Rago’s hosting open house, talk on New Jersey jewelry makers

LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. — The Rago Arts and Auction Center hosts an open house on Tuesday, December 4, featuring a talk by Newark Museum curator Ulysses Grant Dietz.

The talk, “The Lower End of Splendor: Middle Class Jewelry in Context,” focuses on the story of Newark, New Jersey, as a jewelry manufacturing center, its decline during the Great Depression, through its demise in the 1990s.

Art Nouveau Enameled Gold Flower Brooches, $1,200-1,800. Photo courtesy Rago Arts.

By the eve of the great Depression, in 1929, Newark, NJ, produced ninety percent of the gold jewelry in the United States (including 50% of the 18-karat jewelry). The mass of this jewelry, which was not sold under Newark maker’s names, but retailed through jewelry stores in every corner of the nation, was small scale, finely crafted and very wearable. Small diamonds, colored stones, enamel, in modern designs, for men and women. Millions of cufflinks and brooches, signet rings and wedding bands, poured out of Newark’s factories six days a week.

But Newark’s jewelers knew their market well. Their clients were not the Vanderbilts or (later) the stars of the Silver Screen. Their customers saw high society and celebrity in magazines, and wanted jewelry that evoked that glamour, but which they could buy in their local jewelry stores and, more importantly, could afford.

Newark was the king of jewelry manufacturing in America, employing thousands of people, until the consumer base was eroded by the Great Depression, World War II and the rise of costume jewelry. By the 1950s Newark’s industry had shrunk to half its former size, and by the 1990s the last of the factories closed forever. Newark’s story as a jewelry center is remarkable: come see what the industry was up to.

Ulysses Grant Dietz has been the curator of Decorative Arts at The Newark Museum since 1980. He has been collecting items for the Newark Museum for over 30 years.

Tiffany & Co. Bicolor Gold Ruby Brooch, $2,000-3,000

The talk takes place during preview week for Rago’s Silver, Jewelry and Great Estates auctions, to be held December 7-9, 2012.

The auction house opens on Tuesday, December 4 at Noon. A reception begins at 5 pm. Dietz will speak at 6 pm.

RSVP to 609.397.9374 ext. 119 or raac@ragoarts.com. Unable to rsvp in advance? Please join us if you can. All are welcome.

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