The jewelry of the 1930s is extraordinarily popular with collectors today, and an understanding of some of the themes and materials used is vital The '30s was a time of almost unprecedented economic hardship in the United States and Europe alike. There was a mass movement from precious to costume jewelry, with designers and artisans setting up shop and producing costume jewelry out of economic necessity. One of the materials to come into more common use was pot metal a catch all term denoting almost any lead-based metal alloy, The allure of this rather unprepossessing material was its cheapness and availability, along with the unusual, comical, and novelty designs that it could be used to make. Acid to this the often extremely skilful cold-painted enamelling in bright colours and the stage was set for a popular jewelry trend, with pieces even produced by jewelry designing greats such as Chanel and Schiaparelli.
The incredible variety and novelty of forms and colours of pot-metal jewelry almost defy description brooches in the form of frogs, flowers, cats, dogs, sea creatures, insects, lampposts, people, trees, people up trees, Puss-in-Boots, turkeys, cars, aeroplanes, and trains do not even begin to give a full idea of the range. Some were painted, some were set with stones, others both; some trembled on articulated springs, some were mechanical with moving arms or wings; some held perfume, some powder the inventiveness of the designers knew few bounds and the result is very fertile ground for the collector. The appeal of these pieces is obvious, so be prepared to pay four figures for some of the more collectable examples.
- If there is no wear to the enamel, be suspicious: some pot-metal brooches have had the original paint stripped and then been repainted. This seriously affects the value.
- Be wary of copies. Check that the signature is correct and not added later, check construction, and check the weight of the piece - this brooch is basically made of lead and should be heavy, while aluminum copies are correspondingly light.
- Generally, every pot metal brooch you see will have had its stones changed at least once.
Coco ChanelThe use of pot metal by some of the greatest clothing designers of the time was an attempt to strip design back to its basics, placing value on its form and design rather than the intrinsic value of the materials used. It is reminiscent of the back to basics Arts and Crafts movement. Coco Chanel said that she hated precious jewellery and declared that fake jewellery was much more attractive, which helped to popularize modern costume jewelry.
Chanel pot metal brooches, such as the orchid above, were probably produced in America by factories in Rhode Island. What is surprising, however, is that one may commonly see a brooch such as this, and those in other designs, with no italic Chanel signature; in fact, it may not be signed at all. One explanation that has been put forward is that Coco Chanel simply bought some models from the factory and had them stamped for sale in her shop.
Writer - Steven miners