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Miriam Haskell : The Lowdown On One of My Favorite Vintage Jewelry Designers

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I thought it’d be cool to feature some of the vintage designers whose jewelry we stock and give you a little background on who they were, the type of work they produced and also how to spot their signature style and its associated historical timeframe. Due to length I’ll be making this a two part post.

Miriam Haskell is one of my favorite designers. I love her attention to detail and craftsmanship, the quality of the materials she used and the breadth of her designs. She was also one of the pioneering female designers that was able to be successful in what was a very male dominated business at that time. The likes of Haskell, Chanel, Carnegie, and Schiaperelli were not the norm and have since influenced generations of jewelry and fashion designers.

Miriam Haskell was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in the town of Tell City, Indiana in 1899. 

Growing up she helped her parents who owned a cloth/fabric store and after 3 years of attending Chicago University but without graduating she moved to New York City in 1924 with $500 to her name. In 1926 she opened her first store, Le Bijou de L’Heure , in The McAlpin Hotel.

The same year Miriam hired a Macy’s window designer by the name of Frank Hess who went on to become her chief designer and famous in his own right for his work until he retired in 1960. By the 1930s Miriam Haskell’s company was serving high society clients and celebrity clientele such as Lucille Ball, Gloria Vanderbilt, Joan Crawford and royalty such as the Duchess of Windsor. She became good friends with Coco Chanel and shared and traded ideas with her even becoming involved in some of her design work.

Miriam recruited the best craftsman from jewelry houses all across Europe and developed her signature style by wiring the beads and montees used in her pieces directly to the filigree backings leaving no sign of the base plate underneath. This became one of the signatures to her pieces.

Haskell costume jewelry matched the glamour of this period, but by using art glass, rhinestones, and gold plate parures she was able to achieve the look at a cheaper price. As the economy improved after the Great Depression she began to use more expensive natural gemstones alongside handmade European beads incorporating unusual and intricate metal work and stamps into her designs. Many of her signature pieces were known for their use of Russian gold filigree metal work, faux baroque pearls, and nature motifs such as intricate flowers, leaves and berries.

During World War II, due to the scarcity of high quality European materials she had to transition into the use of plastics and American made beads and crystals. In a conscious effort to support the war she designed patriotic pieces that are highly collectible today. Once the 1950’s arrived jewels and fine clothing came back into vogue and the Haskell jewelry company designed accordingly with vibrant colors, and the return to higher quality materials and very feminine designs. It wasn’t until 1947/48 that Haskell’s work became signed and early pieces of her work are now highly sought after.

In next week’s blog post I’ll continue Miriam’s story and go into more detail about her to identify her work and the historical phases it passed through. If you can't wait until next week and want to see some of her jewelry just use the search bar on Cabootle.com, type in Miriam Haskell and you'll see 25 pieces of her jewelry, Slayleigh James Estate's very own mini (and ever growing) collection. Here's a piece to wet your appetite! 

Vintage Miriam Haskell Blue Art Glass & Rhinestone Necklace

See you next week for part 2…

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