When it comes to those who have influenced costume jewelry’s popularity, design, and craftsmanship over the past century, the list is long. It grows, in fact, decade by decade. Many contemporary designers continue to wow collectors, but those who created the classics really set the stage for the evolution of fashion jewelry design during the twenty-first century and beyond.
It all started back in the 1930s.
Coco Chanel & Elsa Schiaparelli
Both Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are original influencers when it comes to costume jewelry design and promotion. They were both instrumental in making the wearing of costume jewelry not only acceptable with high fashion but expected from the 1930s onward.
Chanel encouraged women to wear both fine jewelry and costume jewelry together and created timeless looks that worked for most everyone – like layering strands of faux pearls – as they filtered down from haute couture to the masses. She also partnered with some of the best designers and manufacturers in Paris to produce her jewelry, including glass elements made by Gripoix. Schiaparelli did the same and took it a step further delving into surrealist partnerships with elite from the art world like Salvador Dalí.
Schiaparelli also inserted whimsy into her designs as she and Chanel became rivals. Her early figurals with nature-based and circus themes broke ground for other designers that came after her. And while the Chanel moniker is more recognized in the fashion industry today, Schiaparelli’s name is becoming prominent once again as her classic designs are propelling a revival of the brand forward in the twenty-first century.
Miriam Haskell’s Frank Hess
While there is some debate about how much of the jewelry bearing Miriam Haskell’s name was actually designed by the woman herself, the American costume jewelry business she founded was tremendously successful. Her lead designer from the 1920s through 1960, Frank Hess, was responsible for developing intricately hand manipulated jewelry that spawned similar creations by many other brands from the late 1940s onward.
While Haskell pieces are usually superior in terms of materials and craftsmanship, Originals by Robert, DeMario, Eugene, Josef Morton, and Amourelle are among the brands offering similar styles during the same period. Morton Hess, the maker of Josef Morton jewelry, was co-founded in the 1960s by Miriam Haskell’s nephew, Josef Morton Glasser, with Hess after he left Haskell. Amourelle was a division of Kramer of New York headed by Hess a few years later.
Even some pieces marked Japan have the look of Haskell designs from the 1950s exhibiting the far-reaching influence Hess’ designs had on jewelry production around the globe.
Trifari’s Alfred Philippe
To any fan of Trifari jewelry, Alfred Philippe is a revered name. His signature appears on the patents for most of Trifari’s highly desirable pieces produced from the 1930s through the ‘60s. He worked with a team of designers at Trifari rather than solely envisioning every single piece, but as design drawings from his estate have proven, he did intricately sketch many of these beauties himself.
The story of his genius begins with fine jewelry houses like Cartier and Van, Cleef & Arpels, however, since he designed for them in the 1920s. The Art Deco styles produced by these lux establishments clearly inspired Philippe as he continued his career with Trifari.
This includes the creation of costume jewelry versions of Cartier’s Tutti Frutti designs (called “Fruit Salad” by costume jewelry collectors) and convertible double-clip brooches named Clip-Mates by Trifari. Waffle glass mimicking Van Cleef & Arpels’ invisibly set pieces also made their way into some of Trifari’s most prized Philippe designs.
Coro’s Gene Verri
Gene Verri, who was born as Guido Verrecchia, worked as a designer for Coro for thirty-one years. He was responsible, in fact, for designing most of the company’s best work. But unlike Trifari’s Alfred Philippe, his name does not appear on the patents. Instead, most of them were filed by a Coro executive named Adolph Katz. Not that Katz wasn’t an integral part of Coro’s business during the 1930s and ’40s, but he doesn’t warrant the credit he widely receives as designer of the majority of Coro’s most amazing jewelry.
This came to light when Gene Verri was interviewed several decades ago and through information shared with jewelry collectors by his son Ron Verri. This includes his amazing “Quivering Camellia,” one of many “Duette” brooches (Coro’s version of the convertible double clip brooch) he designed beginning in the 1930s. Gene Verri’s renderings for Coro also resulted in the highly collectible “Rock Fish” and “Toucan” brooches along with many others.
Ruth Kamke of Fallon & Kappel
Ruth Kamke, who was employed by jewelry manufacturer Fallon & Kappel in New York for decades, was the designer responsible for both Eisenberg and Hattie Carnegie’s most celebrated figural pieces. One testament to the genius of her remarkable designs is the way they were copied during the 1940s, and then copied again decades later.
A prime example is the Asian Princess she designed for Carnegie. As noted in a Costume Jewelry Collectors Int’l article titled “Who was Reinad? Creator or Copier?” by jewelry historian Robin Deutsch, period copies were rampant during the timeframe in which these pieces were made. Some of Kamke’s designs were copied, and then copied again, due to their popularity. This means you have the high-end Carnegie original, similar pieces by Reinad, and less expensive examples with fewer of Kamke’s creative details in the design sold through Sears catalogs.
Kamke’s mermaid brooch she sketched for Eisenberg has also been duplicated although much later. Being one of the most desirable Eisenberg designs of all time, it was a prime target for reproductions of costume jewelry made during the 1990s. The newer mermaids lack some of the fine detailing of the originals. Nevertheless, new collectors need to be aware of them along with other Eisenberg reproductions made during this period when costume jewelry was extremely hot in the collector’s marketplace.
Marcel Boucher is another costume jewelry influencer with roots in fine jewelry design since he worked with Cartier as a model maker. He also worked for Mazer Bros. as a designer in the 1930s before starting his own costume jewelry business. Boucher is another artist whose popular designs were copied back when they were new and again in the ’90s.
Boucher did all he could to protect his business from those infringing on his noteworthy designs including patenting quite a few of them. He also used many specially ordered stones. This made them unique and more difficult to duplicate back then and, unfortunately, even harder to repair today. One of the other things that made his early designs outstanding is the use of lustrous enameling.
These pieces depicting birds, insects, and flowers are so finely crafted that they have been elevated to masterpiece status and easily sell in the thousands today. These are also among the pieces that were reproduced in the 1990s, but the enameling and detailing on them does not measure up to Boucher’s originals.
There are so many more talented individuals and savvy business owners who have influenced the body of vintage costume jewelry collectors seek so avidly today. James Napier of the Napier Co. and Eugene Joseff of Joseff of Hollywood are a couple deserving honorable mentions.