Vintage Costume Jewelry from My Grandmother’s Collection

by Sammy in 14 Comments — Updated December 4, 2019

womens vintage costume jewelry

Happy Wednesday everyone!

I skipped my regularly-scheduled update on the site yesterday because I’ve been a busy bee visiting with family in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was born and raised here, spending 18 amazing years surrounded by humble countryside beauty and warmth of community and supportive family.

It’s always a blessing when I can come home and reconnect with the people and the setting which knows me best, helping to put the great opportunities and accomplishments of my life into perspective. With my 25th birthday fast approaching (March 16th!) it’s especially relevant that I find “grounding” in the origins of my who I am and who I always will be, so long as I stay true to myself!

So, the short end of the story: I was too busy to blog yesterday!!!

[But] the good end of the story: Thanks to a visit with my 85-year-old grandmother, I am now the honored owner of what she referred to as “junk” costume jewelry collection, some of which is pictured above and more of which is pictured and examined below. The pieces span from the ‘70s to ‘90s, and are mostly pieces she wore when traveling on her twice-yearly cruises through the Caribbean islands.

Keep reading after the jump to learn more about the pieces from this “junk” jewelry collection, which are technically called “estate” jewelry pieces if you refer to the Wikipedia entry on vintage jewelry.

Want to take home some of the pieces you see in a future Sammy Davis Vintage giveaway? Let me know in the comments if this interests you! 

I hope that everyone reading this is inspired to reconnect with their family through vintage style, jewels, history or just conversation! I spent time with both my Grandmother and Great Aunt early this week, and with both visits I was reminded of my great past and inspired to look forward to my great future.

Our elders have wisdom and wit that we will only achieve with age and experience! However, we can glean bits of knowledge from regular connections with them so that we can grow into exciting new chapters of our lives with the wisdom of an old, centered soul.

Tomorrow and Friday are FANTASTIC posts, featuring an interview with notable Etsy seller [and an old, stylish soul herself!] The Vintage Mistress, and a gorgeously inspiring post on how the ‘70s will be influencing our style this spring. Well, once the spring weather arrives, that is!

xx, SD

vintage costume jewelry

Above: The contents of the “junk jewelry” box my grandmother gifted me.

“JUNK jewelry?” you may be exclaiming to yourself right now, “How is THIS junk jewelry?!” Tell me about it — I had the same reaction! But with “vintage” perspective I can understand why she identified the jewelry as mere “junk,” – because women of eras past did not value their “throwaway” pieces in the same fashion as we do today.

I can go to a Forever 21 or an H&M; or to a local street vendor selling made-from-China pieces, and literally go to town buying up all the “junk” jewelry I want with a measly $20 bill. Our grandmothers, however, would have tried to avoid buying the junk and instead saved their $20 bills to invest in a fine quality, one-of-a-kind piece.

Now, since the “junk” jewelry of the past isn’t the same as the junk jewelry of today, my grandmother’s costume jewelry really is of finer quality and more one-of-a-kind uniqueness than anything I could afford today [that is, unless I went vintage!].

So it’s with a smile that I gratefully acknowledge the value in saving for that true gem of a piece, and it’s with a smile that I can also breathe life into the pieces my grandmother wore for fun, and not finery.

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: My grandmother spent at least two weeks a year traveling by cruise line, so many of the pieces in her vintage costume jewelry collection reflect her exotic travels to the Caribbean. This piece above is made from some sort of graphite/rock contents that I’m not well-versed to identify, but I speculate it came from a local jewelry artisan acquired during one of her Mexico and/or Latin America visits.

HOW TO WEAR IT: The sea green of this purposely distressed necklace looks great with blondes or against tan skin. Wear it in the summer with a sarong wrap and string bikini top!

vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: Ah, what a kitchy find! This is definitely a piece my grandmother only wore when traveling. It just wouldn’t have been appropriate wearing around the streets of little ‘ole Lancaster, PA. I love a good piece of jewelry worn on just the right occasion. It shines light on the experience with great style in mind.

