, fashion accessories and jewelry grew bigger and bolder as housewives celebrated peace and prosperity with rhinestone brooches shaped like brilliant sapphire daisies and earrings dripping with countless bright, clustered stones.

Fashion designers also got on the rhinestone bandwagon. By the late 1940s, Christian Dior was draping his willowy models in chunky rhinestone necklaces, cuff bracelets, and fat cocktail rings, further legitimizing the brash trend.

In the 1950s, Dior was one of the first major buyers of Swarovski’s new aurora borealis rhinestones, which owed their otherworldly iridescence to a chemical salt that made their surfaces shimmer and gleam. Named after the Northern Lights, this coating offers an added bonus for collectors—the presence of aurora borealis rhinestones instantly dates a piece as post-1955.

By this time, most of the world’s costume jewelry was being made in America. Europeans routinely imported rhinestone shoe clips, brooches, and fur pins, or fluorescent blue beetle pendants made with aurora borealis rhinestones by an innovative designer named Weiss. Thus, exported Austrian stones often journeyed back and forth across the Atlantic before settling into jewelry boxes near their birthplace on the Rhine.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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    

Rare Vintage Trifari Jewels Of India Gold Plt Sapphire Crystal Rhinestone BroochVintage Signed Crown Trifari Pat Pend Symphony Blue Green Rhinestone NecklaceRare Signed Regency Vintage Bracelet Aurora Borealis Ab Rhinestone Gold Tone 60298pc High End Rhinestone Lot Juliana Weiss Judy Lee Lisner Sets No ReserveVintage Signed Kjl Kenneth J Lane Large Rhinestone Crest Brooch Pendant CrossVintage High End Rhinestone Jewelry Lot * 83 Pcs * Many Sets * 5 Day List *Vintage Signed Kramer Huge Sapphire Blue & Clear Rhinestone Brooch Earring SetD&e Juliana Red & Ab Rhinestone Margarita Rivoli Stone Brooch Pin Earring Set !!Vintage Pillowcase Pillow Case Givre Art Glass Ab Rhinestone Blue NecklaceRare Vtg Trifari Enamel Snake Skin Turquoise Sapphire Rhinestone Brooch31 Pc Vintage Rhinestone Jewelry Lot Brooches Necklace Sets JulianaJuliana Beautiful Layered Sparkling Ice Rhinestone Vintage BraceletStanley Hagler Gorgeous Green Glass Leaves Rhinestone Faux Pearl PinVintage Ciner Maltese Cross Jeweled Brooch Pendant Rhinestones Cabochon Stones 70-pc Hi End Rhinestone Lot Juliana Florenza Hollywood Austria BeaujewelsVintage Glass Cabochon Scarab Bracelet Amazing Huge Chunky Art Glass CoutureHigh End Rhinestone Lot Juliana,alice Caviness Hollycraft Har Judy Lee+moreVintage Signed Miriam Haskell Ab Rhinestone Floral Flower Pin Earrings Set Stunning High End Huge 215pc Vtg Signed Rhinestone Sterling Gf Jewelry Lot Re391Lot Of 32 Vintage Rings Rhinestone 18 K Hg Sterling Silver Stones Estate JewelryVtg Kenneth Jay Lane Kjl Art Deco Revival Faux Coral Onyx Rhinestone NecklaceVintage Juliana D&e 5 Link Open Back Ab Green Emerald Rhinestone Flower BraceletStanley Hagler Amazing Purple & Green Rhinestone Glass Bead Peacock NecklaceCrown Trifari By Alfred Philippe Pink Carnation Rhinestone Earrings Gold PlatedRare Vintage Juliana Set Necklace Dangle Large Earring Rhinestone Gorgeous! 1588Cis Countess Cissy Zoltowska Book Piece! Pink & Green Rhinestone Necklace SetVintage Lot Of 26 Costume Rings - Rhinestone Sarah Coventry Avon 10k Gold Filled1948 Jewels By Trifari A Philippe Sapphire Glass & Rhinestone Necklace In ObJuliana Book Piece Rare Orange Keystone Rhinestone NecklaceSign Miriam Haskell Long Baroque Pearl Rhinestones Bracelets Bangle Jewelry Huge Vintage Lot Of 60 Flower Brooch Pins Gold Silver Tone Enamel RhinestoneJuliana Watermelon, Blue & Gray Rhinestone Vintage BraceletSign Pakula Vintage Set Earrings Necklace Ab Rhinestone Carved Glass Flower 1419Vintage Juliana Earrings Watermelon Rivoli Aurora Borealis Rhinestone Wow! 1407Large Lot Of Vintage Jewelry 100 Pieces Rhinestones Sterling Cameo Coro LisnerHigh End Vtg Rhinestone Jewelry Lot 7 Sets Weiss Eisenberg Beau Jewels Segal Juliana Verified Sparkling Ice Rhinestone Clamper BraceletStunning Rare Trifari Rope/tassle Necklace&earrings-pink&blue Rhinestone Balls!Vintage Crown Trifari Gold Pave Rhinestones Mop Bee Insect Pin Brooch Free Shipp1949 Trifari Dewdrops Sapphire Blue Carved Glass & Rhinestone Necklace Pat Pend Stunning Antique Victorian Gold Tone Amethyst Rhinestone Mesh Necklace!!! 148yHuge Vintage & Style 100 Pc Lot Rings Rhinestone Cocktail Antique Gold Cameo +Vintage Signed Schiaparelli Opalescent Opaline Ab Rhinestone Bracelet Parure SetVintage Signed Bogoff Silver Tone Pave Rhinestone Lt Sapphire Necklace EarringsJuliana Watermelon, Blue & Gray Rhinestone Vintage NecklaceStunning Vintage Signed Weiss W/ Tag Enamel Rhinestone Strawberrys Brooch! 1085eVintage Jomaz Silver Glass Star Moonstone Ab Rhinestone Moonglow Mazer Bros Set124 Pcs Vtg Estate Costume Jewelry Rhinestone Brooch Bracelet Necklace Ring LotJuliana Watermelon, Blue & Gray Rhinestone Vinage PinCasty Paris Gripoix Pate De Verre Poured Glass & Rhinestone Flower Brooch PinLawrence Vrba Massive Turquoise Sapphire Blue Keystone Rhinestone Ruffle PinVtg Juliana D&e Hematite Art Glass Ab Rhinestone Navette Brooch Earrings SetGorgeous Vintage Estate Signed Scarlett O'hara Ab Rhinestone Brooch Mint!! 1087tExquisite Vintage Designer Art? Florenza ? Black And Pearls BraceletJuliana Book Piece Rare Orange Keystone Rhinestone EarringsWow! Vintage Rhinestone Collection Juliana Caviness Haskell Hagler SchiaparelliAntique Victorian Art Deco Art Nouveau Rhinestone-fur,shoe,scarf Clip Repair LotD&e Juliana Turquoise Blue Rhinestone Large Blue Stone Bee Bug Brooch PinRare Vintage Trifari Sterling Silver Ruby Red Crystal Rhinestone BraceletOscar Charlin Amazing Watermelon Margarita Rhinestone Pin Earring Set