Miriam Haskell Jewelry

by Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff
Schiffer Book for Collectors
reviewed by Gail Sandonato
A photo of the book cover from "Miriam Haskell Jewelry"

This truly lovely book is another Schiffer Book for Collectors. It has all the quality you would expect from that series of price guides, including good writing, a strong knowledge of subject matter, and beautiful graphic material. It is a suitable vehicle for displaying the work of Mariam Haskell Jewelry. In any industry, certain companies stand out for quality. In the world of costume jewelry, that benchmark is set by the Miriam Haskell Jewelry Company of New York.

Miriam opened a small stand in 1926 that offered top quality jewelry to the patrons of the McAlpin Hotel in New York City. No one knows for certain if Miriam ever designed her own jewelry, but soon after opening, she hired a young window dresser from Macy's named Frank Hess as her head designer. With her business acumen and his artistic ability, they built a business that quickly grew beyond a few hotel stands and, together, they left a legacy that jewelry manufacturers strive to match even today.

One of the primary things that makes Haskell jewelry unique is its attention to detail. The head designer would create a motif, usually based on something in nature according to Miriam's instructions. This motif might be constructed from beads and stones of almost any known material. These beads are stitched or wired to a screen, piece of pierced plastic, or filigree back piece. Glue is never used and each stitch is placed neatly, usually spanning just one space of the back piece. The fine stitchery of a Miriam Haskell motif is easily recognizable.

These motifs would then form the central theme of a design collection that might consist of a bracelet, necklace, pin, or set of earrings, etc. Three or four of these collections were offered to buyers from the best department and jewelry stores in elaborate invitation-only shows held five times yearly at the company's showroom located in their Fifth Avenue factory and warehouse.

In addition to the motif lines, Haskell used faux pearls a great deal. These pearl collections served as the bread and butter of the company.

Only five head designers have led the artistic department of Haskell's. They are Frank Hess, of course, who led the design team until retiring in 1960, and Robert Clark, Peter Raines, Larry Vrba, and Camille Petronzio. Each designer had their own particular style, but all would follow the basic precepts set down by Miriam Haskell in the company's infancy.

Miriam herself ran the firm until 1950. In ill health and quite confused, she sold the business to her brother Joseph. It later left family hands and has passed through other owners but remains a constant in the jewelry industry today. Among other lines, Haskell now creates J-Lo jewelry for Jennifer Lopez, the actress.

I've learned more about jewelry design in this book than any other that I've read simply because when you look at a Miriam Haskell piece, you are seeing jewelry construction done properly. The book gives detailed instructions on identifying a true Haskell piece with comparisons between the authentic piece and lookalikes from companies in Europe and the U.S.A. In addition, changes to the line that occurred due to different popular styles and designers and availability of materials are discussed and shown in detail.

Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff are both eminently qualified to discuss vintage jewelry collection as collectors, dealers, and experts in the field. In "Miriam Haskell Jewelry," they have created a helpful and beautiful book that every interested person should add to their bookshelf.

 

The Haskell/Guyot relationship goes back many years and included the development of special findings for Miriam Haskell. Three such products still in production at Guyot are shown here. All products shown were developed pre-1935.

A photo of a filigree finding. A photo of a ribbon and bow finding. A photo of a brass scottie dog charm.
Guyot decorative finding 
style # 7163
Guyot decorative finding
style # 6216
Guyot Scottie Charm
style # 6834

 

Review reprinted with permission

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