HOW TO WEAR IT: The fish pin’s dark colors would swim well along the style of a light colored blazer. Pin the fish on your collar or the top of a breast pocket.

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: I don’t know much about jewelry design, although I do have quite a few friends who make jewelry for a living and as an outlet to explore personal creativity. What I do know from my handful of jewelry making friends is that “smoldering” jewelry – when you take a blow torch and quite literally burn your design from metal – is NOT easy!

VINTAGE TIP: While I can’t be quite sure, this piece seems to be hand smoldered from some sort of metal. I didn’t get a chance to see if this is a costume jewelry piece or not – the trick is to turn the piece around and see if there is a costume jewelry brand name engraved on the piece, such as “Monet,” a popular department store brand.

If I could bet on it, this very ethnic-influenced piece is a costume-jewelry piece that my grandmother bought new in Lancaster to wear with a particular outfit. She was definitely a wardrobe planner!

HOW TO WEAR IT: The piece has such intricate detail that I wouldn’t want anything else in my outfit to steer the eye away from appreciating this piece. I wouldn’t want it worn against the skin, either, because I think that it would hang too low for wear with a modest top.

Rather, I’m imagining style greatness with a chic “boat neck” three quarter length top in red or white. The red’s brightness would highlight the multi-colors of this necklace, while a simple white would obviously make this center piece shine.

womens vintage costume jewelry

A closer look at the details and colors: bronze, gold and green.

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: Nothing beats a gold chain with an inexplicably designed medallion appended to the end of it – which is exactly what this piece is! This is a costume jewelry piece probably from the late ‘70s, by the looks of the unique chain clasp.

VINTAGE TIP: Examine how your vintage piece is built to be worn. Do you recognize the clasp? If you don’t, chances are its vintage. Take a look at the medallion necklace above and you’ll see the gold chain’s clasp is not like the more modern circle clasp below.

HOW TO WEAR IT: Wear this medallion as low as you want, darling! It’s meant for hanging and it’s meant for holding. I’m no rapper, but I’d have to say that Flavor Flav would be quite jealous at this find!

I’d rock my gold medal necklace with an open vest and high-neck tank top. That way, the medallion can creep from below the vest without being “full frontal” force in the spotlight.

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: While not a real set of pearls, this four-faux pearl string necklace looks pretty close to the real deal thanks to it’s delicate construction and the gorgeous design of this intricate neck clasp.

On the cruise ships my grandmother so often vacationed, you can bet she was a sophisticated force to be reckoned with when she wore these pearls with a black evening gown for dinner.

I don’t think my grandmother preferred pearls, which is why she probably opted for the costume jewelry version. She was definitely a gold jewelry wearer of choice.

HOW TO WEAR IT: Pearls really have made a comeback as everyday wearable items, real or not. I know some ladies who never dress without putting on their pearls first.

Four strand pearl necklaces, however, get an instant boost in formality simply because they are multiple strands of larger-sized pearls. To wear during the day, pair with a feminine lacey blouse and a silk, feminine cut blazer. Avoid double breasted blazers – if you can get away with wearing a blazer with a round collar, minimum buttons and a cropped cut, this is your ideal pairing.

Aim for skinny pants or a hip-snug, curve-loving skirt on bottom to avoid looking loose and dowdy, and you’re golden!

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: While they exist today, buying “sets” of costume jewelry was the standard for women like my grandmother. She would always opt to buy the necklace and it’s joining earrings, brooch/pin and bracelet. She would then wear all items at once for the perfectly matched looked.

HOW TO WEAR IT: Today’s reality: Most of us don’t match our jewelry in a “packaged deal” sort of way. Style standards today push our creative buttons to make our bric-a-brac pieces work in a fun, shabby chic union of sorts.

