Avon started as the California Perfume Company, which was founded in 1886 in New York by D.H. McConnell. The idea for his company grew out of his job for the Union Publishing Co. as a door to door purveyor of books. He had a tough time of it, but also liked to make perfume, and he eventually figured out that giving perfume samples to his women customers helped him make more book sales.
Since the perfume was in much higher demand than the books, the company was born, not in California, but in New York City, producing cosmetics and toiletries and employing many women to sell the products door to door. At that time, it was highly unusual for companies to enable women to earn money. The approach paid off, though as it was highly successful, especially in the tight social and familial networks of smaller cities and towns.
The California Perfume Company introduced Avon brand products in 1928, and in 1939, the company’s name was changed to Avon Products, Inc. In 1955, the company introduced its highly recognized “Avon Calling” advertising slogan, still used today.
Avon also branched into various collectibles, in the ensuing decades, but Avon costume jewelry wasn’t added to the Avon product line until early in 1970, when the first catalogue of the year introduced the first three pieces: an owl brooch; a ring and a pendant. The pieces all had small compartments that held solid perfume.
In 1971, Avon introduced the Precious Pretenders Collection, and advertised its pieces widely, in women’s magazines, as having the appearance of the “real” thing. Many women were drawn to them because they had the look of the much more expensive Trifari costume jewelry. The Precious Pretenders pieces were gold-toned with glittery rhinestones (“gold” and “diamonds”) and were very popular.
Sales of Avon costume jewelry exploded in the early 1970s, and by 1975, Avon had become the largest costume jewelry manufacturer worldwide.
Avon costume jewelry has a large range of styles and quality because many designers fashioned pieces for Avon, including Kenneth Jay Lane, Elizabeth Taylor, Jose Maria Barerra, Coreen Simpson and Celia Sebiri, Seymour M. Kent, Luke Razza, Marley Simon, R.J. Graziano, Susan Lucci, Nicky Butler, Tehnibond, Adrienne, Maharaja Collection and Louis Feraud.
Several designers made men’s jewelry for Avon, including rings, watches and cufflinks.
Typically, Avon jewelry is signed (Name of designer) for AVON. There was a Canadian costume jewelry company called Avon of Belleville, in operation from 1945 to 1971 and sometimes collectors confuse the two. That Avon jewelry was signed AVON in all caps or using a script “Avon”.
Avon vintage costume jewelry has been popular with collectors for many years. Because it was mass produced and also because it sold so well, there are a great many pieces of Avon costume jewelry available to collectors.
The first three pieces from 1970 are perhaps the most highly sought Avon costume jewelry, but some collectors try to find certain types of Avon jewelry: holiday pieces, for example, and not just Christmas jewelry, but pieces for other holidays such as Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. Other collectors seek pieces with perfume compartments (which were continually offered after the original pieces holding solid perfume were introduced in 1971).
Since so many designers contributed to the Avon jewelry line, many people find something appealing and try to collect various pieces by that designer in that particular style.
Preston Reuther is a "Master Wire Sculptor" and Cameo Appraiser and has been collecting and selling Vintage Jewelry for over 30 years. He is a jewelry instructor and has produced over 100 jewelry making videos and owns two vintage jewelry stores WWW.CAMEOJEWELRY.COM and WWW.ANTIQUECAMEOS.COM You may reach him at either store.