Czech jewelry's heyday lasted from 1880 to 1900. Production of these very attractive jewels essentially remained a cottage industry, and stories of its methods of production and distribution are almost unique in the jewelry world. The vast majority of the pieces were made in the north of the country around the towns of Jablonec, Harachov, and Liberec. The people of the town of Jablonec were primarily occupied in the production of glass for the crystal stones, while those of Harachov and Liberec made the metal findings and other metal parts used, which were always in a yellow metal alloy and never just plated yellow.
The quality of the glass used was exceptional, with an almost unrivalled clarity and brilliance. On visiting the family houses where the jewels were produced, you would have seen stacks upon stacks of glass rods, which were fed into small home-made furnaces. Once cooled, the stones would be faceted by hand by family members. The metal parts were brought in from the areas nearby that produced them, and the assembly of the jewels would then be done by hand. The finished articles would then be packed onto the villagers' backs and carried down the mountains to the markets of Vienna. No single large enterprise had control.
The styles that predominated were those of the period Art Nouveau naturalistic forms incorporating leaves, flowers, tendrils, and other organic forms were the most popular, but production also satisfied the relatively fast-moving fashions, later including Egyptian Revival and the emergence of the Art Deco movement.
Czech jewelry was very fashionable all over Europe from the late 19th century up to the beginning of the Second World War, at which time almost 70,000 people were employed on an outworker basis in Jablonec alone. Today its appeal is obvious and it is highly sought after, the better examples fetching high prices.
Pink Glass Pin, c.1910
Naturalistic organic forms are depicted on this brooch, using the "Art Nouveau" manner typical of much Czech jewelry. The individual leaves and petals were stamped out of gilded metal, hand-applied, soldered in place then cold-painted. The little ball and wires were also soldered on after assembly.
Art Nouveau Bracelet, c. 1900
Stamped" filigree" work (as opposed to true hand-wound filigree) is a common feature of Czech jewelry, and the look, which appears intricate and very labour intensive, is quite effective. All the metal components are in a yellow metal alloy, sometimes plated to give a white metal appearance, which is quite soft and easy to work. The "filigree" components are then soldered together and the stones added last. This bracelet shows the intricate detail that can be achieved by the use of some relatively simple parts.
• Some Czech jewelry from the 1920s-'50s is stamped with "Czechoslovakia" or "Czech", or with a crown motif.
• The biggest collectors of Czech jewelry are from the United States.
• Necklaces are probably the most collectable pieces of Czech jewelry.
The village of Jablonec (known to the English speaking world as Gablonz) was founded in the 14th century, and its name translates as" the place with apple trees". The first costume jewelry to be exported from this town was in the 18th century by J. F. Schwan, who brought fame to the area. This fame was brought about by the high quality of glass produced here. This glass was used to make beads, crystal stones, and crystal for chandeliers. The secret of the area's success, which persists to this day, was the technological improvements that lead to mass-production. These developments saw Jablonec become the world's largest glass and jewelry exporter c.1900.
During the Soviet era, emphasis was placed upon heavy industry, to the detriment of costume jewelry manufacture, and the heady days of the turn of the century were lost forever. However, Jablonec is still one of the world's major producers of costume jewelry.