By Harlan Yaffe,
Fashion Editor for Todo Ahora
December 27, 2002

The crown of a king, the sword of the knight, the gold cross of the pope: even if you slept through your English literature class, the meaning of symbolism becomes instantly clear.  From time immemorial, jewelry has been associated with the dominant influence of the day, be it power, religion, mysticism, and at all times, wealth.  No wonder the history of imitation jewelry dates back to the times of the Pharaohs, as people have always sought to appear more commanding, richer and influential that they actually are.  

Genuine jewelry was and is highly treasured, saved for, and passed down as heirlooms in families. In a combination of sentiment and an acknowledgement of the hardships sustained as each piece was acquired, each generation instilled in their children that only genuine jewelry was worth anything, and that any imitations are false, pretentious trash.

The proliferation of 24 hour "diamondelle" marathons on television shopping networks makes us wonder, despite the passing of 6000 years since the last pyramid was sealed, if we've come a long way baby after all? While it may sparkle like the real thing, surely no one truly believes the cashier at their local supermarket, sporting a rock the size of which would be more at home floating in a highball glass than around a band on her finger, is wearing a bonafide gemstone.

I agree; this is mass-marketed junk.  But surely, there must be some middle ground between the Queen's tiara and dime store pearls. Indeed, there is: costume jewelry.

We are admittedly heading into a gray area. The distinction between "junk" and "costume" is based on taste and esthetic merit rather than price. Junk jewelry is a simulation of the real thing, bragged about as genuine and worn only to appear wealthier. Costume jewelry is unapologiticly fake and chosen as an artistic representation of personal expression.

Costume jewelry first became respectable in the 20th century. Coco Chanel led the pack of clothing designers offering candid imitations, as glorious as they were outrageous, (as these pieces, if executed in genuine stones and precious metals would be in museums) to the privileged throngs of royalty, socialites, heiresses, and movie stars who shopped with style as their barometer, not a pocketbook. When these wealthy patrons, especially the blue bloods who never had to overcome the stigma of having been poor, greeted these fabulous fakes with open arms, the impressionable public quickly followed.  


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