"Avon's roots as a perfume company go back to 1886, when David H. McConnell founded the California Perfume Company in New York City and, with the help of a clever businesswoman named Persis Foster Eames Albee, he developed a multi-level marketing business type that empowered women to work for themselves, selling fragrances and toiletries to other women across the United States.
"But the company, renamed Avon Products, Inc., in 1938, didn't produce costume jewelry until 1963. At that point, McConnell's door-to-door business had grown to a giant cosmetics corporation, using the slogan "Avon Calling," with thousands of "Avon Lady" sales representatives wielding product samples and company mail-order catalogs around the globe.
"The first Avon costume jewelry pieces were not offered for sale but sent to customers as a free gift or premium when they purchased a certain amount of cosmetics or toiletries. In 1965, Avon sold a handful of jewelry pieces, but most of the Avon jewelry from this period was sold packaged with a perfume or other cosmetic product.
"An early Avon jewelry collection, first released in March 1967, was named The Precious Pretenders. It featured a necklace and clip-on earrings with sparkling rhinestones and filigreed metal covered in gold-leaf that gave the set the look of fine jewelry. Because the customers were so fond of this costume jewelry set, in 1971, jewelry got its own section in the Avon catalog.
"As Avon started out in the scent business, naturally some of the first Avon necklace pendants, rings, and brooches held solid or liquid perfume, a fad that was popular in the 1970s. Early materials for Avon jewelry included trendy plastics like Lucite, thermosets, and resin, as well as gold-tone metal and glass rhinestones.
"In 1975, Avon was the world's biggest costume-jewelry producer. In addition to women's jewelry like pins, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, and rings, Avon designers also created jewelry for men such a cufflinks, rings and watches. Owl pendants and brooches were particularly trendy in the '70s. Avon also sold cameos made of resin, Bakelite bangles, Christmas tree brooches, Halloween jewelry, animal pins, and every other type of costume jewelry under the sun.
"Vintage Avon necklaces with heart pendants appealed to the openly sentimental woman who bought the company's most romantic perfumes. Today, the value of vintage Avon jewelry—which must be marked "AVON" in all-caps or script—often depends on whether it's associated with one of the big-name designers that worked with the company in the late 20th century.
"Kenneth Jay Lane, a costume-jewelry designer esteemed by Hollywood and royalty alike, created jewelry for the company between 1986 and 2005, marked "K.J.L. for AVON."
"The ultra-chic jewelry-designing couple Jose and Maria Barerra made delicate pieces for Avon between 1989 and 1996 that are coveted by collectors today and marked "Barerra for AVON."
"The Elizabeth Taylor collection, designed by the actress herself between 1993 and 1997, was the most popular and is currently among the most valuable of all Avon jewelry lines, thanks to their ornate details and illusion of luxury. Many of her pieces referenced her beloved films like her Egyptian-revival cuff bracelet (1963's "Cleopatra") or her Katharina pendant/pin (1967's "The Taming of the Shrew"). A
"Avon also collaborated with major costume jewelry companies like Ungaro, Swarovski, Centennial, and Trifari. In 1998, Celine Dion worked with the company to offer a "My Heart Will Go On" Avon necklace based on the jewel Rose wore in "Titanic." Other notable jewelry designers in Avon's stable have included Coreen Simpson, Louis Féraud, Celia Sebiri, Shaill Jhaveri, Luke Razza, Nicky Butler, and actress Susan Lucci.
"Collectors should be aware that a Canadian company Avon of Belleville made costume jewelry earlier—between 1945 and 1971. When shopping for vintage Avon rings, necklaces, and brooches, be sure that it has the correct Avon mark."
"NOTE: The initials on some Avon pieces (NR, BW, SP, SH, WN [SAQ, OS, RJ; NWT]) are NOT designer initials as many have attributed online.
"This quote directly from Avon:
"The initials on some of our jewelry pieces are an internal company code for our jewelry in manufacturing. This identifies the vendor who has manufactured the jewelry for us. In some cases, the same piece of jewelry could be manufactured by two different vendors."