Treasure Hunt: Finding and Identifying Mid-Century Costume Jewelry
Mid-century costume jewelry is just fun to look at, collect, and wear. Those “Mad Men”-era bracelets, necklaces, earrings and brooches are generally well-made, often chunky and bold, sometimes a bit whimsical. Many pieces have withstood the test of time surprisingly well. I have a small collection that was handed down to me, as well as a few things I purchased on my own, all of which are at least 50 years old.
Some are clearly marked with easily recognizable names: Trifari, Monet, Schiaparelli, Weiss--and I decided to do a little more research into the marked designs. However, I also wanted to try to learn more about the unmarked pieces. This is obviously a more difficult task, but taking into consideration specific characteristics of style, types of clasps and clips, and with a bit of luck, I believe I have succeeded somewhat in this endeavor.
See the Unmarked Examples section below, which I plan to update if more information becomes available to me.
Where to Find Mid-Century Costume Jewelry
-Antique malls and shops
-Online auctions such as eBay
-Other online sellers such as Ruby Lane and Etsy
Photos and Jewelry Company Notes
Elsa Schiaparelli, born in Italy, began her career as a clothing designer in Paris in the 1920s and eventually branched into costume jewelry and licensed products. Her designs, notably influenced by her association with surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali, gained popularity in America in the 1930s. Moving to New York in 1940, she returned to Paris and her design work in 1945 at the end of World War II. She closed her fashion house in 1954. She died in 1973, having sold her rights to the Schiaparelli name.
The current House of Schiaparelli acquired the rights and archives in 2006, reopening the couture house in 2012 in its original location at 21 Place Vendome, Paris.
More About Schiaparelli
Trifari is a familiar name in costume jewelry. Gustavo Trifari founded the company in 1910. He was later joined by Leo Krussman and Carl Fishel in 1917 and 1925, respectively, and the name was changed to Trifari, Krussman, and Fishel (TKF). From the 1930s to the 1950s, some of their most popular items included the Trifari Crown pins (inspiring the crown in their jewelry mark), as well as pins featuring flowers, vegetables, fruit, and various animals.
Mr. Trifari handled design for the company before Alfred Philippe was hired in 1930. Mr. Philippe served as head designer until 1968. Alfred Philippe patented many designs for Trifari, including "Clip-Mates" in 1936. Clip-Mates was an example of a “clip-pin,” consisting of a brooch which could be separated into two smaller “dress clips.”
Hallmark bought the company in 1975, then in 1988 it was sold to Crystal Brands. In 1994, Trifari was sold to Chase Capital Partners, a division of Monet, which was purchased by Liz Claiborne in 2000.
All authentic Trifari jewelry was signed, from the company's inception until the acquisition by Claiborne. Early pieces did not include the crown, which appeared in the 1950s.
Michael and Jay Chernow founded the company known as Monocraft in New York in 1927. Initially the company was involved in monogramming, producing monogram decals first for cars, then for department stores to use on handbags, and later on their own line of jewelry. The Monet mark was first used 1937.
Edmond Granville, a designer who had worked for Cartier, was hired by Monocraft in 1934, and until 1959 was the company's only designer.
After World War II and into the 1950s, Monet began turning out charm bracelets, clip-on earrings, and necklaces, and over the years continued to focus on metal designs even while expanding its costume jewelry and other product lines.
General Mills purchased the rights to Monocraft, the parent company of Monet, in 1968. The Monocraft name was still used into the 1970s.
Monet continued to expand throughout the 1980s and 1990s, obtaining licensing for the production of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian LaCroix costume jewelry.
The Monet Group, which by then included Trifari and Marvella, was purchased by Liz Claiborne in 2000.
Albert Weiss & Company was founded by Albert Weiss in New York in 1942, and became known particularly for rhinestone and enameled jewelry. Various marks were used over the years, including "Albert Weiss New York" and "Weiss N.Y.," then "Weiss" alone in block letters, first used in 1951, and later preceded by a copyright mark. "Weissco" was also used for a time. Manufacturing was contracted out, specifically to Hollycraft in the 1950s and 1960s. Authentic vintage Weiss pieces feature smooth or finished-looking backs. The company closed in 1971.
Possibly DeLizza & Elster
This silvertone bracelet set with blue marquise and round faceted glass stones, matching brooch, and, unfortunately, only one earring, have no visible markings. However, I happened to notice a picture of a bracelet with a similar clasp on the cover of a book by Ann Mitchell Pitman*, which led to further research. I learned that Juliana was an unsigned line made by DeLizza and Elster Company in the 1960s, identified only with paper tags. An interesting article by Pamela Wiggins for The Spruce (see link below) about identifying Juliana jewelry includes pictures of the five distinctive rectangular links across the back of the bracelet and the feather markings on its clasp and interlinks. Apparently the Juliana line has enjoyed a surge in collectibility, leading to some copies and/or improper attribution. Since I am aware of the age of my set, I am fairly certain it is authentic DeLizza & Elster, and I only wish it were complete.
*Reference: Pitman, Ann Mitchell. Inside the Jewelry Box: A Collector’s Guide to Costume Jewelry Identification and Values. Collector Books, A Division of Schroeder Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.
Collectors Weekly: Vintage Juliana Jewelry
This very pretty, if somewhat gaudy, goldtone brooch measures about 2 x 2 inches and is set with orange, green, and yellow faceted stones. Probably from the 1950s to 1960s, so far it remains unidentified.
The only identifying mark to be found on these small goldtone clip-on drop earrings set with amethyst-colored stones is a tiny "Pat. 156452" on each of the clips. I found that a design patent, US D156452 for an ear clip finding, was granted to Frederick W. Moulson, assignor to B. A. Ballou & Co., in December 1949. This patent applies only to the clip on the back of the earring, which was used by a number of companies, including Sherman and Schiaparelli. Although apparently some Sherman earrings were unsigned, the name "Sherman" was printed along the length of the clip in pictures that I have seen. Likewise, the distinctive signature mark appeared on the clips for Schiaparelli designs, and I do not believe these earrings to be Schiaparelli or Sherman in any case.
B.A. Ballou Company, Inc., of Providence, Rhode Island, was acquired in 2009 by W.R. Cobb Company, a rival manufacturer of jewelry findings.
Much more information about vintage jewelry and jewelry companies can be found at the following websites.
Collectors Weekly: Information About Costume Jewelry Companies and Designers
- Vintage Costume and Fashion Jewelry - Collector Information | Collectors Weekly
The term “costume jewelry” was coined in the 1920s, but jewelry and ornamentation made out of non-precious materials have been worn sinc...
Costume Jewelry Collectors International: More Information About Jewelry Marks
- Researching Costume Jewelry History, Jewelry Marks, Fashion Jewelry, Vintage Jewelry Research
Identification guide to costume jewelry marks, jewelry research, fashion jewelry marks, vintage jewelry signatures, jewelry history, designers trademarks, jewelry companies and articles about jewelry.
I would like to hear from anyone who has additional knowledge to share regarding the items pictured in this article.