Book Review: Fashion Jewelry – The Collection of Barbara Berger


“Jewelry should be worn and not wear you; it all works if you have confidence”
Barbara Berger

“Mademoiselle Chanel was not concerned if a jewel or an object was made in precious metal and gemstones and other materials. She was sensitive to the composition, the shape, and the application without regard for the intrinsic value”.
Robert Goessens (designer for Chanel from 1954 to 1971)

The design and production of fashion or costume jewellery – non-precious as it is also often referred to – emerged in a cultural context dominated by an interpretation of jewellery as a durable and highly valuable asset, expected to be composed of rare gems and ostentatious materials that could be handed down through generations.

No doubt that the questioning of our assumptions in terms of what jewellery adornment could be, started subtly to take shape in the 1700s, where one can find already imitation gemstones made out of paste, a transparent glass used to simulate the gems natural brilliances and fire. They were mostly though used as jewellery for travel or when the owner just wished to have some of his or hers precious items copied, that meaning, never supposed to be given a status of their own. And of course, in an environment that attributed such importance to the material value of the pieces, jewelers were understandably kept away from experimenting freely with a more broad variety of material sources.

It is only in the 20th Century that the term costume jewellery fully enters the industry’s vocabulary soon to become a creative playground for many couturiers and designers alike, notable examples being Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli who both designed and commissioned costume jewellery pieces as a complement to their clothing collections. Besides Daniel Swarovski’s factory opened in Tirol at the turn of the Century for the mass production of crystal gems, the economic depression that started in the 30s and the scarcity of resources during both World Wars reinforced the conditions for a particular re-interpretation of jewellery, making way to what the French still today oppositely define as the métiers of the bijoutier and of the joiallier.

Barbara Berger’s private collection of costume jewellery – one of the world’s most fascinating due to the significant quality and rarity of the designs – comprises an extraordinary number of over 4000 pieces and finds itself naturally focused on this particular dynamic and outstanding creative period for the history of jewellery design. In her own words explaining the collection, the basis for it “is vintage costume jewelry made by hand in the United States and Europe. The collection features what’s interesting to me; the extraordinary; and unique designs imbued with fantasy and a sense of humor. I buy what I like and it’s usually love at first sight.”

The 200 pieces featured in this lavishly illustrated book represent the créme de la créme of Berger’s collection, following a previous selection of 450 core pieces to take part in the upcoming Bedazzled exhibition, opening this month at the MAD Musem of Arts and Design in New York. Showcased are the works of over 60 designers, from famous vintage brands such as Coro, Eisenberg, Trifari and Miriam Haskell to the renowned fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurent and Valentino, not forgetting contemporary names such as Kenneth Jay Lane and Iradj Moni among many others.

With stunning photography from Pablo Esteva who captured essential moments of the collection beyond the commonplace jewellery portrait and a very informative text from Harrice Simons Miller, author and consultant of vintage and couture costume jewellery, this book brings a noteworthy insight into some of the 20th Century most significant fashion jewellery designs. A must read for all those interested in getting to know more about an exceptional jewellery collection while rejoicing in some great jewellery photography.

twiggy -b

Photograph of Twiggy taken for a 1965 issue of Vogue magazine. © Bert Stern.

keneth jay lane

Kenneth Jay Lane: East Indian–inspired necklace, circa 1960s.


Attributed to Karl Lagerfeld: Makeup brush bracelet and earrings, 1987.


Trifari: “Ming Swan” brooch, 1942; “Royal Swan” brooch, 1941.


Valentino: open cuff bracelet, circa 1970s–1980s.


Assouline Publishing (May 2013)

Text by Harrice Simons Miller
Foreword by Pamela Golbin
Foreword by Iris Apfel
Photography by Pablo Esteva
ISBN 9781614281061
260 Pages | 200 Illustrations
English Text
9.25 x 12 inches – 23.5 x 30 cm
Hardcover with Jacket

About the Author:

Harrice Simons Miller is an author and consultant of vintage and couture costume jewellery. Her first book, The Official Identification and Price Guide to Costume Jewelry, (Random House, 1990), continues to be the bible for collectors worldwide. In 1995, she pioneered the international costume jewellery market with an auction at Christie’s called “Period Couture Clothing and Costume Jewelry.” Miller has been featured in numerous television broadcasts and articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Art and Antiques, and Japanese Vogue, among others. She resides in New York City.

About Barbara Berger:

Barbara Berger was born in New York City in 1942. At the age of 13 she began acquiring costume jewellery, when she purchased a pair of Chanel earrings at a Paris flea market. Today, her collection features over 4,000 pieces and is still growing. Several exhibitions have been devoted to her collection, including Barbara Berger Collection: Bijoux at the 1987 New York Antique Show; Trop: Bijoux fantaisies, collections Barbara Berger at the Musée des Art Décoratifs in Paris (2004); and Colección de Colecciones at the Museo MODO in Mexico City (2011). She currently resides in Mexico City with her husband, Mauricio. 


Exhibition at the MAD Museum in New York:



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