Coco Chanel

Costume Jewellery made fashionable

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883-1971) revolutionised fashion: the little black dress and jersey separates were among her creations. What is more, with Miriam Haskell and Elsa Schiaparelli – her archrival – she made costume jewellery fashionable and desirable.
From humble beginnings, she rose to become the mistress of the Duke of Westminster and friends with Ivor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali.

Chanel opened a millinery shop in Paris in 1909, and by 1916 had set up couture houses in Paris, Deauville and Biarritz. In the 1920s she began selling costume jewellery, stating “Costume jewellery is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.”

Early designs included a necklace of facetted clear crystals held together by gilt frames which gave the appearance of a cascade of diamonds; long gilt chains; ropes of faux pearls; poured glass beads and brooches (made by Maison Gripoix) and enamelled and jewelled Maltese cross cuffs, designed for her by Fulcro di Verdura.

Chanel was inspired by antique art and its influence can be seen in jewels inspired by Baroque, Renaissance and Byzantine art, as well as traditional Indian and Egyptian jewellery.

While she may have despised fine jewellery, she demanded that her costume pieces were made to the same high standards, while the design still had to emphasise the fake nature of the materials.

The maison de couture was forced to close in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II and Chanel later moved to Switzerland. She returned to Paris in 1954 with a comeback collection that saw her regain her pre-war success within a year.

Karl Lagerfeld has been the chief designer since 1983. He has designed updated versions of Chanel’s jewellery using the same poured glass techniques, as well as high-quality faux pearls. In the 1980s he satisfied the desire for fashion logos by creating jewellery using the company’s double-C logo as a motif for gilt earrings and pendants.

Early jewellery may not be marked, but later pieces feature the Chanel name in script or block capitals.