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Sparking in every color of the rainbow, rhinestone jewelry has been a staple in jewelry boxes for generations of women. Rhinestones are highly reflective glass pieces made to imitate gem stones. They are a poor man’s diamond, popular because women could buy several pieces, wearing a different one each day. Stunning pieces in creative designs are affordable by all.
Charles Swarovski is credited with perfecting a fast cutting technique that produces stones in a fraction of the time that previous, hand cut techniques utilized. Swarovski set a high standard in the making of his glass gems and today more than 85 percent of American jewelry companies use Swarovski rhinestones.
The term Rhinestone came from the Rhine River in Austria. In the late 1800s, the river was filled with small quartz rocks in many hues. As this quartz stone was used up, glass imitations took their place.
Imaginative jewelry makers loved using rhinestone in their designs since they adapt to many styles. Large, clear stones with delicate chains were popular necklace designs in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Déco style used rhinestones in a pave’ setting. By the 1940’s bigger and bolder typified designs. Pins in military themes reflecting the country’s status at war were found in American flags, Uncle Sam hats, and airplanes. Animals and flowers were also popular.
In the 1950’s rhinestones were the most popular costume jewelry material. Necklaces, earrings, and bracelets sold as sets and made of bold multi-colored stones characterized jewelry of the time. The 1960’s hippie movement disdained rhinestones, and they fell out of favor. It was the disco movement of the 70’s and Madonna’s sparkling bracelets of the 80’s that revived interest in rhinestone jewelry.
Recent retro-styled rhinestone pieces are appearing in department stores signaling a renewed interest in classic designs. Many vintage pieces were so elegant and exquisitely made that they now command a high price in the antique market. Whether new or old there’s something for every taste in rhinestone jewelry.
Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff