If you are looking to add vintage Hattie Carnegie jewelry to your collection, you have come to the right place. Here you will learn about the history, marks, materials, and tips on how to buy.
Hattie Carnegie’s jewelry features bold and colorful necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, and sets. Instead of producing fabulous fakes as many of her colleagues did, Hattie’s designs and materials were innovative and distinctive.
Brief History of Hattie Carnegie Jewelry
Hattie Carnegie was born Henrietta Kanengeiser in Vienna, Austria, in 1889. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was a teenager. She went to work for Macy’s and at some point changed her name to Hattie Carnegie. “Carnegie” because she admired Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in America at the time. “Hattie” because that was her nickname when she worked in Macy’s hat department or because she thought it sounded more “upscale” than “Henrietta.”
In 1909, she opened her first shop with her friend, Ruth Roth, a seamstress who made garments while Hattie designed hats. The shop was wildly successful and expanded into a chain of shops across the country. In 1918, Hattie founded Hattie Carnegie, Inc. for her full-scale clothing line, and in 1939, began offering “cocktail jewelry” (as costume jewelry was then known), brooches, necklaces, bracelets and earrings that put the finishing touches on Hattie’s fashions. But her jewelry became popular on its own. Hollywood stars and New York socialites clamored after her jewelry and other American ladies followed along.
Hattie died in 1956. Her husband took over the business for a while, but wasn’t suited to it, so Larry Josephs bought him out and kept the Hattie Carnegie brand from the mid-1960s to 1976, when the company was acquired by Chromology American Corporation.
Hattie’s jewelry was bold and distinctive to give her rather conservative fashions some “pizzazz.” Themes included flowers, leaves and fruits; Oriental figures; and stylized animals. She was especially known for her tremblers, flowers and butterflies on springs that quivered as the wearer moved. Also among her most popular lines was the Oriental line with elaborate metal human figures and animals adorned with rhinestones and faux pearls. Animals in her menagerie of stylized brooches were made of bold-colored Lucite, rhinestones, colored beads and gilt metal.
Her jewelry also has a more “conventional” side: necklaces and bracelets made of two, three, four (or more) strands of crystal, glass, and rhinestone beads and large brooches with large stones that look like expertly cut precious gems.
Hattie Carnegie Jewelry Designers
Hattie was not a jewelry designer per se, but had an unerring eye for what American women wanted and was an astute judge of talent. Among the designers that she took under her wing were:
- Kenneth Jay Lane designed shoes for Christian Dior before becoming head jewelry designer at Hattie Carnegie, Inc. He initiated his own line of jewelry in the 1960s.
- Norman Norell was a costume designer for movies before designing fashions and jewelry for Hattie from 1928 to 1941. He went on to become a fashion designer of great acclaim.
- Nadine Effront was a French sculptor who designed Greek-themed jewelry for Hattie using terra cotta, tortoise shell and hammered gold.
- “HC” in a diamond inside a semi-oval
- “Hattie Carnegie” in script on a cartouche
- “Carnegie” in script
- “Miss Hattie”
- Poured glass
- Glass beads
- Cabochon stones
- Seed beads
- Faux pearls
- Cameo clasps
- Gold plate
- Gilt mesh and chains
- Silver plate
- Sterling silver
Most Collectible Vintage Hattie Carnegie Jewelry
Naturally, jewelry that Hattie directed and approved (i.e., pieces before 1956) is most valued. So much so that those pieces, even if damaged or missing stones, are ranked highly among collectors.
- Of Hattie’s “Primitives on Parade,” her stylized menagerie, many are in demand, but the anteater brooch is most prized. There are various versions in different colors, but all are made from colorful Lucite and clear rhinestones set in textured gold plate.
- One of Hattie’s most collectible lines are the fantastical figurals, which are depictions of objects, people or animals. In the Oriental series, an especially coveted figural is the jeweled elephant brooch depicting the driver with the rider in the hoodah bedazzled with turquoise cabochons, a sapphire blue cabochon and light blue faceted rhinestones.
- A squirrel trembler is fashioned in gold-tone metal with rhinestone eyes and nut. The tail, which trembles, is accented with blue beads.
- Hattie’s lion’s head hinged bangle bracelet is highly sought after. The lion’s head is orange plastic trimmed with clear rhinestones. The gold-plated, hinged bracelet is made up of green enamel sections intersected with gold bands, each band adorned with a clear rhinestone. There are other versions of the lion’s head bangle bracelet in different colors and with different details.
Tips for Buying Vintage Hattie Carnegie Jewelry
- Get yourself a copy of the book, Hattie Carnegie Jewelry: Her Life And Legacy to see hundreds of pictures of Hattie Carnegie jewelry as well as price values.
- Jewelry made before Hattie died in 1956 is valued more highly.
- “Hattie Carnegie” in script on a cartouche is the most common mark; jewelry so marked will not be as valuable. “HC” in a diamond in an oval is a rarer mark.
- Antique shops and traveling antique shows are great places to find Hattie Carnegie jewelry. Yard sales and flea markets—not so much. Only the most experienced collectors should go to auctions.
- Shop on proven websites, such as Etsy or eBay with the most Carnegie jewelry you are likely to see in one place. You are free to take as much time as you want browsing, and the vendors are responsive when you need information.
- Be diligent in checking out which vendors are reliable, whether you deal with them in person or online.
- Ask the right questions, e.g., where and when did the vendor acquire the piece.
Hattie’s jewelry is among the most interesting collectibles, due to Hattie’s larger-than-life, rags-to-riches story as well as to her bold, sometimes outrageous, designs. She went where others feared to go and was phenomenally successful because of it.
If you don’t know Hattie’s jewelry, go to her pages on Etsy for a beautiful introduction. And if you do know it, time for a visit to meet the newcomers.
Happy Vintage Hunting,