Collecting Costume Jewelry From the 1950s

As the cost of precious metals and jewels continue to rise the popularity and price of costume jewelry continues to rise. Costume jewelry is manufactured from nonprecious metals that are plated in the process. Precious metals, gold, silver, and platinum are scarce and continue to increase in price.

The process of gold-plating was developed by Nehemiah Dodge in his workshop in Providence, Rhode Island. As the gold-plating process with nonprecious metals was refined over time, mass production of costume jewelry was now possible. The major centers of production included Newark, New Jersey; Attleboro, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island, and New York. California became a major center for production by the late 1930s.

The Great Depression resulted in the reduction in the manufacture of fine jewelry. The fine jewelry designers found work with the costume jewelry manufacturers, thus resulting in an increase in the quality and design of the pieces. During World War II jewelry manufacturers were provided a list of metals that were no longer allowed to be used as many metals were needed for the war effort. Costume jewelry was then made from a variety of products including wood, plastics, and pasta.

Two events occurred during the 1950s that positively influenced the costume jewelry market. In 1955 and ad judge ruled costume jewelry was a “work of art.” With this ruling, companies began using copyrighted symbols to protect their pieces. Now that companies marked their pieces it became easier for collectors to identify the manufacturer and the time period in which the piece was produced.

The second event that occurred mid 1950s was the development of a special process which involved coating rhinestones. The coating gave the rhinestones an iridescent finish known as “aurora borealis.”

Three Major Jewelry Designers of the 1950s

Eisenberg

Eisenberg Jewelry, Inc. was officially established in 1940, manufacturing costume jewelry exclusively. It had been producing women’s clothing from the early 1900s. The jewelry was originally designed to co-ordinate with the women’s clothing line. However, the jewelry created by the Eisenberg Company was of such high quality that purchasers wanted the jewelry rather than the clothing for which it was intended to be worn. Eisenberg jewelry has several markings, although during the years 1958-1970 many pieces were not marked. Between 1949 and 1958, the jewelry was marked with the words Eisenberg Ice in block letters.

Kramer

Kramer Jewelry Creations was a company founded during World War II and operated in New York. Pieces created at this time were marked”Kramer,” “Kramer N.Y.,” or “Kramer of New York.” In the 1950s Kramer was recruited to design and produce costume jewelry for Christian Dior. Pieces designed for Dior were marked”Christian Dior by Kramer,” “Dior by Kramer,” or “Kramer for Dior.”

Favorite motifs of Kramer jewelry include flowers, particularly organic-looking floral designs made with colored enamel or gilt petals and leaves.

Napier

Napier became known for costume jewelry in the 1920s. By the late 1940s and into the 1950s Napier was famous for its rose gold brooches and necklaces set with clear and colored rhinestones, and bold designs for charms and bracelets. Napier Company used the name “Napier” enclosed within a rectangle. Following the sale of the Napier Company in 1999 the Napier trademark was written in script.

The Clothing-Jewelry Link

Women’s’ fashions in the 1950s became more feminine. Advances in fabrics allowed clothing to be worn without the need to iron, providing women a clean fresh look. Jewelry took on a new look to compliment the new clothing styles. The costume jewelry created during this time period took on larger proportions. Some earrings were so large the press described them as “ear muffs.” Large pearls and flower motifs were popular were heavy beaded rope necklaces, multiple stand bracelets, and shoulder length earrings.

Summary

Costume jewelry produced during the 1950s was influenced by economic and world events that limited materials to produce items and encouraged fine jewelry designers to turn to designing costume jewelry. Not all costume jewelry is marked or signed and even within a company there are periods in which the pieces were marked and other time periods the pieces were unmarked. Periodically a company would change the mark.

Costume during this time period is bold. Animal and floral motifs were popular. Western themed jewelry was also becoming fashionable as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were packing the movie theatres.