From Riches to Rhinestones

Led by charismatic, design visionary and original founder, Simon Wilson, Butler & Wilson has long led the conversation on how to best accessorise with collections of original, hand-crafted pieces that inspire, empower and always tell a story.

Butler & Wilson transformed costume jewellery from a cheap alternative, into high fashion. Using none other than the dazzling diamante. Made from glass, the diamante (also known as paste or rhinestones) has a long-term relationship with civilians and celebrities alike. Its ability to make anyone look and feel fabulous has increased its popularity exponentially.



For centuries jewellers had used rock crystals to emulate diamonds, but when British glassmaker George Ravenscroft perfected lead glass in the 1670s, he changed jewellery indefinitely. The new lead crystal was clearer, more brilliant and less fragile. Much easier to work with than quartz and could be faceted, polished and tinted, making it the perfect substitute for diamonds. 

By the 1700s ‘real’ was out and rhinestone was in. 18th-century paste was highly prized, beautifully crafted and worth showing off. During the Victorian period, the quality decreased and paste was predominantly used to provide discreet companies of real jewellery, before the 20th century what the diamante once was, again became an art form in its own right. 

In 1892, Bohemian jeweller Daniel Swarovski patented a new machine for mass-producing cut glass stone. Refining the process by the 1900s meant that the roaring twenties was lined with Swarovski crystals. Diamante was the perfect decoration for the Jazz Age. 

Josephine Baker took Paris by storm and charlestoned onto the stage wearing nothing but a tail, ostrich feathers, and sparkling rhinestone jewellery. A new generation of flappers cast off their corsets shingled their hair and festooned daring short dresses, with crystal beads and diamante fringes. All white jewellery became the latest Art Deco look and Cartier’s diamond dress clips and geometric bracelets were reproduced in an affordable paste. 

The new generation of couturiers helped make costume jewellery acceptable to even their smartest clients. Coco Chanel led the way in the 1930s and accessories her classic simple outfits with costume jewellery necklaces as well as brooches and bracelets. 


The end of the seventies saw a period of transformation. Lady Diana Spencer went from ‘Shy Di’ to a fairy tale princess. Stuart Goddard changed his name to Adam Ant and became Prince Charming and Joan Collins reinvented herself as Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington, the stylish queen of men. All of them shopped at Butler & Wilson, where flamboyant diamante turned everyone into a star. 

Big, beautiful, witty, sometimes shocking but always stylish, Butler & Wilson’s jewellery encapsulated the powerful femininity of a decade dominated by strong female icons from Maggie Thatcher to Madonna. 

Today, Butler & Wilson’s 21st-century designs are attracting a new generation of celebrity enthusiasts from the latest pop stars to young royals. In jewellery as in fashion, age barriers have been broken down over the past twenty years. “Now I’m getting women who first shopped with me in the 80s! It doesn’t matter what age you are. An amazing piece of diamante will always make you look and feel great.” 

Some things however haven’t changed. “Our jewellery has always been about self-expression, not following the crowd and creating an individual look.” - Simon Wilson.  

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