American Costume Jewelry:
jewelry findings and Guyot Brothers in Historical
A HISTORY OF
COSTUME JEWELRY DESIGN IN AMERICA
the last ten to fifteen years, the buying and selling of vintage costume jewelry
has become big business. What was
once called gaudy, cheap, or fake is now sought after, with pieces by the
biggest names garnering hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
Thanks to exposure from a varied array of sources, from Vogue to Antiques Roadshow,
collectors and fashionistas alike are learning what jewelry lovers and dealers
have known all along – vintage costume jewelry is an art form.
The best costume jewelry is beautifully designed and constructed, like
its precious counterpart, while demonstrating both ingenuity and fashion.
During the Golden
Age of costume jewelry, from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s, a tight-knit
coterie of talented designers created pieces that often either influenced fine
jewelry or was mistaken for it. Freed
from the restraints of working in precious resources, they let their creativity
take the lead, often incorporating unexpected materials and techniques.
|Costume jewelry, as we know
it, did not exist prior to the early twentieth century.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, jewelry was primarily
constructed in precious materials, and the small amount of non-precious
jewelry was created to imitate its costly counterpart.
New innovations, including paste, a highly reflective, leaded glass
stone, and pinchbeck, an alloy of copper and zinc that was an alternative
to gold, better simulated the look of fine jewelry.
Although these jewels were fairly
expensive, they allowed more women to achieve the luxurious look of expensive jewelry without the prohibitive
cost. The imitation of precious
jewelry remained a predominant consideration of costume jewelry designers, even
to the present day. Take a look at
the costume jewelry counters in department stores and you’ll see that the vast
majority of pieces emulate the look of fine jewelry.
Although the stones may be created in a laboratory and called by a
scientific name, this jewelry is the modern incarnation of eighteenth century
French paste jewels, and they’ve become the bread and butter of the industry.
Beautifully made of the finest materials, they continue the tradition of
allowing all women to afford the look of diamonds and gold.
Vivienne Becker, Fabulous Costume Jewelry. (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing
Ltd, 1993) 19
Vivienne Becker, Fabulous Costume Jewelry. (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing
Ltd, 1993) 87
Festoon necklace of baroque glass
pearls, clear rhinestones, and “ruby” glass cabochons. Attributed to Gripoix
for Chanel, c. 1920. Tracy Tolkien
and Henrietta Wilkinson, A Collector’s
Guide to Costume Jewelry. Ontario
: Firefly Books Ltd., 1997
Jewelry that mimics precious stones and metals is
important to the story, yet the beginnings of modern costume jewelry, jewelry
that is intimately connected to fashion, is found in early twentieth century
Parisian couturiers, such as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and Elsa
Schiaparelli, created or commissioned artistic jewelry to complement their
fashions. One-of-a-kind, designed by
the couturier or an artist, and constructed completely by hand, these pricey jewels were never intended to be worn by the general public.
In 1901, the couturiers, scorning the idea of imitation jewelry,
popularized the term bijouterie fantaisie,
or fantasy jewelry.
While couturiers created bijouterie fantaisie
in Paris, the first costume jewelry firms, such as Cohn & Rosenberger,
later Coro, Inc., were established in New York and Providence, Rhode
These companies produced jewelry in gold, gold-filled base metal, and
sterling silver in the popular designs of the day.
Providence’s larger companies maintained their own factories, while the
New York-based family businesses were jobbers who manufactured pieces for
other firms. Unlike the
Parisian artist jewels, American-made jewelry was imitation.
Mostly mass-produced, American jewelry was produced in large
numbers and a variety of designs, making stylish, well-made pieces
available to all women. Mechanization
also allowed for the same design to be produced in different materials for
different demographics. The
same popular form was frequently created in three versions at three
different prices: hand-worked solid gold, rolled gold, and stamped brass
electroplated with gold.
end of World War I introduced simplified dresses made of lighter fabrics which
replaced the heavy draping of previous decades.
The focus shifted to accessories, especially jewelry.
Beginning in the late 1910s, evening’s bare arms and decolleté called
for an array of shimmering jewelry, and costume jewelers catered to this new
demand. For the first time, fashion
became an important consideration in jewelry design.
