Looking for Vintage Napier Jewelry? Learn about history, jewelry marks, materials used, collectible pieces, and where to buy in this guide.
James Napier refused to use the term “costume jewelry”; he preferred “fashion jewelry.” He also insisted that rhinestones be called “foil-backed faceted crystal stones.” He did not want his jewelry to be associated with anything cheap or of low quality. He wanted customers to notice the attention to detail and the highest-quality materials.
What is Napier jewelry?
Napier jewelry was a high-end, American fashion jewelry company. Initially, when it was established in the late 1800s, it produced watch chains for men’s pocket watches. Then, the company based in Attleboro, Massachusetts was known E.A Bliss Co.
By the 1920s, Napier was producing costume jewelry for women. The name changed to Napier-Bliss with the introduction of company president James Napier. In 1922, James Napier purchased controlling shares, and the company was renamed Napier Co. Instead of producing the ornate pieces that were on the market, Napier jewelry crafted sleeker, more modernized designs, in geometric shapes which quickly became popular with the Flappers. Other elegant designs included flower patterns.
Napier jewelry reached the peak of its fame in the 1950s and 1960s and includes a broad spectrum of pieces including button-style earrings, art glass charm jewelry, thick cuff bracelets, charm bracelets, and large brooches. Although most of the pieces produced were high-end costume jewelry the company also produced a collection crafted entirely from sterling silver. Even fewer pieces were made from real gold.
The company closed its doors in 1999 when the factory was purchased by Victoria & Co., which became part of Jones New York.
Brief History of Napier Jewelry
What is now the Napier Jewelry Company began life as Whitney and Rice in 1875. After multiple changes of name, James Napier became president of the company in 1920 and a couple years later the company became Napier. James said “Napier” was French for “without equal” and that was what James wanted the company to be. James was particular about the caliber of his products that were sold in high-end department stores, such as Bergdorf Goodman, yet remained affordable for purchase by the average woman, while adorning movie stars and international celebrities.
Under James, the Napier Company was on the cutting edge of fashion and design. He sent his designers to Europe to learn the Old World techniques from the masters and to be inspired by European fashions.
Costume jewelry in the 1920s was often very ornate. Napier stood out with simpler, sleeker modern geometric designs that spanned many genre, such as Egyptian motifs, Victorian Revival, and Art Deco. At that time, they also produced the flapper mainstay, the sautoir, a long, long necklace often worn down the back with a backless dress.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, sterling and retro jewelry was all the rage. Because of the need for base metals during World War II, costume jewelry manufacturers produced sterling silver often plated with a gold vermeil finish. Also in the 1950s, Napier became known for designs that resembled Mexican and Scandinavian designs.
Until the 1980s (when Napier was sold), all enameling was performed in-house by skilled craftsmen. After that, enameling was finished by suppliers or outsourced vendors from Asia. However, the final assembly, such as the addition of a clasp, tagging, and packaging was still performed by Napier employees.
James worked for the company from 1914 to his death in 1960. In 1980, the company was sold to Victoria & Co., which closed Napier in October 1999. However, Napier jewelry is still manufactured and distributed by the Jones Apparel Group.
Napier Jewelry Designers
For large companies like Napier, jewelry is often a teamwork effort. Rarely do designers take personal credit, except in special circumstances, as with the following two designers.
Frederick W. Rettenmeyer was the head designer at Napier from 1907 to 1964. He made regular trips to Europe to be inspired by European fashions and designs. During the 1950s and 1960s, he and his team, including Eugene Bertolli, produced more than 100 themed charm bracelets, such as the “Lanterns” series, inspired by Chinese lanterns, and “Tropicana” with iridescent opaque beads in bright fruit colors.
Eugene Bertolli joined Napier after he was invited by a Napier “scout.” First on Frederick Rettenmeyer’s team and as his protege, later as Director of the Design Department, Senior Vice President and ultimately Director of The Board, Eugene was with Napier for 38 years. Twice, his designs won for him the "Designer of the Year" award in international jewelry design competitions.
One especially coveted line is his “Endangered Species” from the 1970s. An elephant, fox, otter, lynx bobcat, and mountain lion are among the animals depicted (individually) in sterling silver on a modernist-style tangled forest.
What does Napier Mean on Jewelry?
When you see jewelry marked with one of the Napier hallmarks, you know you are buying a quality piece of jewelry. Napier is a famous high-end fashion jewelry company. You’ll find wonderful examples of the jewelry company’s vintage works dating between the 1920s and 1980s.
- Napier inside a cartouche first used 1920.
- From the 1920s: “NAPIER” in block letters and “By NAPIER” on boxes. The block lettering was used throughout Napier’s history both with and without the copyright mark.
- 1923 - *A* inside triangle or *N* inside oval elongated side-to-side.
