Those luxury catalogs and holiday ads drip with gemstones and costly materials. To most holiday shoppers, they are dream books that get lost in the reality of discount store lines and a budget crunch.
However, the romance of legendary presents persists through the gift-giving season. The czarinas received Faberge trinkets, grand duchesses found yards of pearls in their silk stockings, and some of the European royals were wrapped in sable throws to keep them snuggy on a sleigh ride.
Today, knock-offs and reproductions are crafted with the look of luxury but a fraction of the cost of the real thing. So here are some thoughts on faking it when the real thing is out of reach but the heart is in the right place.
The heart-shaped diamond pendant which 17th century Shah Jehan gave to his favorite wife has passed through history into Elizabeth Taylor's hands as a gift from Richard Burton. Now legend-in-her-own-time Liz is making a copy available to the masses.
The Shah, who also built the Taj Mahal in his beloved's honor, was no piker. The original diamond is large enough to be engraved with names and scrollwork and is set in a frame of rubies. The copy is made of crystal, faux stones and gold wash and costs $250 through the Avon catalog. Not inexpensive, but in line with quality costume jewelry.
Impostors, the national chain of faux jewelry stores, doesn't reproduce, but has excellent designs inspired by famous jewelry houses. Pieces with the aura of Cartier, Tiffany and Bulgari sparkle in their showcases, but they're all knock-offs and priced affordably.
There are pearls with a naturalistic glow, carved intaglios, pave stones and modern cabochon settings. The bulk of the Impostor collection is priced from $12 to $55. Some pieces are higher, such as the cubic zirconia rings in 14-karat gold settings which are as close to the real thing as science can make them. Fakes have always been acceptable substitutes. Wealthy women of the past had their real gems copied in paste to thwart thieves. Today's women can sparkle without the headaches of protecting their diamonds.
Costume jewelry has just as much historic significance as the precious kind. The Baltimore Museum of Art gift shop has a collection of real vintage jewelry made of imitation metals. There are collectible pieces in Bakelite set with "Depression Diamonds" -- imitation topaz and rubies -- that today have a rich-girl look. Museum vintage jewelry runs from $100 and up to $900 for a faux turquoise necklace. To underscore the importance of costume accessories as a decorative art, "Jewels of Fantasy," an exhibit of extraordinary costume jewelry, will open at the museum in February.
Museum pieces have cachet -- there is the assurance that the design is worthy. At the Museum Company, historic inspiration is the stock in trade. At the Towson Town Center store, the "Venus Earrings" are one of the most popular classic designs. The earrings are copied from Peter Paul Rubens' painting of "Venus before the Mirror" and are made up in gold tone with white or gray pearl drops at $40.
In addition to jewelry inspired by ancient and historic patterns, the shop has Picasso print scarves, and umbrellas glowing with art reproductions. You can even have Mona Lisa on your socks for $17.50.
For the person on the gift list who wants to be one with history, the Wayfarer Trading Company offers to reproduce a name written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and set in a cartouche, just as Queen Nefertiti may have had. The pendants are limited to eight letters and are custom-made in Cairo. It's too late to present one for the holiday, but the company will send out complimentary tin mummy cases with the name of the intended recipient in time for stocking stuffing. The pendants are $160 in NTC 18-karat gold; $50 in silver. Call (800) 432-1892.
Jewelry is durable, but clothes with a touch of luxury give that pampered feeling. Furs, the coverups of the rich and famous, have run their course, but faux fur has the glamorous fluff for chilly days. A rich and dark fun fur by Searle, at $290, can be found at Hecht's. It drapes and wraps just as effectively as the real ones favored by famous divas. A fake sable swing coat in the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday catalog, costs $360. We don't suggest dragging either one of them along the floor to make an entrance. That's a tad too phony.
Cashmere today costs almost as much as real fur. For the men, a Cashmink scarf to wrap under a coat is only $12 at Nordstrom. Poor dears, men do seem to be the first targets of budget-cutting, but since many of them can't tell cashmere from Cashmink they'll be thrilled because the scarf has a luxury feel.
At Pier 1 stores, that tap into handcrafts from around the globe, vests made out of shimmery sari material cost $39.99 -- the opulence of India at a down-home price.