So when buying an entire “set” of vintage jewelry, don’t feel pressured to wear it all at once. Rock the bro0ch on a headband for some hair bling. Wear the bracelet mixed with your cherished bangles. Layer the necklace with gold chains.

But when wearing the entire set, wear it for the purpose that it was created to declare: to embody the vintage idea of conscientious dressing and best-foot-forward presentation at all times.

vintage costume jewelry

Matching crystal brooch and necklace.

vintage costume jewelry

Matching “dragon” medallion bracelet and necklace.

vintage costume jewelry

Matching “leaf” choker, bracelet and clip-on earrings.

womens vintage costume jewelry pins

INSPIRED INSIGHT: Pins, brooches, shiny tiny style objects … whatever you call ‘em, they were definitely more popular in our parents’ and grandparents’ day [I’m speaking for 25 year olds here!] than they are today.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still rock ‘em and roll ‘em with our own style savviness at hand.

HOW TO WEAR IT: While most of us aren’t bankers working corporate jobs with double breasted blazers just waiting to be adorned by various pins, most of us do like to wear multiple layers for warmth and for trendy layering purposes.

Whether your layer is a cardigan, a jacket, a vest or a blazer, you can add a pin for another layer of style. I like placing pins in a place you want the eye to fall, like along a pocket or collar.

Pins also double as great hair accessories: use a pin to pull together a head scarf or to add oomph to a ho-hum head band. I wear scarves indoors and outdoors, and to make your average winter wear indoors-appropriate, adding pins for a secure stylish fit does the trick, too.

One last put-good-use-to-pins trick: Decorate your LBB – “Little Black Bag” – with the perfectly placed pin. Bigger is better so the pin looks as if it was designed into the bag, and that you just didn’t randomly place it there.

womens vintage costume jewelry earrings

INSPIRED INSIGHT: If you’re anything like me, you’re literally salivating right now. I know – again, how is this possibly “junk” jewelry?!

These clip on earrings sparkle and shine unlike any other pieces I could afford at this time in my life. Earrings like this remind us that all it takes is a piece or two of jewelry to really up the ante of any outfit. I wear jewelry with my running clothes sometimes! I know it might sound ridiculous to some, but we owe it to ourselves to add beauty to the everyday. Sometimes, jewelry is the easiest way to do this when the weather or the uncontrollable circumstances of our lives aren’t cooperating.

HOW TO WEAR IT: I know many women who wear their “one pair” of earrings religiously. It doesn’t matter what they have on – eveningwear, daywear, work wear, workout wear, sleep wear! – they’re adorned in ear-jewels because they are a simple chic that need never be removed.

The earrings above are a bit too styled to wear on the every-everyday basis, but they can still be integrated into your wardrobe on a regularly occurring basis. The top gold earrings are perfect for a night on the dance floor. The crystal earrings are beautiful for a black tie affair. The green flowers would accent any of your spring brights, and the bottom gold ladies are lovely for work.

But don’t just listen to me – wear your vintage clip-ons however you’d like. Because that’s the best style of all: the one that you love most because it’s yours.

womens vintage costume jewelry earrings

I have yet to do research on why so many earrings pre 1990s were clip-on or screw-on. My guess is that the popularity of pierced ears simply wasn’t what it is today. If anyone has insight, please leave your knowledge in the comments below!

womens vintage costume jewelry

INSPIRED INSIGHT: The perfect accessory for a spring day – silver daisy flowers! I love how the “ball” of the flower catches your reflection. If you look close enough you can see me snapping a picture!

The peace-love style of these earrings reminds me of the ‘70s, so my best guess for age on these darlings is at least 30 years old. Definitely a fun piece of costume jewelry that never grows old: who doesn’t love some flowers in her wear?

HOW TO WEAR IT: The clip-on earrings along with the pin may be a bit much, especially because the “balls” and “petals” of the earrings are quite 3-dimensional!

I’d wear either/or: the pin as a collar accent, or the earrings with my hair pulled back to show ‘em off full force. No use hiding Mother Nature!