- NACO 1923 This is reference to a special coating used by Napier.
- Trianon — first used 1924
- 1920 - 1930: NAPIER trademark tag
- "by Napier" in shield-shape 1942
- Napier Quality — inside circle — first used 1946
- Napier Sterling - in the 1950s the font is the same size. Sterling pieces made in the 1940s were marked with two different fonts sizes for the words “NAPIER” and “STERLING.”
- From the 1950s: “NAPIER” with a copyright symbol.
- From 1965: “Napier” in script (Mistral font), by itself or in conjunction with the block letters. Napier in script was used in the early 1990s WITHOUT the copyright symbol.
- 1996: "NAPiER"
- From the 1980 to 1999: When the company was sold to Victoria & Co., the hallmark changed to only the script “Napier” and remained that until Victoria sold the company.
- 2000's + : Napier in Mistral font. Raise trademark in oval cartouche.
- Department stores today sell unmarked jewelry on cards with the Napier name. These pieces are not made by the original creators and the quality is not the same as pieces produced in 1999 or before.
How to Date Napier Jewelry
The styles of Napier jewelry changed throughout the decades. During the 1920s-1930s sautoir necklaces were all the rage. These long necklaces hang down to the waist, but fashionable Flappers wore them backward, extending down opened-back dresses.
In the 1940s-1950s there was a demand for sterling silver works. Between the 1950s and 1960s Napier produced several haute couture lines of excellent quality. Also, during this time, a limited number of real gold jewelry was crafted too. In the 1960s the sterling silver plated jewelry used such a thick coating that it was often mistaken for the real thing. In the 1970s glass beaded jewelry was popular, before the 1980s onwards when large and bold works were the focus.
What is Napier Jewelry Made of?
As a high-end fashion jewelry company, Napier used imitation pearls, faux gemstones, crystals, glass, enamel, and metals that were silver, and gold plated. They also produced stunning collections in sterling silver. Very limited quantities of real gold jewelry were also produced. In these 14K gold setting real cultured pearls and tiny diamonds were beautifully incorporated.
- Gold plate
- Sterling silver
- Silver plate
- Die-stamped metal
- Japanese nacre faux pearls
- Other faux pearls
- Swarovski crystals
- Other crystals
- Milk glass beads
- Moonglow beads (iridescent opaque beads)
- Art glass charms
- Prystal (translucent Bakelite)
- Catalin (brand name of a type of polymer)
- Galalith (type of synthetic plastic, from the Greek for milk (gala) and stone (lithos)
Is Napier Jewelry Real Gold?
Most gold-colored Napier jewelry was made with gold plating over a base metal. However, there were some 14-karat gold pieces made in the 1950s and 1960s when Napier was at its most popular. These pieces will be stamped with a Napier hallmark, as well as 14K.
Real vintage gold Napier jewelry you will find in the market includes small earrings, tiny brooches with real pearls and small diamonds as well as scarf and kilt pins.
Is Napier Jewelry Real Silver?
Some Napier jewelry is real silver, also called sterling silver. Other pieces are just silver-plated. Look for the .925 symbol that proves it is the real thing.
Napier Jewelry Value
Searching through vintage collections of Napier jewelry, you will find pieces such as small earrings priced at $20 per pair. Larger clip-on earrings in silver or gold tones, the most dazzling of which include floral and leaf motifs can fetch up to $300.
For bracelets look for interlocking works, many in gold or silver tones with popular motifs including leaves or florals. Others use modern, repetitive geometric shapes. Depending on the width, these are mainly priced between $50 and $70.
One silver-toned bracelet recently available on Etsy is a mythical creatures sea serpent and griffon panel bracelet. It’s priced at just over $200. Another chunky bracelet includes grapes on a series of rectangular forms cast in silver-toned metal available for just over $100.
Other more budget-friendly Napier Jewelry bracelet finds include enamel works such as the vintage Napier Victorian enamel panels link bracelet. The nine links, with alternating square and rectangle panels, use pearly enamel glass in green, brown, or yellow. Each is studded along the edges to frame the central floral motifs, or artfully arranged beaded designs. The gold-toned bracelet is priced more affordably at just over $50.
Let’s look at charm bracelets. The Napier Jewelry vintage charm bracelet featuring 20 cultural charms representing Asian motifs has a silver tone finish. It sells for almost $300. Replicas of the vintage green glass elephant charm bracelet that First Lady Mamie Eisenhower adored can be found for $300 or more. The Lanterns charm bracelet is another popular item at the same price point. Around the silver-tone bracelet hangs 15 different lanterns, made from metal with glass and beads.
