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]

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]

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]

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    

Antique Georgian Victorian Gilt Paste Faux Turquoise Hair Comb Coronet TiaraFine Victorian Art Nouveau Paste Set And Seed Pearl Silver Pendant And ChainRare, Deco Solid 9ct Rose Gold & Silver Sapphire & Diamond Paste Set Pendant!Magnificent Rare Antique Victorian Solid 9ct Gold Diamond Paste Stud EarringsAntique French Victorian Georgian 18ct Rose Gold Pink Green Foiled Paste RingGeorgian Mourning Brooch Amethyst Purple Flower Antique Hair Paste VictorianAntique Art Deco 1920s Ruby Red Diamond Paste Gold Drop Vintage Earrings VintageVintage Christian Dior By Mitchel Maer Large Paste Stone Brooch A/fFine Pair Of Victorian Green Paste Set Silver Gilt Drop EarringsAntique Georgian Silver Paste EarringsChunky Antique Edwardian Silver Watch Chain Amethyst Paste Fob Necklace * 64gmsAntique Silver ,paste & 9ct Gold Screw Back EarringsAntique Victorian Watch Chain Necklace Repousse Mourning Locket Paste Fob DotVintage Art Deco Czech Clear Paste Glass & Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Engraved Gold Filled Paste Rhinestone Locket19th Century Statement Necklace Paste Opal Pearl Art Nouveau White Metal AntiqueVtg Antique Edwardian Sterling Silver 925 Clear Paste Screw On Drop EarringsArt Deco Antique Silver Emerald Diamond Paste Pendant Baguette Cut EarringsAntique Estate 1860 Victorian 10k Rose Gold Ruby Diamond Paste Womens NecklaceVintage Victorian Gold Filled Locket Set With Cobalt Paste & Seed Pearl 6/8"Fine Victorian Paste Set Gold Spider Brooch, BoxedVintage Art Deco Necklace Open Backed Cranberry Glass Paste RiviereTutti Frutti Marcasite Rainbow Multi-colored Silver Paste Gemstone Necklace GemsAntique French Victorian 18ct Gold Amethyst Paste Long Drop Dormeuses Earrings Antique Art Deco Gold Filled Filigree Ruby Paste Rhinestone Bangle BraceletArt Deco Multi Cabochon Paste Set Silver Bangle And Ring Set ,le Bayadere,boxedVtg Art Deco Channel Set Glass Paste Rhinestone Bangle BraceletAntique - Art Deco - 1940s - Rhinestone Paste - Brooch Pin / Dress Clip / Duette*superb Vintage Silver Bracelet Paste Set . House ClearanceFine Victorian Amethyst & Paste Set Gold Ring,1900Beautiful Victorian Paste Earrings In 14kt GoldGenuine 1930s Art Deco Beautiful Slinky Bracelet Paste Diamonds Baste MetalAntique Victorian Silver 5.00ct Rainbow Paste Lavalier Necklace Circa 1900Antique Georgian Victorian Silver Plted Paste Buttons Earrings ?Art Deco French Silver Garnet Paste BroochFine Art Deco Gold Blue Paste Set Pendant On ChainAntique Victorian Gilt Paste Blue Sapphires & Real Seed Pearl Dinner RingAntique Georgian 9ct Gold & Amethyst Paste Mourning Brooch 1831 Mid 19th CenturyBeautiful Victorian Ornate Gold Gilt Necklace Set With Large Glass/paste StonesFine Art Deco Blue & White Paste Set Gold & Silver RingVintage Art Deco Necklace Paste Diamante Rhinestone Stunning Baguette StonesAntique Platinum Cocktail Statement Ring Art Deco Purple Paste Amethyst Size Q 8Antique Victorian 9 Carat Gold & Paste Stones Earrings Circa 1890Antique Victorian Gold Filled Opal Red Paste Stone Bangle BraceletAntique Victorian C 1890 12ct 12k Gold Gf French Paste Fob Watch Chain NecklaceVintage Opal Glass Brooch Pin Paste Diamante Rhinestone 1950'sBeautiful **huge Antique Victorian Rolled Gold Pink Tourmaline Paste BroochAntique Art Nouveau French Silver Paste Pendant NecklaceVictorian / Edwardian Swinging Bears Paste Stone Brooch Vintage Diamonbar Deco Sterling Silver Green Paste Rhinestone Buckle BraceletAntique Georgian Silver Black Dot Paste Brooch Gold BackAntique Victorian Bates & Bacon 14ct Gold Gf French Paste Star Locket NecklaceLarge Antique Victorian Scottish? Silver Paste Stick Pin,stickpin,vintage.b010Fine Pair Of Victorian Style Paste Set And Cultured Pearl Silver Drop EarringsVintage Art Deco Paste Rhinestone 12 Link BraceletFine & Unusual Articulated Fish Silver & Paste Set Tie PinAntique Victorian French Star Brooch Emerald Green & Ruby Pink Paste Stones.Antique Victorian Paste Bug Stick Pin,stickpin,beetle,insect,vintage,silver?b008Vintage 9ct Gold Sapphire & Paste Diamond Daisy Ring - Size N - Very Pretty!Vintage Art Deco Riviere Paste Necklace Open Back Crystal