Costume Jewelry and Costume Novelties, Except Precious Metal

SIC 3961

Industry report:

This category encompasses businesses primarily engaged in manufacturing costume jewelry, costume novelties, and ornaments made of all materials, except precious metal, precious or semiprecious stones, and rolled gold paste and gold-filled materials. The products manufactured within this category include such items as necklaces, rings, artificial pearls, compacts, cuff links, and rosaries. Businesses primarily engaged in manufacturing jewelry of precious and semiprecious material are classified in SIC 3911: Jewelry, Precious Metal; those manufacturing leather compacts and vanity cases are classified in SIC 3172: Personal Leather Goods, Except Women's Handbags and Purses; and those manufacturing synthetic stones for gem stone and industrial use are classified in SIC 3299: Nonmetallic Mineral Products, Not Elsewhere Classified.

Industry Snapshot

About 1,680 companies manufactured costume jewelry in the United States, in the late 2000s, according to Dun & Bradstreet's 2010 Industry Reports. Many of the older companies were based in Rhode Island, a state that accounted for 32 percent of industry sales in 2009. Illinois and New York were also important states, with 14 percent and 13 percent of total sales, respectively.

Organization and Structure

American costume jewelry companies manufacture products in various ways, primarily using base metals like tin and lead to fashion such findings as clasps and pin-backs--the basic components of a finished piece. One manufacturing process used is stamping, a labor-intensive method that produces a finer and more polished piece of metal. The more typical method in the shaping of metal for costume jewelry, however, is casting, which involves pouring molten metal into a mold. This process lends itself more readily to mass production of the jewelry. Manufacturers also utilize relatively recent methods of centrifugal casting and injection molding of plastic. The findings produced from these processes are then used to fabricate finished pieces or are sold to individual costume jewelry houses. Another integral function is electroplating, the electrolytic process of coating base metals with a small amount of a precious metal to give the jewelry its gold or silver appearance.

Most large costume jewelry companies sell their wares through department stores, an innovative marketing strategy that evolved during the 1950s. Earrings are one of the biggest sellers, followed in volume by necklaces and pins. One-third of all costume jewelry purchased in the United States is purchased as a gift--Christmas, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day are the peak selling seasons. Two-thirds are purchased for individual use. Costume jewelry also is a popular product on home-shopping networks found on cable channels both in the United States and, increasingly, abroad.

Background and Development

The industry is centered in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, which originally attracted fine jewelry artisans in the eighteenth century. A craftsperson by the name of Nehemiah Dodge introduced gold-plating technology to the area in the late 1700s. The costume jewelry industry benefited from the nineteenth century's great advances in industrial technology, including the development of new machinery that allowed inexpensive jewelry to be mass-produced. By 1900, these items had found a significant domestic market. Portuguese immigrants skilled in the necessary handiwork accounted for a large part of the labor pool and proved influential in the rise of Rhode Island as a base for costume jewelry manufacturers.

The term "costume jewelry" was first used in a 1933 article in the New Yorker. The development of the modern industry was directly influenced by such European fashion designers as Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. These designers commissioned original pieces that clearly were not real, the sole purpose of which was to complement the sartorial ensemble. Many of the early examples of costume jewelry were larger-than-life imitations of fine jewelry, but the burgeoning industry soon spawned innovative artisans who experimented with a variety of shapes, materials, and color palettes. Designers of costume jewelry then, as now, were often allowed by the disposable nature of the product to experiment wildly and inject a good dose of imagination into their work, an attitude not often encouraged within the realm of more traditional fine jewelry.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, costume jewelry manufacturers primarily used cut-glass stones, imitation pearls, and enamel. Costume jewelry became overwhelmingly popular during the social upheavals of the 1920s, and the materials of choice for fashionable flappers were the glass materials of jet and crystal. The Great Depression that choked the American economy during the 1930s brought many new customers to the costume jewelry market, as those who lost fortunes could no longer afford fine jewelry. White metal became the most common material in inexpensive metal jewelry, but World War II restrictions on the use of metals was manifested in the proliferation of gold- and silver-plated pieces. In addition, the war caused American manufacturers to be cut off from their Czechoslovakian and Japanese suppliers of cut glass and pearls.

