Intricate and ornate, Miriam Haskell jewelry is known for their artistically designed looks. These pieces are conversation starters, as they are big, bold and beautiful! In this article, you will learn about Vintage Miriam Haskell Costume Jewelry, the history, materials, marks, most collectible pieces, and tips on how to buy.
History Of Miriam Haskell Jewelry
Miriam Haskell was born in Indiana on July 1, 1899. Full of creativity and a business drive, Miriam moved to New York City in 1924, after completing three years at the University of Chicago. It is said she had $500 to her name when she moved, which proved to be enough to open a gift and jewelry boutique in 1926. This first store was located in the old McAlpin Hotel on Sixteenth Street. Within the year, Miriam opened her second store on West 57th Street.
It is said that Miriam was the business brain behind her company, adding a creative partner shortly after that first shop opened, Frank Hess. Hess was previously a window dresser from Macy’s, but Miriam saw his greater talent: jewelry design.
While Miriam may have designed some of the earlier pieces, many feel it was Hess who was the true creative genius behind their jewelry. Together, they put out affordable costume jewelry from the 1920s to 1960s, when a new creative director joined the company.
Miriam’s popularity continued to grow, with an expansion to 392 Fifth Ave, a location in Saks Fifth Avenue and Burdines Department Store. They continued to spread to Miami and London. With this exposure, they gained a large celebrity clientele.
Stars such as Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball and the Duchess of Windsor were often seen wearing Miriam Haskell jewels. Lucille Ball even wore some pieces on her major television show, I Love Lucy! Joan Crawford is rumored to have owned almost all of the pieces Miriam ever made!
Another creative outlet to come out of the the Miriam Haskell house is that of their use of watercolors for advertising. Artist Larry Austin painted unique watercolor advertisements, designed by Frank Hess, between 1930s to 1940s. These pieces are quite collectable these days.
Miriam Haskell Designs
Many of Miriam’s designs were very floral in nature. The use of large clusters in floral designs were very prominent. You can see this design in necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Beaded clusters in a floral design would be boldly placed on these pieces.
Her necklaces were the most sought after of the varying types of jewelry. She sold many faux pearl strands, varying from single to multiple strands.
Watch the Following the Video to see some Examples of Miriam Haskell Jewelry
Not only were her jewelry pieces very embellished, as are the findings, such as clasps. You’ll see these clasps ornately decorated with faux pearls and a filigree design decorating the ends of necklaces.
Pins were her most freest in terms of design. While you certainly will still see the floral themes, you’ll also find animal and shell designs as well as freeform filigree pieces.
Similar to other costume jewelry, Miriam Haskell pieces used faux pearls, faux gemstones and rhinestones, set in gilt base metal findings. Many of her pieces include crystal and glass beads. They also really enjoyed using rose montees. This is a precut crystal, the rose component, which would be mounted in a silver setting, the montee component. This piece would have a hole or a channel in it so that the piece would be sewn into a garment or attached to another piece of jewelry.
How to Identify a Genuine Miriam Haskell Piece
Many of Miriam’s pieces went unsigned until the 1950s when her brother Joseph took over the company. We aren’t really sure why she didn’t sign her pieces, but some say it is due to the fact that she rarely did the designing herself.
Purchasing an unsigned piece of jewelry might sound risky, and frankly, it can be. Be sure you are purchasing from a reputable source. You can also look online to see if you see images of those pieces with sourcing citing they are in fact Miriam Haskell designs.
The book, “Miriam Haskell Jewelry” by Cathy Gordon and Shelia Pamfiloff is a great resource that includes examples of her work. Larry Austin’s watercolors are also a good source for finding examples of Miriam’s pieces.
Some of the first signatures we see are of a semicircular plaque, shaped like a horseshoe. This was attached to the back of some pieces around 1947/48. After the 1950s, this was changed to a flat oval shape with ‘Miriam Haskell’ stamped on it. The stamp went through to the other side, showing a reverse imprint, which could be seen when it was used as a hangtag.
During the 1980s this was changed to a flat back where the signature was not seen on the reverse side. Some pieces produced during the 1990s included an identification number.
Miriam Haskell Clasps
Clasps are an important element in identifying Miriam Haskell jewelry.
- Early unsigned necklaces tend to have box clasps. These were quite elaborate and decorated with beads, pearls, or rhinestones, and either oblong or round, if the piece had multiple strands.
- The other main clasp used was a very simple spring ring clasp. The distinguishing feature of this clasp is that it did not have the protruding prong (the ''thumb'' part).
- After the war, and during the signed period, Haskell introduced the hook and tail design. This allowed the necklace length to be varied. The hook and tail design consisted of a distinctive hook on one end and an extender on the other consisting of several pearls or beads. The hooks were signed ''MIRIAM HASKELL'' and were usually decorated, either with an eight-petal ''flower'' with pearls/beads as petals, or, more rarely, a dove or a turtle attached to the top of the hook.
- In the late 70''s the decoration was dropped from the hook on less expensive necklaces, though it was still signed.
- In 1975, A new clasp was introduced. Known as the slide clasp, it featured a flat oblong shape with the patent number 3,427,691 on one side and the Haskell signature in block capitals on the other. This clasp was discontinued in the 1980's.
- Modern necklaces have toggle clasps and lobster clasps, in addition to box clasps and hooks.
Miriam Haskell Backs
Miriam Haskell used a solid back plate onto which the decorative elements were attached. These back plates help us identify Miriam Haskell jewelry.
- Backs that are left uncovered indicate very early Haskell pieces. Metal plates were pierced with small round holes at regular intervals (NOT mesh) and beads and pearls were then wired by hand directly on to this base.
- By the 1930''s the back was being covered by a flat metal plate.
- During World War II, a shortage of metal meant a substitute had to be found and the metal back was replaced with a pierced plastic back with regularly placed holes. These backs were uncovered and are a key identifier for mid-1940's Miriam Haskell pieces.
- After the war, when metal was abundant again, Haskell replaced the pierced plates with much more sophisticated filigree metal backs, which were weighty and extremely well-made. These filigree backs were then coated in a variety of finishes (the most popular being Russian Gold, a secret formula that actually contained genuine 24 carat gold). This is the time when Haskell began signing its jewelry and although not impossible, unsigned pieces with filigree backs are extremely rare.
Most Collectible Vintage Miriam Haskell Costume Jewelry
Pieces that are highly collectible and rare include:
- Pieces with the horseshoe stamp, as there are not many of them.
- Pieces from the 1940's through to the 1950's
Buying Vintage Miriam Haskell Costume Jewelry online
Some tips for shopping for vintage jewelry Online:
- Make sure you search within the Vintage section or use vintage in your search terms.
- Look for shops with lots of positive reviews.
- Read the shop's "Shipping and Policies" tab before making a purchase decision.
- Read reviews and buyers feedback, only buy from shops with consistently happy customers.
- If you find a shop you like, add them to your favorites so you can find them again.
- Be specific in your search keywords.
Some excellent shops on Etsy include:
Miriam Haskell pieces are such a great statement piece of costume jewelry. Well made and uniquely designed, these bold, ornate pieces will be a perfect addition to your collection!
[Learn more: The Best Vintage Costume Jewelry Brands]
Please leave any questions you may have in the comments below, I always answer!