Looking for Vintage Tortolani Jewelry? Learn about history, jewelry marks, materials used, collectible pieces, and where to buy in this guide.
Frank Tortolani was both an accomplished artist and master craftsman whose jewelry was rarely, if ever, duplicated by would-be imitators. In the large majority of his jewelry, metal is not only the star of the show, but it is also a soloist. His pieces are highly valued by collectors today.
Brief History of Tortolani Jewelry
Francisco “Frank” Tortolani founded a dynasty of jewelers. He came to America in 1923 after studying jewelry design with his father in Italy. In 1934, he opened the Mastercraft Jewelry Company in Providence, Rhode Island. After World War II, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and changed the company’s name to Tortolani Jewelry.
All of Frank’s jewelry was hand cast in pewter, hand polished and finished in gold or silver plate. There are some pieces with enamel and/or rhinestones, but metal was his signature material. His jewelry was in demand by some of Hollywood’s largest stars, including Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. They also commissioned Frank to create “giveaway” items, such as key chains, lighters and money clips, which led Frank to create a whole line of promotional products.
Frank regularly won awards for his exciting original designs and unique techniques. In the 1960s, Max Factor commissioned Frank to create a line of compacts and figurines—also highly collectible today. He also created jewelry for Avon Products.
Frank closed up shop under the Tortolani name in 1976, and his eldest son, Donald, followed in his father’s footsteps with a jewelry line called “Corina” and continued to make promotional items. The company is still in business and now includes Donald, Jr., and Donald, Sr.’s, granddaughter, Robin. At times, they reissue some of Frank’s older designs using the original molds, but add a small triangle near the “Tortolani” hallmark to distinguish those items from the originals.
Frank passed away in 1997 at the age of 90.
- The earliest hallmark was a script “Tortolani” without a copyright symbol.
- The next hallmark had the copyright symbol before the script “Tortolani.”
- The newer hallmark has the copyright symbol after the script “Tortolani.”
- The copyright symbol below the script “Tortolani” was for reissues.
- “Tortolani Crislu” is the hallmark in the 1970s.
- Pieces produced since 2002 have a small triangle near the script “Tortolani.”
- Metal with gold, silver or bronze coating
- Simulated pearls
- Cabochons of unusual shapes, textures and colors
- Polished Beijing glass
Favorite Collectibles: Vintage Tortolani Jewelry
1960s-1970s. Gold-plated dragon measures 5.75 inches by 3 inches. The chunky chain is made of brass or pewter and measures 16 inches.
1960s. A Gothic, antique gold-tone and silver-tone pendant featuring St. George the Dragon Slayer accented with rhinestones. Pendant diameter is 2 ¾ inches. The heavy rope-style chain measures 26 inches.
Gold-plated and simulated pearl bracelet. Four sections of the bracelet have larger pearls to represent fruit and four sections have smaller ones to resemble grapes or berries. Bracelet is 1 1/8 inches wide.
Gold Spray Link Bracelet
1960s. Rare 24K gold over pewter bracelet has 9 dimensional links with modernistic wheat shaft encircles by gold ribbon. All sections are connected by long textured link couplings. Bracelet is 2 ¼ inches wide.
1960s. Rare piece with silver sculpted figures representing the minutemen marching during the Revolutionary War playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on the drums and fife and holding the American Flag against a gold sunburst. Pendant is 1.5 inches in diameter. Chain measures 24 inches.
1960s. Part of Tortolani’s Zodiac series. Libra is the seventh sign of the Zodiac and represented by the Scales of Justice. This pendant is a beautiful gold-tone and is 2 ½ inches in diameter. The chain is 24 inches long.
Tips for Buying Vintage Tortolani Jewelry
- In addition to your usual “haunts” (flea markets, antique jewelry markets and shops, auctions and estate sales), it may be worth your while to drop into pawn shops. You’ll find that some deal in high quality vintage jewelry and others in “not so” high or not even vintage. But it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
- Comparison shop—if not for the exact same piece, one in the same line. For instance, if you see one of Frank’s highly prized Zodiac pieces, you will be able to find others of that line easily enough online.
- Wherever you shop, be sure to take proper precautions:
- Don’t buy on impulse, no matter how insistent the vendor is or if he/she tells you 12 other people are interested in buying the piece. If there really were 12 other people, then there is no reason for you to be pressured.
- Examine the piece carefully—front, back, in the nooks and crannies. A loupe should be your constant companion.
- Ask questions—no matter how silly or dumb you think they are. The vendor should answer them all knowledgeably and respectfully. If you sense the vendor is annoyed with you, leave.
- You need to feel comfortable with the vendor. If you have a “funny feeling,” pay attention to it. Better yet, if possible, do some background work on the vendor because you shop. If it isn’t possible, definitely do it later, but before buying.