You see it on runway models and on celebrities at red carpet affairs: bold, glitzy necklaces, cuff bracelets, dangling cameo earrings and dazzling art glass brooches.
Vintage jewelry from the 19th to the mid 20th centuries is the newest high-fashion trend.
Quality vintage jewelry, often one-of-a-kind pieces made and signed by designers, is found in high-end shops in Palm Beach, New York City, Paris — and Belleair Bluffs.
Susan Swander's Illume shop, on Indian Rocks Road between Belleair and Largo, is filled with jewelry displaying the history of what women wore on their necks, arms, ears and clothing from the age of Queen Victoria to the 1960s.
"You walk into (Illume) and you're overwhelmed with the selections from all different time periods," said Jennifer Smith of Seminole, a shopper at Illume since it opened three years ago. "It's a museum of vintage fashion jewelry. To think we have (Illume) as a source here that can rival and blow the other places out of the water is pretty special."
Helen Younskevicius of Largo collects vintage jewelry and buys it for herself and her two adult daughters. She said Swander "has exquisite taste and can help find pieces that are perfect for you. Looking at her collection, you can imagine what a whole era was like, how the jewelry was worn and for what occasions."
"I loved her shop from the very first time I went in," said Jessica Foster of Seminole, who was driving by three years ago when it caught her eye. "There are pieces you can really appreciate — they have a history, a story."
"Jewelry wants to be worn," said Swander, who buys her pieces from estates and individuals. "It shouldn't sit in dark drawers year after year. The idea is to get it out and enjoy it, especially now that it's so fashionable."
Vintage jewelry, she said, "is like buying antiques. It's an investment. It's increasing in value and I have customers who buy it like it's art."
Her collection, she said, includes such designers as Miriam Haskell, Dior, Kenneth Jay Lane, Hattie Carnegie, Cartier, Eisenberg, Chanel, Vendome, as well as unsigned beauties. She said she is always looking to buy vintage couture jewelry.
Illume's vintage collection also includes unusual pieces from around the world. Prices generally range from $20 to $300 but there are more high-end pieces. Price tags carry the price, the year the piece was made and information about the designer or what the piece is made of. She also carries organic clothing and accessories.
Most popular now, Swander said, are cameos, cuff and rhinestone bracelets, jewelry in marcasite, jet, ivory, coral and pieces from the late 1920s and 1930s. Egyptian revival is in, too, and Native American is good, she said.
Andrea Layman of Belleair said she likes vintage jewelry because she is "attracted to things with historical value and significance. Susan's pieces are so extraordinarily unique and they are complete statement pieces. I love to wear a Deco piece with a modern outfit, a Victorian piece with jeans and a T-shirt."
Kelly Machbitz, a Clearwater-based image consultant whose books on the subject include Wear This Not That, said she regularly shops at Illume for her clients as well as herself. "Susan has such an eclectic mix, you never see the same things twice," Machbitz said.
"Whenever I wear any piece I got from Susan," said Jennifer Smith, "people will cross the room, come over and ask, 'Where did you get that?' That's the magic of vintage jewelry."