Discovering Napier Jewelry of the 1920s

Costume jewelry expert Pamela Wiggins Siegel discusses the Napier Co.'s elusive pieces from this decade and gives tips for dating them.
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Bliss sautoir necklace, 1919-1920.

Bliss sautoir necklace, 1919-1920.

Napier jewelry first captured my attention when I found a number of amazing vintage pieces at an estate sale in the early 1990s. I’ve been enamored with it ever since. So naturally, when my friend Melinda L. Lewis (who is also my Costume Jewelry Collectors Int’l LLC partner) wrote The Napier Co. a number of years ago, I was thrilled to peruse her book for a number of reasons. For one, I couldn’t wait to learn more about the beautiful pieces I owned dating to the 1920s. I’d love to share some of the information my study of this elusive jewelry has revealed.

The Napier Co. in the 1920s

As fashion and jewelry styles changed in the 1920s, so did Napier as a company. Embracing European jewelry design, they kicked off the decade by introducing a Paris-inspired line in 1920 often sold in fine jewelry stores. Napier had established a design and product development facility in Paris by this time, and the company’s lead designer Frederick Rettenmeyer traveled to Europe frequently to glean inspiration. James Napier traveled to Europe with fellow jewelry manufacturer William Hobé during this period as well to stay abreast of fashion jewelry trends.

In 1922, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary. The name changed from Napier-Bliss Co. to The Napier Co. that same year. The business also established a new sales office at 389 Fifth Avenue in New York in 1923, a presence that would last for several decades thereafter. And, most significantly, in 1928 the company purchased property that included a factory in Meriden, Connecticut. The facility was completely renovated with modern equipment putting Napier at the forefront of jewelry and giftware manufacturing in the United States at that time.

Dating Napier Jewelry from the 1920s

When learning more about older Napier jewelry, the first thing to keep in mind is that dating many of the earliest pieces using marks alone is quite challenging. This is even true for folks who’ve been collecting the company’s jewelry for years.

The mark used during this era was Napier in block letters. The problem is – with only subtle differences – a block letter Napier mark was also used quite frequently decades later. Learning that Napier pieces without copyright symbols were made both before and after 1955 (the year the C within a circle copyright symbol came into use by many jewelry manufacturers) only adds to the confusion.

So, to accurately date Napier jewelry looking at individual components along with the sum of the parts is imperative. When doing this, you have a leg up in identifying the early pieces. Overall, the jewelry items made during the 1920s have a period aesthetic about them when compared to later pieces, even though they may look really great for their age due to their high quality.

Another caveat to be aware of is that some Napier pieces that are much newer can be represented as 1920s by unknowing sellers. Again, this is largely due to the similarity in the block letter marks. Napier also utilized their vast archive of molds and dies from earlier in the 1900s to make components from time to time in later decades, which can further confuse the matter of dating. Delving into some of the specifics of 1920s Napier jewelry will help in distinguishing older pieces from more contemporary styles.

Napier sautoir necklace, early 1920s.

Napier sautoir necklace, early 1920s.

Exploring Early Napier Necklaces

A number of Napier necklaces made during the early 1920s are similar in style to those produced when the company was making jewelry marked Bliss from 1919-1920. One popular type was the “flapper”-style sautoir. These necklaces by definition are quite long, and simply slip over the head when worn. The oval marks on these pieces reading Napier look surprisingly modern at first glance, but savvy collectors recognize them as lucky finds.

Necklaces with flexible chain in Egyptian-influenced styles and pieces with true Art Deco elements made during this period can be in remarkably good condition for their age and mistaken for revival pieces by the novice collector. Sterling silver components were also used in some Napier necklaces in the ‘20s. Finding a Deco “Y” necklace marked Napier Sterling from this era is rare treat.

Napier French filigree bracelet, late 1920s.

Napier French filigree bracelet, late 1920s.

Napier Bracelets from the 1920s

Napier made cuff bracelets throughout the company’s history. Many early cuff bracelets, however, have a very distinctive look since they were crafted using intricately stamped French filigree metal and unfoiled rhinestones or high domed glass cabochons. Other types of bracelets were made using this beautiful filigree as well. The type used in Napier pieces in later decades usually is not as intricate in nature. Other bracelets, including cuffs, were made of die stamped metal that has developed a beautiful vintage patina over time.

Bangles from this period can be even trickier to identify. For instance, the sterling silver “Trianon” bracelet was actually three thin interlocked bangles that look unexpectedly contemporary. The fine engraving on them provides a clue that they might be older than first suspected. Gold-filled hinged bangles with engine turned engraving made in the mid-1920s could easily be mistaken for 1960s Victorian revival pieces as well.

Napier filigree earrings, late 1920s.

Napier filigree earrings, late 1920s.

Napier’s Special-Order Earrings

Early earrings made by this company are of the screw-back variety. Sometimes only one of the earrings in the pair is marked. Most are dangling pendant styles. Again, filigree metal work similar to that seen in other Napier designs from this period was used as well as unfoiled glass stones. Among other materials incorporated in earring designs from this era are Galalith (a type of plastic) and die stamped metal.

Napier began using color charts in 1927 issued by The Fashion Coordination Bureau to promote Parisian trends. These provided guidelines for crystal stones, colorful cabochons, and metal finishes, and were particularly useful with earrings since they were special order items. They could be ordered to match necklaces, for example, but were not widely marketed by Napier’s sales force. Thusly, they are considered hard to find today and prized by collectors.

Finding the earliest Napier pieces isn’t easy, but well worth the effort. Keep studying and searching and you, too, can snag one of these trophy pieces to add to your vintage jewelry collection.