About five years ago I found a pin in a junk shop. It was very well made and sculptural. My research led me to discover a world in which I grew up, the 1950′s and 60′s, post war boom of American Costume Jewelry. Providence , Rhode Island was the center of manufacturing of this beautiful art form. During WW II, the costume jewelry factories were outfitted for fine tooling for highly detailed military products. After the war, costume jewelry became the platform where wild designs could be executed because real jewels were not used. The quality of workmanship during this era is unsurpassed by what we are making now in affordable fashion. In fact, we are making very little, as most clothing and costume jewelry are manufactured in China.
Of course, the costume jewelry industry was not without labor abuses. Like many manufacturers, owners worked their women and men long hours without benefits, thus giving way to new labor laws. The 1960′s were defined by the Cuban Missile Crisis, our loss of innocence as a society, inequality, Civil Rights, Vietnam, revolution, creativity in music, and the emergence of Feminism and the “Mad Men” culture.
But my focus today is on is the 1950′s commitment to excellence from the workers–that value which gave us quality products. Mid- twentieth century costume jewelry regaled an exuberance, a casual elegance of design, and also sense of humor– reminding one not to take oneself so seriously. Dreams of a better life without strife are embodied in the clarity of the rhinestones, the handmade Art Glass, the movement of color across the metal. There was a brief time of hope, innocence, and fantasy, but it quickly yielded to unrest in the next decade.
Do we dream now, or do we fear? Do we have hope that our children and grandchildren will live in a just world, where people care about preserving the natural forces of the earth? That we will once again make most things in America? Are most of us scrambling to survive,
or so we think? In spite of all the economic and political realities, we are still in America, where we have to create our own hope and be thankful we are not in a refuge camp.
I decided to collect costume jewelry of this genre because it reminds me of American idealism. The trend now is entrepreneurship, and that is a good thing. I want to commit myself to buying products made in America and strive to make them better.