Editors Note: This article was corrected for a spelling error on 3/28/12. Brooch was incorrectly spelled “broach” in four instances.

14 thoughts on “Vintage Costume Jewelry from My Grandmother’s Collection”

  1. As precious as the jewelry is, I couldn’t wear your obviously fabulous Grandma’s gems! Those are for you and your fam!

    • Sarah, I’ve got to agree. The pieces are gorgeous and one of a kind from a vintage jewelry level alone, then top it off with it being from family! wowsers, amazing! Sammy you may not want or wear all of it now or ever, but one day there will be nieces and/or daughters who will or would love to. Just my opinion …

  2. I love the rhinestone pins and brooches. I have some of my late mother in law’s jewelry, some of it handed down to her from HER mother and grandmother, so some of the pieces are definitely antique. All lovely, all tell a story to me.

  3. A year ago last November my Great Aunt passed away leaving behind a vast collection of antique and vintage jewelry, vintage hats and scarves. I’m trying very hard to incorporate the pieces into my daily looks, as they are works of art and part of my family heritage.

    You would love the vintage Christian Dior belt that I have. So 80’s and chic. Haven’t worn it yet, but I will eventually and I’ll give you a shout out when I do.

    You’re awesome, and only 25 . . . Wow!

  4. I love raiding my grandmothers jewellery, glad to see I’m not the only one :)

  5. I love the crystal broach and necklace.My grandmother has a collection of earrings & I love to wear them when I get bored from my own collection.

  6. SAMMY! YOUR GRAMS JEWELRY IS MAJOR DROOL WORTHY! yes i said that all in caps, cause im dead serious! do you think you or your grams would mind if i borrow a few of those super sparkly pieces?! hehe <3


  7. Back then, pierced ears=trashy girl or immigrants. As my mother, born 1921, said, “If God wanted holes in your ears, He would have put them there already.”

    Respectable women did not pierce their ears. Period.

    Also, clipons were great when you were talking on the phone.

    I inherited my mother’s haul, most from the ’40s when she lived in Greenwich Village and was a career girl.

    My daughters are too young to appreciate it… yet.

  8. I was just searching for ideas and inspiration to use up some broken old costume jewelry and I stumbled upon your blog. As soon as I saw the title I had to know what was in grandmas jewelry box since I’m a total vintage jewelry nut. Then to my utter amazement I saw that you and I have the same birthday! For I too just turned 25 on the 16th! :) Your grandma had some awesome finds in there. To me that is true treasure! I’ll continue to follow your blog since it looks like the exact type of stuff I love. :D In the early 1900’s when earrings became strongly popular pierced ears were often associated with “loose” women, gypsies and so on. So it took awhile for fashion to overcome that stigma. Also many of those old earrings were quite heavy! (Think of those huge rhinestone chandelier drops. Ouch!). So clip-ons probably seemed the safer choice anyway! Thanks for sharing! Happy birthday and happy treasure hunting!!!

  9. Ha! Just realized, this was posted last year! Well at least I got the day right! lol

    • Hi love! I’m so appreciative of what you wrote. Wow. I am always so grateful for new teachers … and it’s crazy what you learn, and then forget, and then learn again! Well us modern gypsies with our pierced ears … LOL. Anyway, yes my birthday was last week and thank you so much for the love! Not sure if we chat on Facebook but your name looks super familiar so hope we have/will in future XO

  10. I could be wrong, but I believe it should be spelled brooch, not broach.

    • Cassi, thanks so much for this! I’m going to change now ;-) <--- woops!

  11. I love the bling of the silver crystal necklace and brooch though I doubt I would wear them myself on a daily basis. I did however have an antique necklace similar to the one in the picture for my wedding day and this blog put me in mind of it so I went searching and found it in the bottom of a dusty drawer! Needless to say I am wearing it now with another choker style necklace and have had a few compliments about my sense of style today!


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