The History of American Patriotic Jewelry
Patriotic American Jewelry
The Fourth of July and the summer days following it always bring out the Red, White, and Blue, and jewelry has been part of that patriotic display for some time.
Many of us associate patriotic jewelry with World War II, or even more contemporary times. While World War II produced more items than any other event, patriotic jewelry dates back to the Civil War. Small pins with Union or a flag, often featuring 13 stars were produced, sometimes surrounded by fabric cockades in red, white, and blue. Attractive enamels in the same colors adorned yellow drop Victorian earrings. “Remember Baltimore” adorned some jewelry items, commemorating the first dead of the war, four members of the Sixth Massachusetts Militia, who died suppressing secessionist disorder in Baltimore on April 19, 1861, only one week into the war. Elmer Elmsworth's image was displayed on items after his death the next month, as he was killed while removing a Confederate flag flown within view of the White House, in Alexandria.
The 1876 Centennial of the United States did not create any great flood of red, white, and blue jewelry. Some pieces were made commemorating the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The jewelry displays at the exhibition were a patriotic victory, of sorts, with the items from Tiffany & Company beating their European rivals in artistic competition. Their prizes at the Paris Exposition in 1878 would secure the company its place as one of the world's prestigious jewelry houses. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, and Lady Liberty became a favored image, and one that is captured in coinage and some jewelry of this period.
Few jewelry items are known from WWI, although a floral enameled Flowers of the Allies is known, with enamels in the flag colors of the Allied nations.
The costume jewelry industry was well equipped to create pieces to create and feed the demand for patriotic themed pieces in World War II. In addition to the pieces made to be worn for patriotic display, many women wore the wings or other insignia indicating they had a loved one in the service, and mothers wore symbols indicating they had a child in the service. Due to the restrictions on the use of some metals, plastic and wood were used for many wartime pieces. The lack of base metal also forced many makers to use silver.
Red, White, and Blue were, of course, the favored colors, with rhinestone, enamels, and painted finishes in the colors of Old Glory. Figural eagles and flags were encrusted with stones, and uniformed figures were fashioned of plastic and wood. Startet remembered Lady Liberty with a jeweled hand holding the Torch of Liberty, in brooch form. Uncle Sam was depicted in figural pieces, and jeweled versions of his hat were pinned to lapels. Jeweled pins forming a V for Victory were made in metal and stoneset versions.
In addition to making jewelry, many of the American manufacturers were also involved in production of items needed by the military. Trifari produced cartridge shells and parts for torpedoes and airplane engines. They obtained exclusive rights to production of commercial items with the symbol of Great Britain's Royal Air Force, and produced "Sweetheart" pins for family members, with proceeds donated to the war fund. War efforts also contributed to one of Trifari's great successes. Noticing that Plexiglas windshields for bombers were rejected and scrapped for any flaws, Trifari’s Alfred Phillipe had some of the material cut en cabochon. The Jelly Belly was born, one of the company's most enduring signature pieces.
For those not content with costume jewelry, patriotic themes have been made in fine jewelry, with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds encrusted on precious metal. Tiffany made enameled flags, including some of the iconic Blue Star Mother pins, and other items.
After the war, the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s kept the red, white, and blue on the forefront of the fashion scene, and lots of 1950s and 1960s plastic jewelry was produced in these colors, often with a nice summery look, and perfect for a warm weather cookout.
The Bicentennial in 1976 caused a flurry of items to be produced. Restoration of the Statue of Liberty also renewed the theme.
It would be easier to produce a list of companies that have not made jewelry with a patriotic twist than to name all those who have. Trifari and Coro are probably the two the have produced the most, not surprising considering their position in the world of jewelry. However, designers like Miriam Haskell and Hattie Carnegie have made contributions. Haskell’s dangling anchors, in proper colors, are well known. Carnegie produced red, white, and blue enamel versions of the elephant and donkey, perhaps more political than patriotic. And while clearly political, the hundreds of thousands of rhinestone jewels emblazoned with “I Love Ike” really deserve a mention here.