Monday, 18 February 2013

Unsigned Jewelry

Green Crystal Necklace & Earring Set
Although a large amount of costume jewelry was signed by the manufacturer, the vast majority was not marked by either the designer or the manufacturer. In fact, some of the best costume jewelry was left unsigned. This was generally the case in earlier pieces, because the area of copying and reproduction was less of an issue, or hard to defend against. Nowadays, the commercial and intellectual rights of designs are fiercely defended and a greater percentage of "original" design is signed and protected. This issue of attribution presents something of a dilemma for the collector, which unfolds something like this. Do you buy a piece and try to convince yourself and others that it is attributable to a certain manufacturer, or do you buy it because you like it and it is good quality?

Much jewelry made in France in the first half of the 20th century was unmarked, and it takes a keen eye and sometimes exhaustive research to make accurate attributions. In the case of American costume jewelry, much was left unsigned from the turn of the century to the end of the 1930s, but here attribution is generally a bit easier. It still takes a great deal of skill and experience but with practice one should be able to determine the difference between an unsigned DuJay piece (they were almost always unsigned) and an unsigned early Trifari (only sometimes unsigned), even though the methods of production, use of findings, and styling were similar. For many collectors it is the unsigned pieces that offer the real interest in costume jewelry, because they can do research and find similar pieces that aid identification. 

Green Crystal Necklace & Earring Set, late 1950s

Sapphire Glass Teardrop Necklace
This necklace set is typical of 1950s unsigned jewelry. Somebody might say that it was an unsigned piece by Juliana and somebody else could say that it was by Hobe. The only real evidence would be to find an old advert in a magazine or a patent record. This still does not detract from the fact that the true value of the piece should be based on the quality of manufacture and design.

Sapphire Glass Teardrop Necklace, late 1950s

Even at first glance this is an elegant necklace. A single line of hand-set marquise crystals supports a fringe of sapphire-blue glass drops. One might easily assume that it was either a Henkel & Grosse or Kramer for Dior. However, on closer inspection there are certain indications that it is probably not by either of those manufacturers. It is, however, a very attractive piece and probably comes from either France or Czechoslovakia.

Lion's Head Tassel Pin, late 1950s

Lion's Head Tassel Pin
This brooch demonstrates a key problem with the attribution of a piece to a manufacturer. This lion's head with its fine "fox-tail” chain ruff is generally unsigned but can be found signed by Robert, Weiss, or Kramer. The explanation lies in the fact that many manufacturers outsourced work and also bought in designs from other, now nameless, manufacturers. In the '50s and '60s this became quite common and adds to an already quite confused history.

This pin (valued at £85-1201$145-200) is now very hard to find and commands a high price. It is very effective when worn, because the fine chain tassels flip and flop around. Dog and cat faces also exist.

Writer – Steven Miners
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