Kenneth Jay Lane starburst brooch, c. 1968


The term costume jewelry came into use in the early 20th century, probably in the mid-1920s. Prior to the 1920s, jewelry had a dual purpose: adornment and as a vehicle for displaying personal or familial wealth. Though glass paste gemstones and pinchbeck could very nearly imitate the appearance of costly fine jewelry, objects made using these techniques filled the same roles as did jewelry made from gold and diamonds. In the 1920s, semi-precious and non-precious jewelery challenged this notion, suggesting that jewelry was simply another way to enhance personal appearance. The most iconic example of this mindset are the oversized, patently fake pearls worn and popularized by Gabrielle Chanel.

As the twentieth century progressed, costume jewelry continued to gain in popularity, becoming an acceptable, popular alternative to precious jewelry. One of the most celebrated costume jewelry designers of the twentieth century is Kenneth Jay Lane. Lane's fashion training began at Vogue, where he worked in the art department. He quickly switched to shoe design, working for Delman and Christian Dior Shoes. In 1961/2 Lane was working on a collection of jeweled shoes for Arnold Scassi when he "suggested making jeweled buttons to match the shoes, and even matching earrings and bangle bracelets."1 This first hand-made collection consisted of plastic bracelets and drop earrings covered with rhinestones. These first designs ultimately weren't mass-manufactured, but they began Lane's forays into jewelry design. In 1963, Lane quit designing shoes and turned full-time to jewelry.

Kenneth Jay Lane
Gift of Anonymous Donor

From whimsical animal brooches, to dangling beaded chandelier earrings and stately necklaces, Lane has explored a wide range of jewelry subjects and styles. In the late, 1960s Lane created jeweled sash belts in red, white and blue stones, jeweled watches, a beaded faux ponytail and a line of jewelry mixing natural seashells and multi-colored stones. This 1968 rhinestone brooch is large–about 3 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches. Unlike much of Lane's late 1960s jewelry, it's in a classic style, resembling the romantic jeweled lapel brooches popular in the 1930s and into the 1940s. At the same time, the starburst shape evokes more contemporary imagery, including stylized representations of the atom.

In addition to his original designs, Lane shamelessly copied precious jewelry produced by Van Cleef and Arpels, Bulgari and Cartier. Lane has also recounted that some women had his costume jewelry recreated in precious stones. Lane considered it the ultimate compliment when women wore "their genuine gems with his fakes."2 During the 1960s, Lane's jewelry was regularly featured in fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Diana Vreeland (then editor of Vogue) was a particularly strong supporter of Lane's work and ensured his work was prominently featured in her magazine. In fact, if you page through almost any 1968 issue of Vogue, Lane's work is featured in nearly every fashion editorial. His extravagant, over-the-top earrings, necklaces and belts suited the luxe, "rich hippie" aesthetic of the period.


1 Lane, Kenneth Jay. Kenneth Jay Lane: Faking It New York: Abrams, 1996: 17.

2 Varro, Barbara. "Designer Finds Time to Add Tone to Watches" Los Angeles Times 15 Nov. 1968: G2.

3 responses to “Kenneth Jay Lane starburst brooch, c. 1968

  1. Leah Wagner says:

    I loved this post as I am particularly obsessed with costume jewelry lately! I referenced this post in my blog..

    Always love the posts here.. so much info!


  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks Leah! We appreciate the support.

  3. Becky D says:

    I actually love this brooch. It sounds silly to say it, but it reminds me of the Jetsons or something. It has that Atomic Ranch feel about it.

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