The Magpie's Jewel Box

A treasure trove of sparkly bits and pieces

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Book review: Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller

It’s 17th January already and I’ve hardly had time to think let alone write since the new year began. The day job has gone crazy and Christmas seems ages ago. Fortunately, the dust has settled for the moment so that I can, at last, get back to the Jewel Box.

I was lucky enough to tick three jewellery books off my Christmas Wish List so I’m going to review one of them here: Miller’s Costume Jewellery.

Since I inherited my Marcel Boucher necklace and clip earrings, I have wanted to learn more about costume jewellery and this book has proved a great place to start. Published in June 2012 in hardback, it measures a neat 21.5cm wide x 25cm deep so fits handily onto a bookshelf. I would describe this as a reference book rather than a coffee table book because, as well as containing many beautiful colour photographs, its 256 pages are packed full of fascinating information including tips on how to identify the different styles of jewellery and approximate values for every item of jewellery featured. I feel as though I’ve acquired a good grounding in the subject in the short time that I have owned the book. It’s the type of book that you can easily dip in and out of which is handy if, like me, you are short on time but want to develop your knowledge over a period of time.

The author, Judith Miller, has been collecting antiques for nearly 50 years and is a world expert in this field. She co-founded Miller’s Antiques Price Guide in 1979, lectures and writes extensively and appears as one of the experts on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.  She clearly knows her stuff.

The book is split into 5 easy to follow sections, all beautifully illustrated with colour photos:

The Introduction explains the Origins of Costume Jewellery and takes the reader from ancient times to the 21st century, describing the different styles and fashions.

The next section is dedicated to Major Costume Jewellery designers and features of 25 of them, including Marcel Boucher, Joseff of Hollywood, Chanel, Weiss and Vendome.

Next comes a section on Classic Designers – 57 of them! There are features on Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfield, Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent and, surprisingly, Avon (Ding Dong!) who first began selling jewellery in 1971 and who, by 1975, had become the largest manufacturer of jewellery in the world. Who would have thought it!

There then follows a selection of Gallery photos including, amongst other things, Austrian jewellery, plastic jewellery, Czech jewellery and Jelly Bellies. It’s not completely obvious to me why some of the styles have been singled out for attention (e.g. are they currently popular? It’s not obvious) but the photos are beautiful and the accompanying commentary is detailed and interesting.

The book closes with a look at 14 Future Designers, presumably selected by the author as the ‘ones to watch’ although, again, it’s not totally obvious. As I’m still new to costume jewellery and would not yet call myself a collector, none of the names mentioned mean anything to me. That may change, though …

Overall, I’m delighted with this book. I bought it on the basis of the reviews I read on Amazon and it has more than lived up to expectations. I definitely want to start collecting costume jewellery but, as the book demonstrates, there are an awful lot of beautiful (and affordable) pieces to choose from. Hmmmn, where to begin? I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.


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Jewellery books are top of the Magpie’s Christmas wish list

If Santa plans to stop by my house, could he please deliver the following books which appear on my Christmas wish list and are all available from Amazon:

7000 years of Jewellery by Hugh Tait. This books draws mainly on the collections held by The British Museum (hardly surprising, really, as the Museum published the book!). It is a broad illustrated history which looks at the different styles, techniques and materials used to make jewellery around the world.

Miller’s Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller.  This book provides an introduction to costume jewllery, starting in Ancient Egypt and exploring everything from Art Deco and Hollywood jewellery to the lives of key designers, their designs and makers marks.  The author is an expert on jewellery, founded the best-selling Miller’s Antiques Price Guide and has written over 100 books. She is also one of the experts appearing on the BBC’s ‘Antiques Roadshow‘ and presented the BBC TV series ‘The House Detectives’ and ITV1’s ‘Antiques Trail’.

Vintage Jewellery by Caroline Cox.  This book covers 100 years of jewellery history, from Lalique’s Art Nouveau enamelling and Cartier’s gemstones to Christian Dior’s costume jewellery and Harry Winston‘s diamonds. It sounds like a visual delight and a valuable source of information about the leading designers and jewellery houses. Caroline Cox is a visiting professor at the London School of Fashion and a leading fashion authority.

Jeweller’s Directory to Gemstones: A Complete Guide to Appraising and Using Precious Stones from Cut and Colour to Shape and Setting (bit of a mouthful, that one!) by Judith Crowe.

This book provides a full description of each gemstone and how it can be used in jewellery, a history of the cuts and useful information about identifying, buying and caring for the gems.  Sounds ideal for jewellery makers.

If I am lucky enough to receive all of the above, I will review each book in future posts. In the meantime, I will try to be good so that Santa pays a visit …

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‘Tis the season to be jolly … with Spellbound Festive Beading

If you enjoy beading and are looking for festive projects, I can recommend Spellbound Festive Beading published by the creative and talented folk at The Spellbound Bead Company in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

This 96-page, full colour book is full of Christmas projects, from beaded baubles and snowflake decorations to jewellery and, helpfully, they are all graded according to the level of difficulty. The step-by-step instructions are clearly set out in words and diagrams and the book includes excellent colour photographs of the finished items.  This is one of the nicest books on beading I own. Price: £12.95. Recommended.



For more information check out this page on the Spellbound website and scroll down to see details of the book. Spellbound has a great shop in Lichfield (47 Tamworth St) which is crammed full of all things beady. It’s well worth a visit, as is the cathedral city of Lichfield itself.