For many people, the beginning of a collection or a fascination with vintage costume jewelry begins with seeing what you like or what intrigues you, and kind of going on that. Somewhere along the line, you hear someone say that they only buy signed pieces and after you figure out that it means marked with a designer name, that sounds like a good idea. After all, if you like it and it’s a designer piece, it must be better, right? And worth more, too. Welcome to vintage costume jewelry Chutes and Ladders! Or down the rabbit hole, or the place where time stops.
With signed jewelry, there is a presupposition of quality and design. You know who made it and approximately or sometimes precisely when, and can see other pieces that might have been in a set. Many people like to collect a particular maker and become real experts at it. Usually the pieces that someone put their name to are a higher quality and have some common touches through the years; for example, Hollycraft pieces are usually pretty identifiable right away without looking at the back because of the myriad minuscule rhinestones in various lighter shades, Lisner sticks out right away when you see a thermoset piece. Icy brilliant rhinestones will probably be Eisenberg- they have a certain look to them. After some time, it’s easier to spot a piece by a certain company without looking at the reverse.
However, it’s not that simple. Some companies got so busy that they subcontracted to other companies. Designers would leave one company and go to another. Companies changed hands. A designer might apprentice with another and then form their own atelier, so you end up seeing strong influences. I still confuse Robert, Eugene and Miriam Haskell from time to time. In addition, there are sometimes prototypes or copies which appear which are by a particular company but not signed. What’s wonderful about this time in history is that we are able to connect online with people who are experts and enthusiasts and they know characteristics such as what kind of pin stop or prong was used by a company. Databases are being compiled. It’s much easier now to identify an unsigned piece than before.
I’ve also encountered pieces that I would have sworn were X and are actually Q. I like to attribute that to jewelry trends of the time and many pieces being part of that trend, rather than my not knowing everything :)
One other comment about signed pieces...sometimes they’re not. Unfortunately there are people who will go to the effort of making a knock off, but making or getting an unsigned piece or a recently manufactured piece which is similar to a vintage piece, and putting a hang tag from a truly old but maybe broken piece of jewelry on it. It’s kind of mind-boggling to me that people will do this and can do it, but they do. My best advice is to do your research- look at how marks from a certain company are supposed to appear, observe the condition- is it just too excellent? Do the stones seem too new?
Designer pieces are not the only brooch in the jewelry box, though, so to speak. There are pieces I’ve seen and own (and sell) that are not marked, but are so incredible that someone special had to have made and designed it, like this Opulent Necklace For my own collection, I’d rather have a superior unsigned piece than a signed mediocre piece. That’s me, though!I'd love to hear what you all think about this...