Some of the most special and collectible jewelry pieces from American designer Miriam Haskell were made in the first decades of the studio. Frank Hess was the head designer from 1926 to 1960, and his talents stand unrivaled. In the early days, no identifying marks or signatures were put on the pieces. All the jewelry went unsigned until 1947, when Miriam’s brother Joseph introduced the first regularly signed Miriam Haskell jewelry. These affordable art glass, strass and gold-plate parures were popular throughout the Great Depression. Haskell boutiques could be found in Saks Fifth Avenue, Burdine’s, and shops in Miami and London.
Painted watercolor advertisements by Larry Austin and others, show models wearing large Haskell pieces. These paintings, in addition to the Jewelry depicted in them, are highly sought after, and can command high prices from collectors. A Florida dealer found many sets of the paintings and matching designs by chance in a steamer trunk around 1978. Haskell’s family sold her archives and samples to defray the costs of her nursing home. Today, the early unsigned pieces can be identified from vintage art work and advertisements, and by their wonderful detail, hand work and design.
Haskell jewelry was worn by movie starts such as Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball. Crawford owned a set of almost every Haskell style ever produced, from the 1920’s through the 1960’s.
GUEST: Well, basically, in the beginning I collected just mainly rhinestone jewelry. It wasn’t marked; I didn’t know too much about it. And then I started seeing some Miriam Haskell jewelry, and I just loved the intricacies of how it was made, how it was wired together and the beauty of it, and I just fell in love with it.
APPRAISER: And you’ve been collecting it for about how long now?
GUEST: I’d say 20 years.
APPRAISER: What’s the least you’ve ever paid for a piece?
GUEST: Oh, probably $25.
APPRAISER: And then what is the most you’ve ever paid?
GUEST: The most recent piece that we bought as this piece, and it was $160.
APPRAISER: Well, you have a very, very good eye, Jane.
GUEST: Well, thanks.
APPRAISER: Miriam Haskell is a very popular and very collectible manufacturer of jewelry. Actually, she was a designer. She was born in 1899 and died in Louisville in 1981, so she lived a long life; she was very, very productive. Her parents were from Russia originally. Her trademark is having the cast filigree and then she would take the different embellishments of the piece and wire them into that filigree, and she never used glue. Another thing were her beautiful pearls, and most of them were the baroque kind of pearls, like you have here. And these were all handmade for her over in Japan, and they were glass pearls strung on silk, and she used a beautiful, beautiful mixture of colors. She wasn’t timid with colors, if you can see from what you got here. And she used a trademark like this, that’s “Miriam Haskell” in the block design. This was used from about 1938 on. She also used a trademark that was an oval tag. Those two are always done in a block style, but after she died, a lot of times they also used “Miriam Haskell” in a script style, too. Keep in mind, none of the stones are real. What we have here is worth about $20,000 retail.
GUEST: Oh, you’re kidding. Oh, my. Well, I think my husband will be pleased, and I think he might let me buy more jewelry now.