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 Marcel Boucher Rhodium Plate Enamel Rhinestone Bird BroochVintage Coro Enamel Rhinestone Art Glass Mr And Mrs Bird Brooch PairRare Vintage Ciner Gold Plate Sapphire Ruby Emerald Rhinestone BraceletRare Vintage Trifari Pink Fruit Salad Rhinestone Flower Basket BroochVintage Demario Gold Plate Pearl Turquoise Art Glass Rhinestone Beaded NecklaceVintage Signed Art Gold Plate Bi Color Purple Ab Rhinestone Pearl BraceletRare Vintage Panetta Gold Plate Navy Blue Enamel Rhinestone Flower NecklaceVintage Signed Art Bi Color Purple Ab Rhinestone Pearl NecklaceRare Vintage Hattie Carnegie Faux Coral Pearl Rhinestone Buddha BroochVintage Marcel Boucher Gold Plate Sapphire Cabochon Rhinestone Bangle BraceletRare Vintage Selro Selini Acrylic Noh Mask Rhinestone Fob Dangle Charm BraceletVintage High End Designer Blue Rhinestone BraceletHigh End Blue Frosted Glass Rose Ab Rhinestone Necklace Pin Set Earrings Lot!Coro Craft Vintage Sterling Silver Vermeil Enamel Rhinestone Rock Fish BroochJuliana Book Piece Pink & Green Rhinestone Polka Dot PinAmazing Lot Of Gorgeous Rhinestone Vintage Pins Juliana & More!Antique Art Deco Amethyst Purple Czech Glass Necklace89 Vintage /modern Rhinestone And More Costume Cocktail Ring LotVintage Vendome Pink Blue Art Glass Aurora Borealis Rhinestone NecklaceNice Vintage 17 Pc Bracelet Lot Rhinestone Coral Figural Stone Signed & UnsignedKenneth Jay Lane Kjl For Avon Double Snake Brooch Pave Rhinestone Cabochon PinJomaz Signed Rhinestone & Green Stone Gold Tone Brooch & Earring Vintage(#2999)Gorgeous Vintage Marcel Boucher Emerald Green Rhinestone Fancy Bow Pin C.1950's*omg* *rare* Vintage Estate Signed Coro Rhinestone Huge Flower Brooch!!! G3535Stanley Hagler Tropical Bird Of Paradise Rhinestone Enamel Glass Bead Huge Pin*omg* Jawdropping Vintage Estate High End Czech Glass Rhinestone Necklace! G4125Hattie Carnegie Vintage Huge Red & Rhinestone Cuff Bracelet & Clip Earrings Huge 270pc Vtg Designer Sterling Gf Rhinestone 127 Brooch 9 Sets Lot Weiss Ja557Vtg 1930's Unsigned Miriam Haskell Floral Blue Bead Glass Rhinestone Necklace Har Gorgeous Green Cabochon Sparkling Ice Rhinestone Faux Pearl Vintage PinVintage Costume Jewelry Lot Rhinestone Signed Dubarry Kenneth Lane Ann Klein+Vintage Christian Dior Gold Plate Rhinestone Bow NecklaceAntique Late Victorian Gold Filled Paste Rhinestone Cross Pendant Necklace*rare* Vintage Estate Verified Juliana D&e Ab Rhinestone Pendant Brooch!!! G4310Lot Deco Czech Victorian Lockets Necklace Rhinestone Celluloid Bangle German SteVintage Costume Jewelry Miriam Haskell Sets Brooches Juliana D & E Judy Lee LotOwl Lot Of 43 Vintage /modern Articulated, Rhinestone Enamel, Pendant NecklaceAlice Caviness Gorgeous Rhinestone Glass Flower PinVintage Emerald Green Crystal Rhinestone Maltese Cross Brooch #948aJawdropping Vintage Estate Hi End Czech Glass Purple Rhinestone Necklace! G4127Stunning Vintage Estate High End Ab Rhinestone Enamel Flower Brooch!!! G419350 Pc Vintage Rhinestone Glass Lucite Costume Jewelry Lot Sets Some SignedVintage Celluloid Snake Art Deco Wrap Bangle Bracelet - Enamel & RhinestoneRare Vintage Selro Selini Acrylic Noh Mask Rhinestone Fob Dangle NecklaceVintage 1960’s 3” Wide Rigid Rhinestone Bandana Cuff 74 Gram BraceletVintage Philippe Trifari Jewels Of India Joi Cabochon Rhinestone Brooch PinVintage Old Art Deco Rhinestone Silver Floral Filigree Paste Pendant NecklaceVintage Verified Juliana D & E Ab Blue Rhinestone Dangle Crystal Brooch PinD&e Juliana Watermelon Rivoli Glass Fruit Salad Rhinestone Brooch Earrings Set!172 Pc Vintage Higher End Rhinestone Jewelry Lot Sets D&e Pannetta Giovanni Bsk+Victorian Antique Jewelry Lot Cameo Brooch Rhinestone Carnelian Beads NecklaceStunning Vintage Estate Juliana D&e Ab Pink & Red Rhinestone Necklace!!! G3681Vintage Jewelery Sparkling Rhinestone Statement Runway Belt Buckle Cuff BraceletUnsorted Mixed Vintage Modern Rhinestone Gold Silver Tone Jewelry 20 Lbs Big LotVintage Juliana Easter Egg Blue Lucite Rhinestone Choker Necklace Earrings Set Huge 2000 Pc Estate Vtg Costume Jewelry Lot Haskell Juliana Trifari Rhinestone 1120+ Pc 8+ Lbs Semi Precious .925 Ring Rhinestone Wholesale Jewelry Lot $600+Vintage 1990 Trifari Rhinestone Enamel Usa Patriotic American Flag Brooch PinVintage Signed Weiss Thermo Plastic Ab Rhinestone Clamper Hinged BraceletGreat Lot Of Vintage Purple Rhinestone Jewelryl Necklace Pin Earrings!