In the aristocratic classes of 17th century Europe, particularly the taste-making rococo Parisians, fine jewelry made of precious gemstones like diamonds and emeralds was flaunted and coveted. These stones were treasured for their beauty as much as their relative rarity—it was this rarity that prompted jewellers to seek out an equally beautiful, but less expensive, alternative material for their creations.

In 1724, French jewel designer Georges Frédéric Strass came up with “paste,” a kind of leaded glass that he cut and polished with metal powder until it appeared to shimmer like a diamond in the light. These white “diamante” or “strass” were a hit with glamorous Parisian high society.

During the Victorian Era, non-precious pastes were a part of a tasteful lady’s evening jewelry sets. They were also used in pieces intended to convey coded messages of romance, based on the colors of the pastes. Toward the end of the era, Austrian jeweler Daniel Swarovski introduced the first cut-glass crystals that successfully imitated the look of diamonds. While glass is not a rare material, the level of artistry and craftsmanship that went into his crystals made them appropriate for fine-jewelry settings of gold and sterling silver.

Swarovski crystals, which were made of high-lead-content glass and have a permanent foil backing, gave the illusion of almost any rare gem, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. In 1892, Swarovski patented a mechanical glass cutter so his crystals could be mass-produced to meet the high demand.

In 1895, Swarovski moved his family business, originally located in the Gablonz area of Bohemia, to Austria near the Rhine River—which is how pastes and crystals became known as “rhinestones.” As such, they were treasured by Belle Époque and Edwardian socialites alike, and used in elegant, swirling Art Nouveau designs.

The term “costume jewelry” didn’t become a part of popular vernacular until the 20th century. During the Art Deco period in the 1920s, Parisian couture designers like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli adopted pastes, crystals, and other rhinestones to make high-fashion statement pieces with huge faux gems. These pieces looked so fabulous, socialites and Hollywood stars alike simply had to have them.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Scrap Album

The Scrap Album

Malcolm Warrington’s The Scrap Album is a handsomely organized site, as you’d expect from an articulate champio… [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]

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]

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Malcolm Roebuck's tribute to the ornate silk picture bookmarks and postcards ('Stevengraphs') produced by Thomas St… [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]

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]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fine Pair Of Art Deco Design Jade, Onyx And Paste Set Silver Drop EarringsLovely Pair Edwardian Gold & Silver & Paste Set Pendant Pearl EarringsVintage Art Deco Green Paste Rhinestone Pot Metal Pendant Necklace Bracelet PartAntique 9ct Gold Rg & Silver Paste Solitaire Engagement Ring 2ct Stone* Sz NAntique Victorian Gold Filled Clear Paste Stone Bangle BraceletFine Victorian Art Nouveau Mabe Pearl And Paste Stone Silver Pendant NecklaceFabulous Antique Art Deco Silver Princess Cut Diamond Paste Eternity Ring C1920Beautiful! Antique Victorian Repousse Gold Round Locket Heart Paste Stones W&sbChunky Antique Victorian 12ct Rose Gold Gf Slide Watch Chain & Huge Paste LocketFabulous Antique Victorian Gf Saphiret & Paste BroochAntique Victorian 9ct Gold Diamond Paste Ivy Leaf Mourning Brooch Circa 1890 Rare Antique Victorian French 18k Gold Emeral Paste Engraved Ball Earrings 1880Fine Indian Paste Set Silver Necklace, Bracelet And Earrings SetFab** Antique Deco 9ct Rose Gold Rg & Sterling Paste Eternity Ring Sz M Or 6Stunning Victorian Paste Set Gold Spider Pendant On ChainAntique C1820 Georgian Sterling Silver Black Dot Paste Ring Size L+ A/fAntique Vtg Victorian Gold Fill Paste Rhinestone Flower Locket Necklace PendantVintage Art Deco Sterling Silver Crystal Paste Rhinestone BraceletRare Antique Ostby & Barton Wide Sterling Filigree Paste BraceletBeautiful Vintage Deco Sterling Silver & Diamond Paste Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Bar Pin Brooch Lot Act & Gold Filled Paste Rhinestone RoseAntique Art Deco Sterling Silver Diamond & Sapphire Paste Set Flower BraceletAntique Art Deco Faceted Amber Glass & Paste Silver & 9ct Gold Hallmarked RingAntique English Victorian 9k Gold White & Green Paste Heart Cluster Ring C1870Vintage Antique Art Deco Gold Fill Mop Heart Green Paste Stone Fob Charm PendantArt Deco Thick Channel Paste Navy And Clear Stone Hinged Bangle Bracelet VintageVtg Antique Edwardian Victorian Art Deco Sterling Silver Paste Watch ChainVintage English Charm C1970 9ct Gold & Paste Wedding Engagement Eternity RingsVintage Navajo Turquoise Coral Paste Sterling Silver Hallmark M.l. Mens RingThree Vintage/deco Diamond Paste Set NecklacesTwo Antique Paste Stone Hat Pins Stick Pins - Bow & Arrow - Faux PearlArt Nouveau Old Vintage Paste Stone Ornate Mens Cufflinks Cuff Links Vtg OldAntique Georgian Black Dot And Faux Tortoise Paste Tiara CombVictorian Gold Gilt Garnet Color Rhinestone And Paste Stone Lavalier Book ChainArt Deco Sterling Silver & Paste Rhinestone French Filigree Brooch 1920s 925 NrAntique Paste Earrings ---victorian Era ---huge---14caratRare ** Antique Deco 12k Tri Gold Gf Garnet & Sapphire Paste Expansion BraceletSmall Early Victorian Baby/christening Bangle. Paste.Dealer Lot Of 3 Sterling Silver Paste Rhinestone Brooches Coro Sterling Triad