June 5, 2022British jeweler Jennifer Gibson is a relative newcomer to the business of vintage and estate jewelry, having established her firm in 2016. But her intense focus on the most opulent and design-forward costume jewels (think Dior, Chanel, YSL, Givenchy) reflects a lifelong passion for the category, inspired by a childhood spent in her mother’s antiques shop.
The process of curating her massive collection — a kaleidoscope of couture fashion-house creations, Gripoix glass, butterscotch Bakelite, Cleopatra collars and dazzling door-knocker earrings — is “insanely imaginative and utterly soulful,” says Gibson. “Costume jewelry is an emotional expression of art.”
Her current inventory spans from the 1880s to the 2000s, but it’s heavy on pieces from the 1950s onward that reveal a strong affinity for Dior. In fact, one of her most treasured possessions was the Bal des Oiseaux parure — produced in London by accomplished Christian Dior employee Mitchel Maer — which she lent to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s 2019 “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibition and later bequeathed to the institution.
Although Gibson relishes the drama and glamour of the costume jewelry she offers, that’s not its only attraction: “The dual benefit of sustainability in the jewel world is very important to me,” she explains. At a minimum, encouraging customers to buy vintage versus new promotes more earth-friendly choices. Beyond this, Gibson and her team are continually looking to improve their own practices, whether it’s conserving energy or investing in eco-conscious packaging. Gibson also regularly donates to nonprofit organizations working to improve the modern jewelry industry’s impact on the environment and human health.
If you’re in London or Doha, Qatar, you can browse a handful of Jennifer Gibson capsule collections in person at fine department stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. But costume jewelry enthusiasts who shop her offerings online at 1stDibs can select from the full breadth of her glittering assortment. Celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Anne Hathaway and Elizabeth Hurley are already fans.
Below, Gibson tells us more about her practice and favorite pieces.
Why have you chosen designer costume jewelry, as opposed to fine jewelry, as your focus?
You can have all the look and style for a fraction of the monetary outlay. Costume jewelry is a statement, impactful. It’s about glorious adornment. There are no limits on innovation, style or materials with costume jewelry except the designer’s imagination. No stone size, precious metal or lack of a hefty budget is going to stop your style! Costume jewelry is an expression of you — and all your moods — to the world.
As you survey your collection, what designers are best represented and why?
Dior and Chanel are the best represented — Dior perhaps the most of the two. And Dior will always have my heart.
Is there an era that you are particularly passionate about?
The nineteen fifties to nineteen seventies by Dior is my huge passion, especially pieces from when the man himself was alive and head of his eponymous design house [1947–57]. Beyond that, it’s the nineteen eighties. And why not? Excess and costume jewelry were made for each other. Pieces by Victoire de Castellane for Karl Lagerfeld/Chanel from the eighties are pure magic, a higher echelon of design and quality than we will ever see again at the house.
What types of pieces do your stylish clientele tend to favor?
Lavish necklaces, statement earrings and whimsical or quirky pieces, including those by Christian Dior, especially the earlier rare pieces and strong Galliano-era pieces, and nineteen-eighties/nineties Chanel, specifically Victoire de Castellane for Chanel.
What makes your collection a unique proposition for those dipping a toe into the world of costume jewelry for the first time?
The costume jewelry I choose for the collection is some of the best from the past one hundred years, be it the most stylish, the most innovative or the rarest. The unique proposition for the jewelry lover is this fact, plus you don’t have to trawl the planet to find your perfect piece — or risk making a pricey mistake by going it alone. You can access unique, exclusive, authentic, timelessly stylish pieces of jewelry that typically exude superior quality over modern-day pieces. They also carry a story with them — vintage, as I have said, is a truly soulful acquisition. And of course, our pieces are as sustainable as any piece of jewelry can get. I use my resources — time, energy, deep knowledge — to find exquisite pieces and unite them with new owners.
Some collectors are automatically drawn to Chanel and Dior because of the name recognition. What are some makers who may not be as well known but excel in terms of design concepts and quality?
I’d urge collectors not to be slavish to a name or dazzled by its headlights. Wearing a brand for the brand’s sake isn’t stylish. I don’t buy a piece of Chanel or YSL or Lacroix, or any other world-famous brand, unless first and foremost it screams style. What’s the point? Who else is going to like it? The point with costume jewelry is style and impact. So, the piece has to exude this or I pass it by — even when it’s Chanel. And I’ve seen some really ugly and nondescript pieces by many famous houses. So, my advice would be ignore the name, look at all pieces — signed, under-the-radar brands and unsigned beauties, too (they had a designer, they just didn’t stamp their pieces) — with an equal eye. You’ll be surprised at what jumps out at you.
For example, these earrings [above right] give every inch of the Chanel vibe without the price tag. Stunning! From later in the twentieth century, hunt for the best vintage pieces by Philippe Ferrandis, Zoe Coste, Edouard Rambaud Paris and Carven.
I’d also suggest adding the likes of Boucher or Jomaz from the mid-century — their best pieces emulated fine jewelry to perfection, drawing inspiration from design houses like Van Cleef & Arpels to successfully replicate the look of real jewels — the stones and the metals were typically the very best of what would be possible when working with glass and base-metal and many costume houses went to extraordinary lengths to source the best crystal stone colors and cuts from Austria and Czechoslovakia.
This approach allowed women to accessorize more playfully — and frequently — without the heavy financial commitment of fine jewels.