Thinking about Hobé, a brand with French roots that thrived for more than 60 years, I can’t help but remember meeting Don Hobé at a jewelry collector’s event back in the early 2000s. His appearance was striking with dark hair and an “old Hollywood” style pencil thin mustache. His gentlemanly demeanor impressed us throughout the weekend. He was also very flattered that the jewelry marketed by his family garnered so much attention among my collecting friends.
Once you’ve started looking at the varied wares sold under the Hobé brand, it’s easy to understand why collectors become enamored with this particular vintage jewelry. This is especially true for the early, intricate sterling silver pieces decorated with colorful stones. But before we delve into the jewelry, a brief review of the company’s history is in order.
Hobé et Cie was founded by Jacques Hobé in France in 1887. While he was trained as a master goldsmith, his business focused primarily on finely crafted sterling silver jewelry. William Hobé, his son, moved to the United States around 1920 bringing his family’s acuity for producing high quality jewelry with him. He founded the Hobé Button Co. first and then a costume jewelry business called Hobé Cie Ltd.
William Hobé worked as a goldsmith and costume designer in Europe before his big migration to America so it’s no surprise that he was hired to costume Flo Ziegfeld’s Broadway productions during the 1920s. In fact, Ziegfeld was the first to use the term “costume jewelry,” according to Hobé family history. That may or may not be true since other famous individuals have also been credited for the term, but that opportunity did give William Hobé the chance to supply other theater productions and Hollywood films with costuming. Several starlets were photographed wearing Hobé jewelry during the 1940s as well including Carole Lombard and Ava Gardner. Marilyn Monroe also had pieces of Hobé in her personal jewelry cache.
The Hobé tagline used in advertising during the 1930s and ‘40s was “Jewels of Legendary Splendor.” That might seem rather haughty for costume jewelry if it weren’t for the fact that Hobé did design some remarkably intricate and finely crafted designs during the period. They were made used unfoiled stones to simulate colored gemstones along with, on occasion, lesser value natural gems like moonstone. They were set in sterling silver that was complexly twisted, braided, and coiled to create floral designs many of which included bows. While the silver prototypes were created by William Hobé himself, the actual manufacturer of the jewelry was a business owned by Ralph DeMassa of Providence, Rhode Island.
These designs, a number of which were patented, were sometimes based on antique jewelry while others incorporated Asian motifs. The patents filed during the 1940s credit either William Hobé or his wife Sylvia Hobé. Jewelry boxes and purse frames were also made in the same intricate styles encrusted with faux gemstones. All Hobé products sold for good sums in boutiques as well as upscale department stores when they were new.
As time passed, Hobé, like so many other costume jewelry companies, altered the style of their products to meet the demands of their customers. No longer did they have a distinctive look associated with their jewelry. From fabulously fake rhinestone suites to multi-strand beaded ensembles, the jewelry marketed under the Hobé brand coordinated with the mode of the day from the 1950s onward. They continued to have various manufacturers, known as jobbers in the industry, produce their pieces including DeLizza & Elster (the firm responsible for “Juliana” jewelry).
The late Don Hobé, son of William, was one of the Hobé family members that continued to run the business through 1995. He also owned his own jewelry business in Florida founded in 1987.
More About the Jewelry
Among avid jewelry collectors, the sterling silver pieces marketed during the late 1930s and 1940s have the most fans. Some of the most desirable of these pieces are the “Bandora” designs, many of which were patented by Sylvia Hobé in the late 1940s. These pieces often incorporate dark brown resin figures or faces made to resemble wood. Other motifs from the Ming series include ivory-look elephants and colored glass Buddha figures. Some are embellished with sterling silver chain tassels as well.
Hobé also marketed an abundance of other sterling silver styles, some of which are more plentiful and reasonably priced in the collector’s marketplace. Brooch motifs range from hearts to floral sprays to bows decorated with colored glass stones. Many coordinating bracelets, necklaces, and earrings were made as well. Some of the designs mimicking antique jewelry are embellished with small portraits surrounded by intricate sterling silver metalwork.
Later Hobé jewelry runs the gamut in terms of style. Many pieces are reasonably priced including multi-strand beaded necklaces sold during the 1950s and 1960s as well as those incorporating polished natural stones moving into the 1970s. The more desirable exceptions are mid-century pieces laden with jewel-toned glass stones and enameling made to emulate Austro Hungarian designs. These are sometimes mistaken for jewelry made decades earlier.
Hobé sytles also include a limited number of pieces made with sapphirine (sometimes called saphiret by mistake) stones, which are popular among collectors. Some of those were heart-shaped lampworked glass stones made by Marner in Providence, Rhode Island. Jewelry using these stones in a variety of colors was marketed by Hobé in 1962 as a line called “Mayorka Petals.” Earrings marked Hobé made during this period often have patented roller clip backs that make them easier to slide off the ear comfortably.
Although Hobé used jobbers to manufacture their jewelry lines, most every piece is marked. On rare occasions, you may run across a sterling silver piece that is distinctively Hobé without a mark. These early pieces will also be marked Sterling although sometimes the stampings are truncated and hard to read.
Unmarked jewelry from the 1950s and beyond is harder to peg as Hobé. Some of the companies making jewelry under this brand also made the same or very similar styles for others. Additionally, more than one company used the heart-shaped glass stones by Marner (including Marner’s own founder Julio Marcella under the Jewels by Julio brand). Some pieces of Hobé jewelry from the 1960s are dated as well.
Also keep in mind that some marked fantasy pieces (meaning that they aren’t technically reproductions because they weren’t based on original Hobé designs) were sold in the early 2000s. If you find a piece of Hobé that looks too new and doesn’t fit the company’s documented styles, it may be one of these items.