In 1909, Beautiful Hattie Carnegie started her career as a milliner, selling her own hat designs from a store in New York City. She later moved into clothing and jewelry, and by the 1930s she was established as one of the United States' most exclusive fashion designers, with a following of models, society women, and actresses such as Joan Crawford. She was particularly known for her plain black dresses and "little Carnegie suits", a simple, elegant look enlivened by interesting costume jewelry.
Carnegie's early jewelry was produced in small quantities each season to accessorize her newest clothing, so these pieces are relatively rare in today's market. Collectors value her early clips and pins in vermeil silver or base metal. Large retro-style abstracts and interesting enamel figurals, such as animals and human faces, all fetch top prices. Such early pieces usually bear the "H.C." mark in a diamond-shaped frame.
Among later pieces, collectors prefer Carnegie's large 1950s bibs and cabochon and paste designs, along with her unique "trembling" necklaces, where butterflies and flowers set on tiny springs vibrate as the wearer moves. By the later 1950s and '60s, Carnegie jewelry was more often mass-produced with varying results. Collectors usually avoid ordinary gilt flower pins and undistinguished paste abstracts in favour of more stylish pieces, such as the antelope below or her clowns, circus horses, and butterfly pins. Long "chandelier" earrings are another sought-after loo
Hattie Carnegie Antelope Pin, c.1960s
Carnegie made a series of whimsical animal pins that were characterized by the use of brightly coloured plastic pieces meant to simulate coral, turquoise, jade, and lapis. Today, these pins are highly collectable. Collectors particularly value African animals, such as this antelope, based on primitive art forms. Fish, butterflies, elephants, and birds were also made in this style, but they are worth slightly less.
Hattie Carnegie Flower Pin, mid-1950s
In keeping with Hattie Carnegie's taste for the unusual and "frankly fake", the petals on the pin here are made of poured glass in the style of early Chanel. Although Carnegie's clothes were often so simple that they were almost severe, her costume jewelry was often pretty and feminine. Flowers, birds, and butterflies were favorite themes, and "trembling" versions of these are particularly in demand and fetch higher prices.
• As well as Carnegie's famed "primitives" in plastic jade, look out for oriental themes.
• Carnegie pieces tend to be decorative and "frankly fake", instead of subtle and real-looking.
• Collectors love Carnegie's ram's-head pieces in brightly coloured plastic. Earring and ring sets are particularly in demand.
• Signatures range from the earliest "H.C." monogram to "Carnegie", then "Hattie Carnegie pat. pend."Or" Hattie Carnegie" on an oval plate.
Hats were a staple accessory until the 1960s, and millinery was a route into mainstream fashion for designers, particularly women. Like Hattie Carnegie, Nettie Rosenstein started by trimming hats, but by the 1930s she was known for her clothing and costume jewelry designs. Rosenstein's jewelry is slightly harder to find than Carnegie's, and the most valuable pieces come from her 1940s collections in vermeil silver.
Her jewelry was signed "Nettie Rosenstein" in script. Enthusiasts value her early sterling figural clips and pins of unusual objects, such as scissors or umbrellas, along with animals, human faces, and characters. Her hand-painted miniature portrait pieces, Retro-style clips, and enameled flowers are also desirable. Rosenstein is also known for her 20th-century"chatelaine", in which two related pins are joined by a length of chain. Later gilded, base metal pieces are worth less than her earlier vermeil items.