While most American costume jewelers were based on the East Coast, Eugene Joseff decided to go west, where he found in the Hollywood film industry a perfect audience for his exotic larger-than-life ideas. By the late 1930s, Joseff was producing most of the costume jewelry used in historical films and epics. For these, he researched the jewelry of relevant eras or cultures then reinterpreted it in a larger, simplified form that would read well on screen. Joseff chose to rent rather than sell his jewelry to the studios, and this allowed him to amass an archive of over three million pieces an amazing collection, which his wife, Joan Castle Joseff, presides over to this day.
Film stars including Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe wore the studio jewels off-screen; inspiring Joseff to create a retail line that was sold in the finest stores in the United States. These retail pieces have a huge following among today's collectors. Although Joseff produced a staggering range of styles, his pieces share certain unique characteristics that make them easy to spot. He developed a special dull matte finish for both his gold- and silver-tone metal, which minimized the glare of powerful studio lighting, and he carried this practice into his retail line. Unusually for a costume jeweller, Joseff made a large number of plain metal pieces or pieces with limited quantities of neutrally coloured pastes. Animals, flowers, shells, and other natural forms were favourite themes.
Joseff Sungod Pin, late 1940s
This striking "sungod" design was used for earrings, necklaces, and pins. A matched set would be an excellent and valuable find. A plainer “moongod" version was also made, which is similar to this design but lacks its waving sunrays. The dull antique metal and sparsity of paste here are typical Joseff features.
Joseff Lizard Necklace, early 1950s
With each lizard dangler measuring about 7.5cm long, this necklace displays the monumentality that collectors value in Joseff jewelry. The subject matter and simple faux turquoise cabochons suggest the influence of exotic native cultures. Joseff favoured this form of necklace, where a number of repeating pendants are suspended from a decorative metal chain. Most came with matching earrings.
• Both pieces are in excellent condition, so they can fetch the maximum value.
• Although reptiles, such as lizards and snakes, can be slow in today's market, turtles are always popular
• Check that jump rings on dangling pieces are tightly closed. The loss of one of these lizard pendants would decimate the value.
• Joseff's dangling elephant-head necklace and earring set is now one of the priciest of all his creations.
Designs were repeated over many years, which makes dating pieces by Joseff difficult. According to Joan Castle Joseff, the earliest pieces are marked “JOSEFF HOLLYWOOD" in block capitals. The mark changed “joseff" in script lettering around 1950. However, there was a big overlap in the use of the early and later marks, and it is even possible to find items from one set bearing the different marks between them.
The situation is also complicated by a quantity of newly assembled pieces that have come on the market in the last ten years. These are not reproductions, as they were made from previously unused stockpiles of Joseff's original period pastes and components. These materials are limited in quantity, so rarity value has, to some extent, been preserved. Joseff prices have dropped slightly because of the newer pieces, but, overall, collectors have not been deterred and still value his pieces, whether recently assembled or not.