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    

Vintage Reja Gold Washed Sterling Silver Aqua Rhinestone Dapper Duck BroochTrifari Alfred Philippe Bird On Branch Enamel Pave Crystal Rhinestone PinTrifari Alfred Philippe Enamel Pink And Purple Rhinestone Flower Pin ClipVintage Art Deco Coro Rhodium Plate Crystal Rhinestone BraceletVintage Art Deco Saphiret Glass Bead Rondelle Rhinestone NecklaceVintage Lot Brooch Pin Enamel Flower Rhinestone Red Yellow Blue Green Orange P22Wow Vtg Signed Hollycraft Heavy Deco Green Blue Parure Ez Rhinestone Repair A77Antique Art Nouveau Foster & Bailey Gold Filled Rhinestone Mucha Lady LocketVintage 51p Designer Hi End Jewelry Lot: Caviness, Hagler, Juliana, SchiaparelliTrifari Alfred Philippe Bird On Branch Enamel Pave Crystal Rhinestone PinAntique Art Deco Lot Brooch Dress Clip Belt Buckle Rhinestone Steel Cut Wow! P21High Quality Vintage Lot Bracelets Tennis Rhinestone Charms Enamel Flower! P16Vtg Signed Coro Molded Glass Flower Tulip Ab Rhinestone Cluster Brooch Pin A6Chunky Vintage Leru Gold Plate Yellow Topaz Rhinestone Pearl BraceletVtg Signed Hattie Carnegie Rhinestone Glass Baroque Pearl Dangle Bib NecklaceRare Vintage Florenza Saphiret Rhinestone Clip EarringsSigned Selini Vintage Maltese Cross Brooch Pin Red Rhinestone Black Navette X36Huge Heavy Sign Miriam Haskell Baroque Pearl Rhinestone Flower Necklace Jewelry High Quality Vintage Lot Necklace Pendant Charms Rhinestone Gemstone Amber! P10Easy Rhinestone Repair Lot Hollycraft Coro Owl Weiss Germany Lucite Copper! P8Signed Jomaz Vtg Brooch Pin Butterfly Mogul Jeweled Fruit Salad Rhinestone B0051940 Philippe Trifari Rhinestone Brooch Pin 4 Inches Duete Type So CoolVintage Lot 110+ Cocktail Ring Rhinestone Flower Enamel Figural Butterfly Wow P9Vintage " Sterling-coro-craft " Rhinestone Crown Brooch Corocraft Coro CraftVtg 202 Pc Designer High End Rhinestone Sterling Gold Costume Jewelry LotVintage Lot 110 Ring Cocktail Flower Enamel Beads Rhinestone Cluster Crystal P23Repair Harvest Vintage Lot Weiss Coro Brooch Necklace Rhinestone Flower! P7Vintage 1967 Trifari "pets" Mod Enamel Horse BroochVintage Lot 150+ Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Enamel Beads Lucite Figural! P1Vintage Estate Lot Rhinestone Jewelry Vtg Signed Joan Rivers Weiss Kramer Austia Rhinestone Flower Brooch Lot A76Antique Art Deco Mourning Glass Rhinestone Graduated Choker Necklace Wow A108Rare Signed Schiaparelli Vintage Jewelry Demi Parure Rhinestone Brooch/ BraceletVtg Juliana Purple Rhinestone Cluster Teardrop Clamper Deco Bracelet Wow A121Juliana D & E Vtg Necklace Pendant Dragons Breath Dichroic Glass Rhinestone B132Signed Jomaz Vintage Set Brooch Pin Earring Green Glass Cabochon Rhinestone B004Vintage Coro Gold Plate Sapphire Emerald Ruby Rhinestone Aladdin's Lamp BroochVtg Unsigned Designer Ab Rhinestone Givre Glass Teardrop Charm Mesh Parure A43Unsigned Weiss Vintage 15" Necklace Blue Ab Crystal Rhinestone Stunning! X19Super Quality Vintage Lot Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Enamel Fish Fruit! P18Huge Lot 34 Enamel Flower Leaf Many Brooch Necklace Earrings Rhinestone Vtg ModVintage Art Deco Red & Crystal Rhinestone Dress Clip PairVintage Lot Christmas Brooch Rhinestone Flower Enamel Reindeer Tree Wreath! P12Huge Wow Unsigned Schiaparelli Vtg Flower Cluster Rhinestone Brooch Pin Deco A40Vtg Unsigned Designer Blue Rhinestone Crystal Flower Pendant Brooch Pin A3Large Vintage Signed Sphinx Teardrop Rhinestone Cross Statement Brooch Shawl PinWow Vtg Juliana Yellow Orange Rhinestone Flower Multirow Scallop Clip Parure A46Dazzling Vintage High End Designer Crystal Rhinestone Clamper BraceletTrifari Alfred Philippe Sterling Jelly Belly Blue Heron Crane Stork Pin / BroochSign Miriam Haskell Silver Baroque Pearls Rhinestone Earrings Jewelry Vintage Christmas Lot Tree Angel Santa Brooch Pin Rhinestone Enamel Bells! P11Signed Florenza Vintage Brooch Pin Blue Green Rhinestone Tassel Dangle B017Vtg Signed Judy Lee Orange Navette Rhinestone Flower Brooch Earring Pin Set A51Vtg Unsigned Runway Designer Turquoise Moonglow Glass Rhinestone Bracelet A93Vtg 65p Designer Rhinestone Lot Juliana Austria Weiss Germany Regency Many SetsTrifari Sterling Talisman Scepter Clip Pin Rhinestone Cabochon Vintage 1948Antique Art Deco Signed Nov-e-line Green Glass Flower Rhinestone Bracelet A102Vintage Lot Necklace Crystal Rhinestone Choker Bracelet Thermoset Lucite! P26Vintage Unsigned Sandor Gold Gilt Green Amber Rhinestone BraceletVintage Juliana Purple Rhinestone Necklace Aurora Borealis