The popularity of ornate gilt pieces and the continued use of crystal, jet, and inexpensive stones grew during the 1950s. An important court decision at that time was instrumental in solidifying the respectability of the creators and manufacturers of costume jewelry. When First Lady Mamie Eisenhower wore Trifari pieces to the presidential inaugural balls in 1952 and 1956, the much-publicized act spawned legions of copycat pieces. Trifari successfully filed suit to protect the copyright of their designs.

Innovative uses of materials and forms were the hallmark of costume jewelry styles in the 1960s. After the profitable synthetics industry burgeoned in the aftermath of World War II, molded plastics such as Perspex became commonplace as a material for inexpensive jewelry that could be easily transformed into daring shapes and colors complementing the outrageous fashions of the decade. In 1971, the U.S. gold market was deregulated, which set off waves of sizable price increases over the next decade that raised the cost of fine jewelry. This had a beneficial effect upon costume jewelry manufacturers, as more consumers turned to higher-end costume pieces from upscale designers, including Kenneth Jay Lane and Robert Lee Morris, rather than purchasing the genuine article from fine jewelers. Sterling silver also became a popular material during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Even the British punk movement of the late 1970s exerted its influence on costume jewelry trends of the 1980s, as the "creative salvage" look, utilizing leather and rubber, became popular. The legions of women that began entering the work force in the 1970s also were influential in the development of costume jewelry styles. The working woman's choice of clothing often was restricted to conservative styles that fit into a business environment, so costume jewelry became a way of personalizing a wardrobe. In the 1990s, an interest in multiculturalism was evident in the use of motifs and materials inspired by indigenous cultures and natural elements, a prime example of which was the popularity of faux-ivory materials. By the mid-1990s, one of the most popular new looks in costume jewelry was the cubic zirconia, a simulated diamond. It can be made transparent to resemble a diamond, or colored to simulate precious stones and is used primarily in rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

Legislation regarding environmental issues had an adverse effect on the industry. Clean air and water laws enacted in the 1990s presented challenges to manufacturers, particularly those firms involved in electroplating, causing the cost of the process to increase significantly. Generally, such establishments were required to have wastewater treatment facilities that removed harmful chemicals and metals from discharge water, and some manufacturers also were required to install air scrubbers to clean exhaust.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total jewelry and silverware product shipments for 2003 were valued $4.7 billion, of which $820 million was attributed to costume jewelry. In 2004, retail sales of costume jewelry increased more than 5 percent, which brought its levels nearly to that of fine jewelry.

Only about 8 percent of the industry's total production was exported to other countries in the late twentieth century, including Canada, Japan, and Korea, the top three importers of American-made costume jewelry. Some of the firms were involved only in the manufacture of pieces using purchased components. The items were then sold to costume jewelry retailers, especially department stores. Other firms, however, both fabricated and marketed their own product lines.

Industry shipments were valued at $820 million during the early years of the 2000s, and the industry employed about 8,100 people, of whom 5,700 worked in production. By the mid-2000s, costume jewelry sales were soaring, and in 2004, the retail value rivaled that of fine jewelry. More and more outlets were carrying costume jewelry. Trends in the mid-2000s were for flashy, large, attention-grabbing pieces such as very long necklaces and earrings, thick necklaces with multiple strands, cocktail rings, and brooches or pins. Charm bracelets and charms also continued to be hot items.

Current Conditions

Like many manufacturers of discretionary consumer items, the costume jewelry makers felt the negative effects of the economic recession of the 2000s. By 2007, shipment values had dropped to $728.7 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The decline was slow but steady throughout the rest of the decade, with total industry sales at $721.7 million in 2009. Employment also dropped; in 2007, there were 5,400 employees in the industry, 62 percent of whom were production workers.

Imports in this industry remained high in the late 2000s and early 2010s. According to Supplier Relations US LLC, imports were valued at $1.6 billion in 2009. Exports, on the other hand, were worth just $236.2 million.

Industry Leaders

One of the top companies involved in the costume jewelry industry in the early 2010s was FGX International Holdings Ltd., based in the British Virgin Islands. The company had 3,000 employees and 2009 sales of $259.2 million. Other industry leaders included Uncas Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island; 1928 Jewelry Company of Burbank, California; and K & M Associates of Providence, Rhode Island. In addition, Swank Inc. was an important maker of men's cuff links and other accessories, with $114.8 million in 2009 sales. The women's division of Swank was purchased by K & M in 2001.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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