Inspired by these revolutionary fashions and the overall excitement of
the times, a handful of creative designers gradually broke away from the strict
imitation of fine jewelry. Pioneering
American jewelry companies recognized the possibilities of their medium, which
was not limited by the expense of precious material.
Costume jewelry finally took its place as a true fashion accessory, and
women eagerly snatched up beautiful, inexpensive pieces for practically every
outfit, or costume. Thus, the term
“costume jewelry” was coined.
as important as fashion to the development of American costume jewelry were the
economic realities of the period. The
1929 stock market crash and subsequent Depression devastated American fine
jewelry, yet conversely, provided an opening for the growing costume jewelry
industry. While most designs
continued to emulate fine jewelry, the costume jewelry companies offered pieces
that were beautiful, well made, and fashionable.
Technological advancements also provided new and unusual materials that
inspired the designers. The
development of plastics, beginning in 1909 with Bakelite, allowed for jewelry
that was not only affordable, but also creative.
As the Depression swept through the
country, women were forced to cut back their spending, especially curtailing
fashion and accessory buying.
The dress clip, the most popular 1930s jewel, was exceedingly versatile
and fit perfectly into the thrifty woman’s wardrobe.
In 1931, Parisian jeweler, Gaston Candas, invented a mechanism that
trebled the dress clip’s versatility. Candas’ convertible brooch allowed two
removable clips to be mounted on a plaque, creating three separate pieces of
jewelry. The design was purchased by
Coro, Inc. in 1933 and named the “Coro Duette.”
The Duette had the ability to be worn in a variety of ways, making it an
economical purchase for a fashionable woman of the 1930s.
During the day, a woman pinned a Duette as a brooch on her jacket, and
then wore the two clips separately on her evening dress.
Fashionably thrifty women across America embraced the Duette, and the
numerous copies produced by rival companies.
Interestingly, fine jewelry designers also jumped on the Duette bandwagon
in the 1940s. As demand for costume jewelry grew, visionary costume jewelers
introduced important new innovations that caught the notice of fine jewelry
’s “Quivering Camellia" Duette, by Gene Verrechio.
The “Quivering Camellia” is on
display at the
Photo courtesy Juliet Friedman.
Detail of a catalog page featuring 14k
pendants and necklaces, set with gemstones and pearls.
1911 catalog of the Baird-North Co.
Archive Collection of Historic
1939, The United States’ economy was finally recovering from the Great
Depression. Americans again had a
small amount of money at their disposal. While
certainly not enough for a diamond brooch, women could set aside a few extra
dollars to buy a new rhinestone brooch that would perk up an old suit or dress.
The onset of World War II, however, irrevocably changed the international
fashion establishment and every industry associated with it, including costume
jewelry. With the German invasion of
France, American designers lost their most important creative influence
practically overnight. Fashion began
to look inward, to purely American sources of inspiration. As profiled in the
leading magazines, all industries involved in fashion became an integral part of
this American renaissance. The
ever-growing costume jewelry industry, centered in Providence and New York, was
no exception. Costume jewelry
designs soon embraced all things patriotic, in essence becoming one of the most
visual emblems of support for domestic, war-related causes.
jewelry production was affected by the war in many ways.
The largest companies, including Trifari, Coro, and many others, had
sizeable factories in Providence or Attleboro that employed hundreds of workers.
In 1942, the focus of these factories and the workers’ daily output
changed dramatically from jewelry to munitions.
The skilled workers and specialized machinery was appropriate for
military use, and most companies converted over half of their facilities to war
production. The factories also saw a
difference in the materials used to create their jewelry.
The most important elements in the manufacture of costume jewelry, the
base metal of which it is formed and the rhinestones set into its surface, were
lost to designers in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
The unique tin alloy that comprises white base metal, along with most
non-precious metals, became essential to the military, while rhinestones and
crystals could no longer be imported from Austria.
The large American costume jewelry industry not only saw their factories
converted, but suffered the loss of their chief raw materials.
However, congruent with these shortages, the demand for affordable
costume jewelry skyrocketed.
