We’re taking a look at a vintage costume jewelry brand that is having its moment: Schreiner. Not that Schreiner jewelry hasn’t always been on the radar of savvy collectors. It has. But over the past few years demand has surged, and values have risen accordingly.
What’s driving the current popularity? First and foremost, worthiness. Schreiner designs are exceptional, the materials are captivating and the quality is high. Yes, I’m biased being a Schreiner collector myself, but when you compare the jewelry by this brand to others, it truly does stand out.
Secondly, a book published in 2017, Schreiner: Masters of Twentieth-Century Costume Jewelry by Carole Tanenbaum and Eve Townsend, fueled demand. As more collectors learned about these gorgeous jewels, more dealers sought to stock them further increasing desirability. This is definitely a name worth getting to know right now.
A Brief Look at Schreiner’s History
You probably wouldn’t recognize the early jewelry made by Henry Schreiner’s company beginning in 1932. Those pieces were largely the Art Deco designs and monogram pins made of sterling silver decorated with marcasites popular back then. Schreiner started making soldered metal settings later in the decade, however, and a shift in style took place. The company’s designs became even more imaginative as Schreiner began ordering special Czech stones in distinctive colors and shapes.
Wisely, Schreiner also had the forethought to pre-order enough metals to stay in business during the World War II era as other jewelry manufacturers coped with war rations. In addition to producing buckles and buttons, his company’s jewelry production grew during the 1940s and ’50s. This included many pieces that were not branded as Schreiner made for fashion designers such as Norman Norell, Pauline Trigere, and Adele Simpson, among others.
One of the myths associated with Schreiner is a deep connection to the House of Dior since some of their designs are similar in nature. In actuality, Schreiner only produced one brooch and earring set for Dior in 1949. Speculation about collaborations with Austrian jewelry manufacturers (which I even mention in my own book, Warman’s Costume Jewelry) have been refuted as well. Other associations with Sphinx, a British jewelry firm, and Sherman, a well-known Canadian jewelry business, have also been disproven. Collectors should keep in mind that American jewelry designers were inspired by those in Europe during this period and vice versa. Manufacturing techniques were often similar from business to business whether in the United States or abroad as well.
Many of the confirmed details about Schreiner’s business and the jewelry they produced was shared during interviews conducted with Terry Schreiner, Henry’s daughter, for the book by Tanenbaum and Townsend. She and her husband, Ambros Albert, who designed the majority of Schreiner’s most amazing collectible pieces, operated the business after her father’s death in 1954. Terry ran the front of the house including the showroom while Ambros took care of design and production in the manufacturing facility.
Fortuitously, a cache of special-order stones sitting in a Czechoslovakian warehouse since 1939 was delivered to the Schreiner factory after the end of the war. Ambros was able to build upon his father-in-law’s work utilizing those stones. He innovatively inverted many stones in the settings, a Schreiner design hallmark, and experimented with lovely and unique color combinations collectors are so fond of today.
Schreiner also began to focus on selling to well-known department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Henry Bendel in the 1950s. These pieces were marked, and the stores freely promoted them as Schreiner. Some of the elaborate collar and bib necklaces along with wide bracelets featured in Vogue and other fashionable magazine spreads were among those being ordered in the 1960s. These are coveted by collectors now.
The business thrived until Ambros retired due to failing health in the early 1970s. Terry retired in 1975 as well and sold off what remained of the company’s inventory. Those who got to know the gracious Terry Schreiner Albert through book parties and signings associated with Schreiner: Masters of Twentieth-Century Costume Jewelry just mourned her loss in May of 2020.
Identifying Marked and Unmarked Schreiner
As mentioned, many special-order pieces were made for designers that were not marked, while others made for sale directly to department stores had a cartouche attached reading Schreiner, Schreiner New York, or Schreiner Jewelry N.Y.C. As long as you don’t overlook a mark, those pieces are easy to identify.
When it comes to pegging the unmarked pieces, that can be trickier. There are some signs to look for that make it a bit easier, though. Unfoiled inverted stones – meaning they are placed in the setting with the pointy side up instead of down – were frequently used in Schreiner pieces. Other manufacturers employed this technique as well, however, so it’s not the only indicator. Also take care not to confuse rivoli stones (illustrated in last month’s “All That Glitters” feature on Juliana jewelry) with inverted rhinestones.
When studying pieces by this manufacturer you’ll also learn to look for specialty stones unique to their designs. This includes elongated keystone-shaped stones used in the ultra-popular and pricey “ruffle” designs first produced in 1957. Several brooch variations were made using these particular stones along with belt buckles and coordinating earrings.
Schreiner pieces can incorporate plastic elements as well. Some of these are made of domed, polished Lucite in various sizes while others are shaped like faceted drops. Most brooch designs also have a hook so they can be converted to necklace pendants by attaching them to specially made chains.
As an example, take note of the tail portion of the closure shown on the chain necklace with removable brooch featured below. This is one specific type of chain marketed by Schreiner, but many of the necklaces they made incorporate similar types of closures. Also note the use of dogtooth prongs on the front of some Schreiner pieces and layered construction collectors describe as “hook and eye” on the backs of many styles.
As far as earrings go, many were made with what collectors have deemed “donut hole” clip backs. These backs are completely round on the top. Other backs were used as well, but these round examples are often an indicator of Schreiner whether found alone or with other matching pieces.
For more Schreiner learning, there is quite a bit of information on identifying unmarked Schreiner in Tanenbaum and Townsend’s book.