The earliest pieces of Chanel costume jewelry were unsigned, but they do have some distinguishing characteristics. Limited quantities of Chanel jewelry were marked during the late 1950s and '60s. These are usually marked with a round plate bearing the Chanel name with three stars or sometimes CHANEL stamped directly on the piece. By and large though, Chanel costume jewelry made during this period was not marked and must be identified by the design, components (such as the way Gripoix glass is incorporated) and the construction.
Since the 1920's the House of Chanel has been producing some of the highest quality costume jewellery in the world, utilising the skills of some of the most famous and accomplished jewellers- Gripoix, Duke of Verdura, Goossens, Victoire de Castellane. Indeed it was Chanel who introduced the whole concept of costume jewellery - larger than life pieces that deliberately played on the fact that the materials were not precious.
Initially Chanel produced her jewelery to compliment her outfits, so they were not regarded as stand-alone pieces but a part of the whole ensemble. None of these pieces were signed, and it goes without saying that these early pieces are extremely rare and require considerable expertise to authenticate them.
Chanel closed her Rue Cambon shop during the Second World War, only opening it again in 1954. From this time, pieces began to be signed, and in reference books such pieces are usually dated 1954-1971 (from the date of the known first signature, to Chanel's death in 1971). The signature was simple - 'CHANEL' was either stamped directly on to the piece, or was attached via a hangtag (for sautoirs for example). There was one small variation - for the Haute Couture pieces (and therefore of the highest standard) three stars were also included, immediatedly below 'CHANEL'.
It was also during this period that Chanel's collaberation with Robert Goossens began. Robert Goossens became Chief Designer for Chanel in 1960, though he had been working for her indirectly since 1954 through his goldsmith employer, DeGorse. His designs included rosary-style necklaces, long chains with beads and pearls, pate de verre eagles derived from Anglo-Saxon belt buckles, and huge Maltese cross brooches.
Goossens designs were massive. He used bronze, silver, molten glass, and Swarovski crystals to create bold, photogenic ornaments.
Robert Goossens, the son of a metal foundry worker, was born in 1927 in Paris, France. In his younger years, he served an apprenticeship in jewelry making, perfecting the techniques of casting, engraving, and embossing semi-precious and simulated stones into gold and silver metals. In his decades of creating fine jewelry, Goossens mixed the genuine stones with the fakes, a blend of the artificial gems with the semi-precious for clients including Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Madame Gres and Christian Dior.
Goossens' designs were heavily influenced by paintings and artifacts in Paris museums, with inspiration most often taken from Maltese, Byzantium, and Renaissance works. Over the years, he traveled extensively, frequently bringing back stones including sapphires, amethysts, rubies, coral, and chalcedony. Rock Crystal, the clear and colorless variety of quartz, was Goossens’ favorite medium and he was the first to set it into pieces of jewelry as he felt that its delicate and inexpensive attributes were well suited to costume jewelry. He also utilized bronze, shells, pearls, colored and natural rock crystal in his necklace, brooch, bracelet and earring designs.
Starting in 1953, Goossens worked with Coco Chanel to design jewelry to accompany her fashion designs, mostly through presentations where she would guide his inspiration. Chanel herself loved to blend the rich with the poor and Goossens' creations were entirely in keeping with that approach. Notable work during his tenure at Chanel includes silver and gold plaited pins set with emeralds, moon earth pendants, and crystal Byzantine crosses. Goossens would create original pieces for Mademoiselle Chanel made of real gold and genuine stones, which in turn were copied as imitations designed for fashion shows and presentations. These models ultimately served as the basis for Chanel's costume jewelry designs.
When he met Gabrielle Chanel in the early 1950s, she saw in him an artist who could interpret the jewels of her dreams. She saw a man who could merge savoir-faire and imagination, colour and volume, innovation and classicism.
Goossens continued his work with the house of Chanel after its founder's passing, and collaborated with her successor Karl Lagerfeld throughout the 1980s and 1990s to create costume jewelry for Chanel's ready-to-wear and couture collections. Chanel bought Goossens' company in 2005. Goossen's workshop north of Paris is still operating to this day, employing some fifty people to handcraft his designs. Goossens Showroom is in Avenue George V, one of the most fashionable streets in Paris.