Leo Glass “Stars ‘n’ Stripes,” Harper’s
Bazaar, August, 1941, p. 133
the loss of base metal, jewelry designers turned to the most readily available
white metal, sterling silver. During
the war, the vast majority of costume jewelry was created in sterling and plated
in either gold or rhodium, which simulated the look of platinum.
Sterling silver jewelry was fairly expensive, often upwards of twenty
dollars, or over two hundred dollars in today’s economy.
However, companies also produced lower end jewelry using new and
inexpensive materials, including wood, plastic, ceramic, and textile.
Innovative designs employing these non-traditional materials were some of
the most aesthetically appealing designs in costume jewelry history.
These are the pieces that today are avidly sought by collectors and
command top prices.
Elzac plastic and metal face brooch, c. 1945
Jane Clarke’s Morning Glory
Miriam Haskell wooden bead floral brooch, c. 1940s
Jane Clarke’s Morning Glory
including Lucite and Bakelite, were an inexpensive way to add color, readily
available, and easy to manipulate through carving and polishing.
Animal forms, perennially popular, were natural outlets for the addition
of a Lucite cabochon. The Lucite “stone”
typically formed the animal’s abdomen, prompting advertisers to coin the term
“jelly belly” to describe this type of jewelry.
It is unknown who designed the first jelly belly piece, but the fashion
quickly spread throughout the industry as consumers eagerly bought the whimsical
creations. Trifari’s Alfred
Philippe created some of the most spectacular examples of jelly belly, which
were widely copied. The
jelly belly animals proved so popular that the form, like the Duette before it,
soon found its way into fine jewelry.
L: 1943 brooch patent granted to Alfred
Philippe (Des 135177). Image
courtesy Google Patents.
R: Gold-washed sterling silver brooch
in the shape of an angelfish, set with a Lucite cabochon and rhinestones.
Photo courtesy Fabulous Facets. (website)
high-end, sterling silver costume jewelry was purchased by wealthier women, all
women wanted something that gave them a little sparkle in a serious time.
This led to a division in the industry between fun fashion jewelry and
artistic costume jewelry. Certain
companies, including Eisenberg, Mazer, and Boucher, dedicated themselves to
producing upscale jewelry during the war. Dalsheim
and others catered exclusively to the middle market, while Coro straddled the
division and created jewelry at all prices levels.
The stratification of the industry continued into the 1950s, when a new
wave of costume jewelry companies began production in Providence.
The continued growth of the industry forced each company to carve out its
own niche. In an era when an outfit
was not complete without the appropriate necklace, lapel pin, bracelet, or
earrings, the huge demand allowed for this constantly growing number of
the 1950s, Vogue reported that the
costume jewelry industry preferred its output to be called “fashion jewelry”
and the magazine’s 1951 profile on costume jewelry gave the American industry
high fashion’s seal of approval. Providence
was likened to Detroit, home of the all-American automobile industry.
Throughout the 1950s, costume jewelry remained a vital part of fashion. Each company became
known for its specific look, whether it was simulated pearls, tailored gold,
whimsical aurora borealis rhinestones, or timeless clear rhinestones.
This was the height of costume jewelry in America.
CENTERS OF PROVIDENCE AND ATTLEBORO
the capital city of the smallest state in the Union, and yet somehow it became
the bustling, vibrant center for American jewelry production.
How did Providence, and later Attleboro come to carry this distinction?
The development of several important technologies during the nineteenth
century helped Providence and Attleboro establish themselves as the leading
American centers for inexpensive jewelry production.
But what originally brought silversmiths and jewelers to the area?
Several factors came together at the end of the eighteenth century that
created the correct environment for the first jewelers to set up shop in the
growing port city. Alfred Weisberg,
one of the founders of the Providence Jewelry Museum, hypothesizes that wealthy
Rhode Island ship captains, after accumulating considerable wealth from the
Triangle trade, had their silver coins fashioned into plate for protection and
storage. The need for this silver
ware, engraved with identifying marks to help prevent theft, encouraged
silversmiths to settle in the colony. Many
silversmiths of this period also made jewelry.
