Most costume jewelry collectors who specialize in the abundant Christmas tree pin motif eventually cut back their overgrown forests to signed-only specimens. It’s the simplest method of deforestation, but there are much better ways to go. Why eliminate such pleasures as the Laguna Glass Mosaic, the Mylu Watermelon Rivoli, the Vero Funny Face or Juliana’s Hark the Halo just because no one bothered to hang a name on the back bough? Rather than weed out the wordless works of art from your woods, better to specialize in acres that have most-meaning and appeal for you. There are 100 ways to pine when designing a Niche Noel. Here are five.
Isn’t it ironic: Just as Bakelite can beat out gold and diamonds at auction, some of the most valuable and coveted Christmas tree pins are also made of glass or plastic. A collector who focuses on celluloid, acrylic, resins, Catalin or glass will be buying some of the most expensive trees on the market, as well as the cheapest. Vintage celluloid Christmas tree pins are the oldest there are, from the 1930s, and can be harvested for $5. Moving along the price and chronology spectrum collectors find such prized pines as the most-wanted Eisenberg (block-letter) crystal cone of 1975 (Karl Eisenberg believes it was a bust because it flip-flopped from overweight on lapels) and the art-moderne Laguna, christened the Stained Glass Tree (both, next page). Lea Stein’s French acetate firs come in cool color patterns. Both the Schultzes and the Lains are now well-known for the Bakelite and Catalin Creations trees, and others are getting in on the plastics act too, using everything from Lucite to Fifties thermoplastic beads. More plastics? Mod Pod trees (next page) from two New York artists first popped up in Vogue ages ago and have become all the rage. If you want to graduate up to a new degree of collecting, plastic and glass are two words for you.
Christmas tree pins designed as one-of-a-kind or limited editions by talented artists make a grand nche to collect. Artists use any and every medium, from Lucite to wood, rhinestones to paper, plastic to metal. Bottom line: they can make great things out of nothing. I found vintage "Philadelphia" beads (but plastic, not Bakelite) and thought they’d make a terrific Xmas tree. I tried to design something myself and the result was so sad, I sent the beads on to jewelry artist Sheryl Hamilton at the Family Jools and she smartly confected an amazing arbor, a Philadelphia fir that is a simple classic (page 12). Another artist, Cheryl Empson (aka eBay’s LadyLucite), carved a stunning tree using the material she employs for her button artworks (page 12): vintage Lucite. (Her father was a Lucite master.) Her vintage dyes render ravishing hues.
A Christmas tree pin work of art that’s a masterpiece of marquetry is composed of intricately inlaid wood. Or consider the handiwork of Emilia Castillo, the Mexican artist with a famous pedigree and a way with metal. Her tree clip overleaf is a 1997 design and may have been sold at Neiman-Marcus. Suzi Chauvet makes merry with paper designs (left) collectors have dug for years. And Stefanie Somers’ Christmas collection is a riot of colors, shapes and textures in her inimitable signature look of high-quality collage.
When I designed the tree in 1998 I thought Picasso might have painted if he were a jollier fellow, a Matisse tree was also part of that "great Artists" group. Here, at last (see cover) is Henri’s holiday arbre, dubbed the Matreese (to go along with the Pinecasso), brought to life by Paul Verrecchia.
Is there anything more versatile than a Christmas tree in terms of design possibilities?
You could take the high road and hunt in the deepest section of the forest, the one where the rare firs frolic. That would keep your forest small and select: Juliana, Schiaparelli, Haskell, Hermes, Har; the oldest Swarovskis, two Eisenbergs; incredibly scarce Hollycraft and Weiss trees, Trifari "poured glass" mosaic, Marie Ferra, the Yosca Snow Cone tree, vintage sterling Danecraft, early Judith Jack trees, and so many more maddening scarcities. You simply never know: A Jonette just popped up I had never seen before, and I had to borrow the J.J. google-eyed tree from Cathy Gordon because I don’t have one. You don’t typically think of Jonettes as rare, yet there certainly are some. Others I didn’t see till after 10 years of looking: Caviness, an unusual Kramer, funky Originals by Robert, offbeat
There are infinite ways to grow a manageable jewelry forest, from choosing only trees with candles to ones with a message...or music...or light-up mechanisms. If you love Hattie Carnegie, harvest only her trees along with your other HC pieces.
And just think: You could even grow a niche collection of fakes. That way, all those phonies marked KJL or Kenneth Lane could star in your forest...and you won’t have to feel quite so bad about being duped when you discover the only Xmas tree Ken Lane ever created was the one marked FM, for the Franklin Mint.
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