When searching for Napier necklaces, you’ll find many chunky pieces. Look for enamel styles made from one or two interlocking geometric shapes. These are priced at the $50 mark. There are endless variations of gold-tone necklaces. Think collar necklaces, chokers, chains, or beaded ones. All are priced between $50 to $75. The graduated gold-toned beaded necklaces are particularly pretty. Some dazzle with reflective glass beads alternating between them.
The price of Napier necklaces jumps slightly when comprised entirely of beads. These styles, so prevalent during the hippie era of the late 60s and 70s come in round and geometrically shaped beads. Lengths are adjustable. The colors are general earth tones which was the style at the time. Prices start around $80.
You will find more elaborate Napier necklaces for sale, especially thick chain-style necklaces with a multitude of large dangling pieces. One stellar piece in gold-tone metal has a collection of large leaves and beads. It is a statement piece priced at $250.
There are many Napier brooches in gold tone or silver tones for sale. Most are priced under $100. Look for motifs from a wide variety of floral and fauna inspirations. Bows, hearts, and geometric shapes are also popular. Some are adorned with rhinestones.
The exception to the price rule is the Napier Jewelry collection made from sterling silver. These are priced higher due to the use of the precious metal and the rarity of the pieces. Even rarer works in 14-karat gold are priced even higher.
Favorite Collectibles: Vintage Napier Jewelry
1980s. From the Napier Galleria Collection, this collar necklace, reminiscent of Cleopatra, features textured gold-tone metal in square medallion links set with topaz- and amber-colored rhinestones and accented with tiny crystals. Necklace length is 17 ½ inches.
1940s. Gold-tone bracelet with amber, brown and bright orange rhinestone crystals in varying shapes: oval, round, baguette, emerald, and tear drop. Rhinestones are all high quality and high shine. Width of brace is 1 ½ inches.
This necklace features three chains suspended between gold-tone loops on each side with the largest loop having an overlapping motif. The elegant texturing has thin rows of tiny gold-tone beads on each large loop and on the links of the thick curb chain. The necklace measures 22 inches, including the center drop which is 9 inches long.
Huge silver-tone statement pendant with a lion in the center and a phoenix on each side. The double-strand chain is 7 ½ inches long on each side. The diameter of the pendant is 2 ½ inches.
1980s. This brooch is Napier’s answer to Cartier’s diamond and sapphire panther sitting on a 152-carat star sapphire and fashioned in platinum, famously owned by the Duchess of Windsor. Napier’s silver-tone brooch features a leopard-type cat with white rhinestones and a blue enamel spotted body sitting on a globe of blue enamel.
How to Identify Vintage Napier Jewelry
Most in-demand pieces are sterling silver and braces and necklaces with glass art charms. Pieces from the 1920s in their Egyptian line are rare and highly collectible.
To accurately date Napier jewelry, you must look at the individual components as well as the overall design. You will be ahead of the game when you become expert at that. Pieces made during the 1920s have a period aesthetic about them when compared to later pieces. Also, they were made with such high quality materials and workmanship that they may look newer than that.
On the other hand, some Napier pieces that are much newer are sometimes represented as from the 1920s by unknowing or disreputable sellers. Studying some of the specifics of 1920s Napier jewelry will help in distinguishing older pieces from more contemporary styles.
Napier had a huge vault of designs and molds starting in the 1900s. Decades later, their jewelers used those designs and molds. This makes the ability to date a Napier piece even more confusing, even for people who have been collecting for years.
Is Napier Jewelry Worth Anything?
Napier is considered high-end fashion jewelry. Many famous women have worn the brand from Royalty to movie stars. Some of the most notable are film star Marilyn Monroe, the former movie star Grace Kelly who became the Princess of Monaco, and the Duchess of Windsor.
During the 1950s, Napier jewelry pulled a savvy marketing move, when they gifted the First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a charm bracelet. This special bracelet contained small green glass elephants. This animal was the symbol of the Republican party. The First Lady constantly wore the bracelet reminding women everywhere that Napier jewelry was a favored brand.
Today anything Napier created with glass charms of any type are coveted by collectors. This includes not only charms on bracelets, but earrings and necklaces as well. Egyptian styles produced in the 1920s are on every collector’s list, and it’s worth the hunt to find them.
Did you know the sterling silver works from the Napier collections are considered rare? If you find pieces and you enjoy wearing sterling silver, then quickly snap these up!
Through this lauded reputation Napier jewelry is highly collectible. Adding Napier pieces to your growing collection of vintage jewelry is well worth the investment. The value will only increase over time.
To help with the problem of dating Napier jewelry, “The Napier Co. Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewelry” is a great reference book, as well as being stunning. It details the history of the Napier Company and displays its jewelry in more than 4,000 pictures. It really is an “everything you want to know,” how the company developed its jewelry style over the decades and provides details on findings, materials, and designs, so that collectors can properly date Napier pieces.