Therefore, it seems likely that the as the colony grew, and more wealthy
captains moved into the city with their wives and daughters, there would be a
need for jewelry. Traditionally,
silversmiths worked out of their home, dedicating a large, ground floor room to
their workshop and an adjacent room to their retail shop. A significant, in fact larger than expected, number of silversmiths
founded premises on North Main Street in Providence.
of a silversmith’s workshop, from Chicago
of these silversmiths, the half-brothers Seril and Nehemiah Dodge who immigrated
to Providence in 1784, are credited as the first jewelers to make less expensive
plated gold jewelry. Before the
Dodges, gold-plated items, called “gilt,” were created by mercury gilding.
Mercury gilding, used since the Middle Ages, was a process where the gold
was suspended in a mercury solution. As
the mercury was burned off, the gold adhered to the metal below, creating an
allover film. The process was
dangerous, and the Dodges’ invention allowed for an easier means of depositing
a gold wash on metal. They called
their invention “soft solder” plate, and it involved rolling out a thin gold
foil, backing it with tin-lead solder, and then using heat to apply the gold
onto a base of copper or brass. The
term “soft solder” soon became local slang for any product that was cheap,
imitation, or sham. Practically from
its inception, inexpensive, plated jewelry suffered from the stigma of being
seen as cheap and fake. Despite
this, Nehemiah Dodge, who apparently had a gift for advertising and marketing,
was successful in selling his jewelry.
silversmiths soon found their way to the Dodge workshop to purchase their own
gold-plated metals for jewelry production. Some
of these may have also settled in Providence, or nearby Attleboro,
Massachusetts, and created new silversmith shops.
By 1810, there were one hundred jewelers in Providence specializing in
inexpensive jewelry, whose output topped $100,000.
In the wake of the War of 1812, there was a great demand for affordable
jewelry, leading to large growth in the industry throughout the 1820s and
subsequent decades. In the 1840s,
approximately thirty jewelry companies employed over one thousand workers.
The growing numbers prompted an 1876 article in the Providence Journal which noted that the city had been known since
1790 for its production of well-made, inexpensive jewelry.
the midst of this expansion, a new technique was introduced to Providence’s
jewelry makers that allowed for the production of a different type of
inexpensive jewelry. Thomas Lowe
arrived in Providence from England in 1844, bringing with him the technique for
forming rolled gold plate, a material that soon became crucial to the jewelry
industry. Rolled gold, first
developed using silver to create Sheffield plate in England, was a better
quality material than soft solder and could be worked like gold.
To form rolled gold, a silver plate containing gold alloy was placed
against copper or copper alloy. The
two pieces were heated, typically by rolling, until the silver “sweated” off
and the gold bonded chemically to the copper backing.
The important difference in the rolled gold technique was the ability to
control the thickness of the gold application.
It was also non-porous and resisted abrasion, making it as easy to work
as solid gold or silver. The final
piece of the puzzle was introduced into Providence at the end of the 1850s when
electroplating was developed. Electroplating,
an advancement over soft-solder, provided a more consistent and easier
application of gold plate. Electroplate
deposited a substantially thinner application of gold than was contained in
a variety of materials at their disposal, a large number of workshops and
factories, and a population of skilled workers, Providence was uniquely situated
to become the center for inexpensive jewelry production.
The companies soon specialized themselves, based on materials.
Depending on their production and clientele, they either worked primarily
in the higher quality rolled gold, or the less expensive electroplate, which
typically only had a deposit of three or four millionths of an inch of gold.
Beyond their chosen material, companies also found their niche based on
fashions. While some played it safe
and produced staple products, such as watchcases, chains, and lockets, others
changed their production seasonally based upon the whims of fashion.
With the exception of times of economic panic or depression, the industry
continued to grow. An 1894 business
listing recorded nearly160 jewelry companies in Providence and 90 companies in
the continuing growth of the industry, further specialization occurred.
While many companies had factories that were quipped to make jewelry from
design to finished piece, others became known for one specific technique or
component. Guyot Brothers Co., Inc.
is an example of this specialization. The
company was developed, and continues to be known, as a producer of decorative
jewelry findings. There were also
firms who only fabricated chain, or other integral jewelry parts.
