Handbags & Accessories

Iconic Vintage Chanel Necklaces to Layer Like Coco

By Lindsey Weiss
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Vintage Chanel Necklace - Runway - Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1992-1993

Coco Chanel and Her Iconic Pearls

There is no piece of jewelry more directly tied to the image of Coco Chanel than the opulent layering of pearl ropes. “Go and fetch my pearls. I will not go up to the atelier until I have my pearls,” declared the impassioned Coco Chanel. According to fashion lore, two of Coco’s lovers, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich and the Duke of Westminster, regularly gifted her one-of-a-kind, precious jewels. While she was gifted copious number of jewels, it is said that the ropes of pearls were her undisputed favorite. Regarded as the “Queen of Gems” for their understated elegance, pearls have a magical ability to capture light and illuminate a woman’s facial features. This unique luminescence is what Coco Chanel admired most about them. The perfect accent to her minimalist style, Coco always sported ropes of pearls, even for the most casual of occasions. Indeed, it was the idea to design oversized, faux pearls that first inspired the launch of a Chanel costume jewelry line.

Chanel Gold Metal and Imitation Pearl '31 Rue Cambon Paris Medallion Necklace, 1980s

Chanel Embraces Costume Jewelry

Coco Chanel was an arbiter of change and advocate of women's liberation. Unfazed by the status quo, she encouraged women to free their physical form and embrace costume jewelry in complement to precious jewels. Intrigued by her enigmatic persona and provocative ideas, women of all social classes were influenced by Coco Chanel. As explained by British writer Justine Picardie, author of “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life,” Coco was a public figure who possessed tremendous social power. “Chanel used jewelry to display her authority, as well as her social supremacy,” Picardie noted. “These were made manifesting the manner in which she wore her precious gems—the Duke of Westminster’s pearls and emeralds slung over tweeds and plain woolen knits, in an insouciant disregard for tradition—and in her apparently effortless ability to persuade rich women to follow suit.” As such, cascades of faux Chanel pearls would prove to be just as iconic and timeless as the little black dress.

Chanel Gold Metal, Strass, Orange and Green Gripoix Cross Necklace, 1993

Vintage Chanel Jewelry's Lasting Appeal

Vintage Chanel costume necklaces are expansive and diverse in style, from chunky metal chains to delicate chokers. The interlocking C’s is a recurring symbol present on Chanel necklaces as an iconic identifier of the luxury fashion house. Over the years, Chanel has brought in the world’s most gifted jewelry designers to design visually spectacular pieces. Among these notable designers is Victorie de Castellane, who became assistant to Karl Lagerfeld at only 24 years old. Lagerfeld had just been tapped as creative director in 1984 and was eager for bold aesthetics and playful designs. Awed by her vibrant and inspired creations, Lagerfeld quickly promoted de Castellane to lead Chanel’s costume jewelry department. Best recognized for her earring designs that resembled Chanel handbags and dramatic string necklaces, de Castellane was at Chanel for just over a decade, but her impact is permanently ingrained. Chanel costume jewelry continues to embrace decadence and timeless glamour, captivating generations of women with its limitless styling potential.

Chanel Gold Metal Chain Turnlock CC Choker Necklace, 1996

Timeless Chanel Necklace Motifs

The popularity of vintage Chanel necklaces continues to grow and collectors are often on the hunt for the most iconic motifs including pearls, interlocking CC and gripoix designs. Layering multiple necklaces in different lengths, colors and designs remains a runway staple today. While modern Chanel jewelry remains popular, collectors are often looking for designs from Lagerfeld's early days as creative director. Necklaces with playful charms are also highly collectible and have included mini Chanel cosmetics, tennis rackets and even pills. Necklaces also often make reference to 31 Rue Cambon, the building Coco Chanel purchased in 1918 and remains Chanel's Paris headquarters. The modern boutique concept was invented at this location where she displayed fashion accessories and her perfume along with her clothing and hats. Eventually she would also add costume jewelry and beauty products.

Chanel Silver Metal, Imitation Pearl, Pink, Black, White Resin, Enamel, and Strass Cosmetic Charms Necklace. Featured during the Autumn/Winter 1994 Ready to Wear collection

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