Next year (2015) will mark 125 years since Napier moved its costume jewelry & accessories company to Meriden, CT, and I have been immersed in Napier since the recent publication of Melinda Lewis’ iconic book, “The Napier Company: Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewelry” (Fall 2013).  My online shop collection has now grown to 45 pieces of this company’s vintage beauties, the largest and longest standing costume jewelry producer in U.S. history.  From the Art Deco period to the chunky and bold 1980’s, Napier dominated the jewelry counters of most fine department stores, from Filene’s to Macy’s to Bloomingdale’s.  Not to mention, who doesn’t remember their silver plated wares, such as the piggy bank (popular baby shower gift), the chic sterling diaper pins (engravable for silver-spooned tykes), or their barware (jiggers, cocktail shakers, etc.)?  …Which are now making a comeback, thanks to retro-homage TV shows like AMC’s Mad Men.

Napier developed many of the classic styles that became staples for the American woman’s working and cocktail party wardrobe, from the Gucci-link designs to their infamous and best-ever made charm bracelets from the 1950’s-60’s.  Feast your eyes on a fashion timeline that might recall your mother’s or grandmother’s favorites!

Napier 1950's moonglow fruit charm bracelet

Napier 1950’s moonglow fruit charm bracelet

Napier 1968 Eugene Bertolli design set

Napier 1968 Eugene Bertolli design set

 

Napier 1940s sterling silver bracelet

Napier 1940’s sterling silver swirl bracelet

Napier 1950s chatelaine earrings

Napier 1950’s over-the-ear chatelaine earrings

Napier gauntlet bracelet

Napier 1955 flexible gauntlet bracelet

 

Napier Gucci link bracelet

Napier “Gucci” link anchor bracelet

Napier bell earrings

Napier 1950’s Bell Chime earrings

 

Mama and baby bear cub pin

If you’ve been following my blog, you already know my favorite figurals are Christmas tree pins and snowflakes, but one that is nearest and dearest to my heart is my mama and baby bear cub pin, which I wear on my coat in honor of my sweet son, Chauncey, who will soon be turning 8 years old.   My dear Italian friend, Chiara, who resides in London, England, started calling my son my “little cub”, so when I found this pin, I just had to have it.

Another favorite of mine is the Art Deco sterling and enamel cornucopia I wear on my sweater for the Thanksgiving Day holiday.  It is rather detailed and gorgeous in cornflower blue, with sapphire blue, carnelian red and yellow blossoms, decorated with sparkly marcasite stones.

Figurals can be worn on a sweater, blouse, dress, coat lapel, purse or belt.  If you’re worried about pin marks, there are brooch converters that will slide over the pin and attach to a magnet behind your clothes so that no stick pin marks are necessary.  I got mine on Ebay, but there are several online sellers who have them, either in silver plate, gold plate or sterling silver.

Figurals take many interesting shapes: Butterflies, insects, flowers, hearts, animals, letters, fish, leaves, frogs, turtles (as well as trees and snowflakes, of course) are my favorites.  One of my holy grails is to acquire one of Trifari’s sterling silver “jelly bellies”, but since they usually are rather expensive, it might take me a while to snag one!  I’ll be showcasing some of my collection and my wish list in my next post!

Art Deco sterling & enamel cornucopia brooch

St. Labre Christmas tree pin

Vintage Tannenbaums are becoming more popular among costume jewelry collectors, and the prices are rising, despite our sluggish economy.  As I’ve said to many about vintage jewelry in general, they are a better investment than the stock market, especially these days!

For example, in the past few months I’ve sold in my online shop: a very rare Eisenberg crystal tree for $560, a Miriam Haskell tree for $525, a De Nicola tree for $385, a Nolan Miller for $325, the Mylu Peppermint stripe tree for $300, an Austrian tree for $175, a Hollycraft for $165, an MV-signed arbor for $158, and a Kramer of New York candle tree for $140, just to name a few!

So if you want to start your own Christmas-inspired 401K, I suggest you start with the following die-hard, solid investment designers (in alphabetical order):  Art, made in Austria, Avon, Beatrix,  Brooks, Corocraft, Eisenberg, Hollycraft, Johnette Jewelry (JJ), Lia, Mylu, Napier, Pell, Swoboda of California, Tancer II, Trifari, and Weiss.  You can purchase these trees for anywhere from $5 to $100 online, or if you’re lucky, from a thrift store, flea market, antique shop, or trade show.

All these designers have trees in collector books/price guides, which are referred to as “book pieces”.  The Christmas tree go-to “bibles” all collectors use are Mary Morrison’s “Christmas Jewelry” and Nancy Trowbridge’s “Christmas Tree Pins”, as well as Kathy Flood’s Warman’s figural tomes and her own two-volume set of unsigned & signed pins, the second of which is being released this holiday season.

Corocraft twisted trunk Christmas tree pin

Also, you can get a jump-start on today’s designers trees, which will gain value in the near and far future, such as Dorothy Bauer, Lunch at the Ritz, R.J. Graziano, Eisenberg Ice, Kirk’s Folly, Swarovski, and Vero. Eisenberg Ice also makes gorgeous snowflake brooches, of which the premium ones cost $75-$150 each.

If you want to get fancy and like’em rare, designers such as Miriam Haskell, DeNicola, Cadoro, Hattie Carnegie, Cristobal of London, Hobé, Erwin Pearl, Original by Robert, Stanley Hagler, St. John, St. Labré, Lea Stein, Vendome, Larry Vrba, Warner, Yosca, and Zentrall are what you want to put on your wish list (As well as pie-in-the-sky list, too!).

New, high-end designers include Stuart Freeman, Blair Delmonico, Judy Clarke, and La Heir, among others.  For Christmas tree pin collectors, ’tis the season all year round!

Next blog entry will be about:  Unsigned Christmas tree beauties!  STAY TUNED!

Wearing vintage jewelry for me is like connecting with the romance and glamour of the past…when women wore things that were dazzling, hand crafted, made with care and the finest materials, all in the spirit of making every woman feel stunning, no matter what her economic or social status.  Post-depression America is what started the incredible wave of the industry of fine costume jewelry.   

Baby

The designers of many of these luminous works of art were unemployed fine jewelers from the Great Depression, many from the likes of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, who emigrated to the United States from France and Italy.  The most famous of them was Alfred Philippe who patented more designs for Trifari than any other designer or costume jewelry company.  His rarest patented pieces fetch staggering prices at auction today. 

 

Natalie Wood Wearing Vendome 

 Today’s costume jewelry literally makes me cringe, thinking of it being stamped out en masse, manufactured in China and showing little neither craftsmanship nor imagination.  Sure, there are artisans today who make exquisite jewelry, but it lacks a certain panache that only the mysterious and enchanting past can offer.  Why wear Liz Claiborne when you can be remarkable in Miriam Haskell favored by Joan Crawford, Vendome by Natalie Wood or Weiss by Marilyn Monroe? 

 

 

 

 Vintage jewelry really means something special, an idea I think that is a scarce commodity today in our franchised, reproduced, synthetic society.  Wearing a piece of vintage costume jewelry is unique and real.  It would be an extremely rare occurrence to encounter another woman wearing the same piece around her neck, wrist, finger or adorning her top, coat or dress.  When I walk into a room wearing jewels from a past era, I feel draped in fine art and history.  I am a walking museum of exquisite craft, class and beauty.  What else could a girl ask for?