In many ways, this division of labor mirrors that of the factory workers.
know many of the jewelry companies’ designers by name, including Alfred
Philippe, Marcel Boucher, and more recently, Frank DeLizza, but what of the
countless workers who constructed the jewelry?
Created in large factories, small workshops, and even homes, the
sparkling pieces these workers produced do much more than liven up last year’s
suit, they illustrate a microcosm of the American dream.
Many immigrants who settled in Providence, Attleboro, and New York City
in the first half of the twentieth century were drawn to the burgeoning jewelry
industry. A selection of new
arrivals came from families with a goldsmithing or design background, and they
saw the jewelry industry as familiar and particularly suited their talents.
In the case of Guyot, Numa Guyot’s talents and training as an engraver
lent themselves well to application in the jewelry world.
The story of this family and their company’s growth is representative
of the immigrant experience within the context of the costume jewelry industry.
a relatively small amount of capital, these entrepreneurs carved out a living
for their families by creating their own niche in the industry or going to work
for an established company.
the jewelry factories, there was a place for every type of worker, with every
level of skill set. At the top of
the hierarchy were the precision tool-makers, die-cutters, and mold-makers, such
as those who create the dies for Guyot’s stamps.
The next level were the journeymen, including platers, polishers, and
tool setters. The last category was
considered unskilled labor: enamellers, stone-setters, those who soldered
findings, and those who assembled machine-made parts into finished jewelry.
Mechanization, combined with easily taught handwork, allowed for an
influx of immigrant workers, of which a growing percentage was women.
By 1930, half of all jewelry-manufacturing employees were women.
There was a possibility of flexible hours, allowing mothers to work while
their children were at school, as well as piecework that could be done at home.
Often, these women congregated with their families to work on jewelry in
their homes, creating a successful cottage industry to supplement the factories.
Those with a streak of entrepreneurship could save up capital and form
their own small jobbing businesses that constructed jewelry for larger firms.
the Providence and Attleboro jewelry industry is not currently as bustling as in
its mid-twentieth century heyday, there are still a core group of companies that
continue to produce jewelry and components.
They maintain the traditional methods, producing their jewelry or related
items on similar, but updated, machines as those used during the WWII and
post-war period. There are a number
of talented designers and a hardworking, dedicated pool of workers creating
beautiful, well-made jewelry. Those
who produce components, including Guyot Brothers, Inc., also ship their goods to
jewelry manufacturers around the world, ensuring that the connection to
Providence and Attleboro is maintained.
learn more about The American Costume Jewelry Industry and its colorful
may we suggest you continue your search here......
Friedman, a lifelong jewelry lover, studied Art History at the University of
Chicago and the History of Decorative Arts at the Bard Graduate Center for
Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture.
While at the BGC, Juliet wrote several papers on jewelry design and
Century Timurid Jewelry: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Gold Ring set with
Shaft Grave Period: Mycenaean Jewelry and Metalwork
Economics, and a New World: Renaissance Pendants in Spain
Juliet also recently completed a Tiffany Fellowship to study the jewelry
collection of Historic New England. Her
research was integral to the development of an online exhibition that will
showcase this previously unexplored collection.
Aside from her scholarly pursuits, Juliet designs and creates her own
line of jewelry, julie*ry, which is inspired by the historic forms she studies.
Costume Jewelry: History of Fantasy and Fashion in Jewels.
Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1997
Deanna Farneti, ed.
Jewels of Fantasy: Costume Jewelry of the 20th Century.
New York: Harry
N. Abrams Publishing, 1992
Carlton Oral history project of the fashion industries ; v.
35, pt.1-2: Carlton Fishel, Louis Krussman, Trifari, Inc.
New York: Fashion Institute of Technology, 1982
York: Hearst Corporation, 1939-1959
York: Condé Nast Publications, 1939-1959
Providence?: how did it become the jewelry center of the U.S?: an introduction
to the first 100 years. Providence,
R.I.: Technic, Inc., 1988
Naida D., ed. Diamonds
are Forever, but Rhinestones are for Everyone! An oral history of the costume
jewelry industry of Rhode Island. Providence,
R.I.: The Providence Jewelers Museum, 1999