Though Chanel’s jewelry is mostly costume, it still boasts a high price tag. Have you finally tracked down those ‘CC’ Rhinestone Earrings or that ‘CC’ Pearl Brooch secondhand? Follow our Chanel Jewelry Authentication Guide to make sure you are getting your money’s worth.
Though Chanel jewelry is often costume, crafted of faux stones and pearls, it is still quite expensive. Secondhand vintage pieces are not even significantly marked down, as they were designed under the late Karl Lagerfeld and debuted by the original supermodels of the ‘90s.
To help you protect your investment, we have detailed our authentication process for Chanel jewelry. Read on to ensure that you do not accessorize with a fake Chanel necklace, bracelet, anklet, ring, or pair of earrings. With the exception of only a rare few, almost every piece of Chanel jewelry has been signed by its creator. This signature, which is also referred to as an authenticity stamp, is always placed somewhere discreet, so it will not be visible when the piece is worn. It is engraved either directly onto the piece (most commonly, on the back of a pendant or charm) or onto a small plate that hangs from its closure clasp. Depending on the size of the piece of jewelry, the signature can be very small. It should always be clear and readable, but you may need a magnifying glass to find it! Look for a plaque that is shaped like a circle (on earlier pieces) or an elongated oval (on newer pieces).
As Chanel’s head designer of costume jewelry has changed over the years, so has the authenticity stamp, becoming more and more specific.
To contrast with her minimalistic clothing designs and style an entire ensemble, Coco Chanel created the house’s first pieces of costume jewelry in 1927. At the time, fine jewelry was on trend, meaning only the wealthy could afford to accessorize and only one or two pieces were worn at a time; costume jewelry was looked down upon as suitable for only the lower class. Together with Duke Fulco di Verdura, who was promoted from textile designer to head designer of jewelry, Coco reversed this. She became famous for layering ropes of faux pearls and cuffs of semiprecious stones, piling them around her neck and wrists.
In 1932, Chanel released its first line of fine jewelry, named the Bijoux de Diamants. It was widely criticized by the more traditional fine jewelers, who believed Coco should stick to making dresses. The house did not release its second fine jewelry collection until 1993.
Throughout these years, Chanel jewelry was not signed, making these pieces difficult to authenticate. As they must be appraised for their craftsmanship, design, and condition instead, they require considerable expertise. Extremely rare, you will most likely never come across a piece of Chanel jewelry from this time period, so if you find an unsigned piece, you should immediately be skeptical of its authenticity.
When Coco Chanel re-opened her fashion house after WWII, she resumed costume jewelry production with Robert Goossens. A French jeweler, he was already well-known within couture, as he boasted past clients like Rochas, Balenciaga, and Schiaparelli. Goossens shared Coco’s appreciation for mixing faux and genuine materials to craft his signature sculptural pieces.
Robert Goossens invented the first authenticity stamp for Chanel jewelry. Each piece was simply signed with, CHANEL, the brand name. To differentiate them, haute couture pieces also featured three stars centered underneath the brand name.
Following Coco’s death in 1971, Robert Goossens continued to head the jewelry department at Chanel. Today, led by his son Patrick, Goossens Paris still works with the house. It was acquired by Chanel in 2005 and incorporated into its Métiers d’Art group, which serves to honor and preserve the craftsmanship of the specialists that have contributed to Chanel since its very beginning.
After Coco Chanel passed away, Alain Wertheimer gained a controlling interest in the house. Though not a jewelry designer himself, he altered the authenticity stamp, marking the exclusivity and guaranteeing the quality of each piece of Chanel jewelry.
An astute businessman, Wertheimer added a copyright to the left and a registered trademark to the right of the brand name. He also included the ‘CC’ logo and the country of production, MADE IN FRANCE, centered beneath.
In 1981, Chanel jewelry was dated for the first time. The country of production was replaced by the year of production (all four digits) at the bottom center of the authenticity stamp.
Shortly after, in 1983, Karl Lagerfeld was appointed as the house’s creative director. One year later, he enlisted Victoire de Castellane to be its head designer of costume jewelry. Remaining in that position until 1998, she went on to make some of Chanel’s most famous and collectable pieces and to sign them in a way that is still in use today.
Within her first year, de Castellane modified the dating system according to season instead of year. From 1984 until 1990, each year was identified by a season number, starting with 23 and ending with 29. The two digits were separated, sitting on either side of the ‘CC’ logo on the authenticity stamp.
For one year, Victoire de Castellane stopped referencing the date on her jewelry designs, reverting back to the authenticity stamp that was signed by Alain Wertheimer.
In 1993, Chanel began releasing two seasonal, ready-to-wear collections in addition to its couture shows every year. To reflect this, Victoire de Castellane adjusted the date on the jewelry authenticity stamp, indicating both the year and the season. The year was designated by its last two digits (for example, 97 for 1997) and the season by its first letter (‘P’ for Printemps/Spring and ‘A’ for Automne/Autumn). The year was positioned to the left of the ‘CC’ logo and the season was positioned to its right.
That same year, Chanel officially launched its fine jewelry division with its second-ever collection. At Place Vendôme, the center of Paris’s jewelry industry, Chanel showcased re-editions of its first collection, designed by Coco herself, along with new creations. Under Lorenz Bäumer, a French jeweler who worked for the house until 2007, Chanel finally established itself as a purveyor of high and fine jewelry. In 1997, it opened its head office and boutique for fine jewelry and watches at 18 Place Vendôme, and by 2012, it had installed a workshop right above. Chanel’s fine jewelry can be authenticated by a signature identical to that on the costume jewelry, as well as two other markings. Each piece is also etched with the karat purity of the metal and a unique serial number. All of these identifiers are engraved on the underside of the piece of jewelry, where they will not affect its design.
Since de Castellane’s departure in 1998, Chanel’s jewelry range has expanded to include rings and is now produced in both France and Italy, but its authenticity stamp has essentially stayed the same. With the addition of the house’s annual Cruise collection, a ‘C’ can now also be found to the right of the ‘CC’ logo.
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Though it is not always possible, it is ideal to shop for secondhand Chanel jewelry in person. Most online resellers will provide a close-up photo of the signature, but there are other important authenticating features, which are not as easily visible. When shopping, request to hold or try on the piece. Whether a ring, bracelet, necklace, anklet, or pair of earrings, it should feel weighty and substantial; it should never feel light and hollow. Look at it from every angle. You should also not be able to see any signs of workmanship; for example, soldering lines. Each piece of Chanel jewelry, no matter how vintage, should be of the best quality. That is, after all, why it is worth its high price tag!