If you are looking for vintage Carolee Jewelry, then you have come to the right place. Here you will learn about the history, materials, jewelry marks, our favorite collectible pieces and where to buy them.
Carolee Jewelry was founded in the early 1970s and quickly became one of the most successful and best-known brand-named jewelers. The company was particularly known for its costume pearls and precious metal plated pieces. Many of Carolee’s best pieces are whimsical, animal-shaped brooches and pins, often decorated with pearls and other colored stones and crystals.
Carolee Jewelry advertised extensively during its heyday, including in Vogue and other upmarket fashion and style magazines, creating an image for the brand that appealed to a vast audience of working women, who could afford to treat themselves. Carolee herself described her brand as “sophisticated but not too trendy.’ The prices were affordable, and the style was unmatched. Carolee herself had incredible fashion flair and an unerring instinct for business.
History of Carolee Jewelry
1972 - Carolee Friedlander, a young mother and an architect by training, launches Carolee Designs at her kitchen table in Connecticut. Her first designs are necklaces made from various beads and crystals. Her strong business sense, determination, great designs and smart marketing ideas develop into a thriving business almost from the start. She opens a manufacturing plant and headquarter office in her hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut. An additional plant also opens in Providence, Rhode Island.
1970s -1980s – Starting with a handful of department stores, Carolee is eventually sold in over 700 retail outlets including Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field’s, Dillard’s and Mitsukoshi.
1988 – Carolee opens her own branded boutique in Short Hills, New Jersey.
1989 – Carolee launches in Bloomingdales.
1993 – Carolee outlet store opens in Harriman, New York.
1995 – The company begins manufacturing a joint collection with Ralph Lauren.
1996 – Carolee creates an iconic collection of jewelry inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
2001 – After thirty years in the business, Carolee sells her company to The Retail Brand Alliance, owner of Brooks Brothers. At the time, the company’s annual wholesale volume is $500 million, with a range of costume jewelry selling from $50 to $150. Gross margins of 50 to 60 percent are unusually high for the industry. The company shuts down its retail shops.
2017 - Brooks Brothers creates a specific jewelry division called Deconic to manage Carolee, Alexis Bittar, and other jewelry brands.
2018 Biagio Galotti, formerly from Swarowski and Gucci is named Creative Director and it tasked to give the brand a complete overhaul. He ‘elevates’ Carolee materials to include real freshwater pearls, colored gemstones and CZ. Their price points start at $25 and go up to $250. His vision is to freshen the brand and make it “inclusive” so that it appeals to all women. While not steering away from using pearls, which were the main element of Carolee’s DNA from the start, his goal is to show them mixed in different ways, with a different aesthetic.
The Essentials Collection utilizes freshwater pearls in a new and modern way, showing that they are not just for ‘your grandmother’ anymore.
- The name Carolee will be stamped in the metal part of the piece in a script typeface or in an oval signature plaque with the name in block letters.
- The C logo stamped in a circle, effective with the Fall 2018 collection.
- Sterling silver pieces have .925 as part of the mark
- Limited Edition pieces will be marked as such, for example the Windsor Collection, inspired by the Duchess of Windsor.
Carolee Jewelry Materials
- Gold Plate
- Silver Plate
- Faux Pearls
- Sterling Silver
Carolee was one of the very few jewelry collections branded by the designer’s own name. She joins a much admired and select group of others including David Yurman, Judith Ripka and Barry Kieselstein-Cord.
Her jewelry is still cherished and collected today by those who appreciate its uniqueness and accessibility. Many famous women cherish their Carolee pieces. Some of the notable wearers of Carolee include Michelle Obama, Cameron Diaz. Liv Tyler, Jessica Alba and Penelope Cruz. Carolee was one of the first jewelry companies to start donating part of the profits to charitable organizations, particularly those that raise awareness for women’s issues.
If you are a fan of the 70s - or grew up then - no other jewelry collection expresses the spirit of those times better than Carolee. Carolee did not produce ‘haute joaillerie,’ that’s for certain, but what she did create was emblematic of an era – jewelry that represented the stylish working woman who wanted to look good on a budget.
Where to Buy Carolee Vintage Jewelry
Carolee produced many limited-edition, seasonal and bridal pieces, however, it is her fanciful brooches, earrings and long-stranded faux pearl necklaces which are readily collectible and available on many websites including eBay, Ruby Lane, Sweet & Spark, Poshmark, and Mercari amongst others.
Etsy lists some wonderful collectible pieces from Carolee that are worth considering for their retro appeal and potential long-term increase in value. And the great thing is, they are very affordable. If you want to start a Carolee collection, we can recommend the following, which represent the broad, representative range of her pieces, including animal brooches, gold-toned bracelet, faux pearl necklaces and gold-tone earrings.:
- 18 Strand Golden Faux Pearl Torsade Necklace
- Double Layer Faux Pearl Strand Bracelet with Decorative Gold Tone Oval Faux Pearl Clasp
- Black Enamel Spotted Leopard Brooch
- Roman Soldier Clip On Earrings in Shiny Gold Plated Metal
Carolee recently launched a Carolee Legacy Collection along with Limited Edition charm bracelets, giving a portion of the sales to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Meanwhile Carolee Friedlander, herself, while no longer involved with the business she founded, spends her time focusing on charity work and on her grandchildren. She has since launched AccessCircles a by-invitation women’s networking organization designed to enrich the health, wellness, financial expertise and life balance of women.