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Flowers to Wear

An elegant 19th century
carved ivory flower
brooch
While low-cost costume jewelry pins were plentiful, real ivory was much desired and often carved into elaborate flower brooches. Because ivory and real gems like diamonds were costly but glitter was much desired in the 1920s, marcasite, a faux metal appearing like tiny metallic crystals, became a popular material for brooches. Marcasite looks like faceted metal but is actually a kind of pyrite or stone with a metallic luster well suited to the making of jewelry.

A marcasite leaf pin
Many early and mid-20th century floral pins were covered in rhinestones rather than real jewels. The stones gave color and glitter, and the best are highly desired by collectors today. Many vintage pins use copper, brass, or even base alloys for the foundation, and then cover parts with enameling or rhinestones. Enameling allowed for a wide range of colors and permitted detailing of stamen, leaves, and stems via paint. Other brooches in cloisonné or with abalone or coral decoration can be found in the 1920s, the art deco period, along with marcasite. Items imported from Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Occupied Japan may incorporate crystal, china, or glass stones in tiny mosaics, generally with an alloy base. Following after the early celluloid widely used at the turn of the century, the next big developments in plastic jewelry material were Bakelite [1930s-1940s], followed by Lucite appearing after WWII.

Miriam Haskell
brooch in gold
The 1940s was the era of the big-shouldered power suit, and women found large brooches ideal feminizing adornments. Several top designers turned their attention to creating dramatic costume jewelry of high quality. Among the most collectable of mid-century jewelry are items with the mark of Miriam Haskell, a company still producing highend jewelry today. The quality of design and workmanship of its 1940s items make them especially desired by collectors. (Haskell items are dated by the shape, font and design of the maker’s mark.)

What we used to denigrate as “costume jewelry” has now been elevated into “estate jewelry” by dealers. In antique stores, that term refers to brooches (as well as rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings) created in Victorian times or early-to-mid 20th century. However, many dealers call anything “estate jewelry,” hoping to enhance the value of cheap mass-manufactured items from the ‘50s to the ‘80s (or even more recently).

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