Introducing: Miriam Haskell
The main problem with buying and selling Miriam Haskell jewellery is that before 1950, very few pieces were signed. It can take a lot of research to correctly identify a piece.
The benchmark is usually the remarkable intricacy and quality of craftsmanship involved in highly ornate and elaborate pieces as well as the smaller signature faux baroque pearl styles. Fine wiring and layering by skilled European technicians means you can seldom see the join.
Miriam herself is a rather complex success story of a woman well beyond her time who became a phenomenal success in a man’s world, travelling from small town Indiana to NYC in 1924 armed with the fabled $500 and a dream.
She made it happen though, opening a small boutique of gifts and knick-knacks in 1926 and then quickly a second. However the big change came when she employed Frank Hess as her jewellery designer.
Many have tried to disparage her as the “name” or just the simple saleswoman behind Hess’s greatness but this would be a massive slight to not only her abilities as a business woman, pioneer, designer and creator but also their collaboration and Hess’s loyalty to the company which lasted until 1960, long after Miriam sold to her brother Joseph due to declining health.
By the 1930s Miriam had moved to a prestigious 5th Avenue store plus outlets in major New York department stores such as Saks and Burdines, as well as in London.
Launching a costume jewellery brand in the 20s and 30s meant going up against equally strong creative women such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli but also riding the wave of these European fashions that were so very de rigeur.
Before long she was a celebrity - designing for the Ziegfeld Follies (although having an affair with Ziggy himself, as well as other seriously high profile men), as well as Joan Crawford who was a passionate and lifelong fan and the Duchess of Windsor.
During the Depression and World War II, Haskell jewellery created a line of jewellery entirely without using metal which was so necessary to the war effort and locally sourced supplies with the lines of communication to gorgeous Russian gold work, Czech beads and Austrian crystal now cut off by the war.
Miriam’s own health and emotional stability went into severe decline after the war and her brother Joseph bought the company, introducing the Miriam Haskell signature to make sure her name endured. Miriam herself died in 1981, aged 82 years.
Like many companies after the main founder and family pass on, Miriam Haskell was bought and sold many times over though still retaining and employing high-quality respected designers.
Haskell Jewels Ltd is still known for quality and craftsmanship, every piece still made in New York, by hand and also produce small jewellery lines for artists such as Jennifer Lopez and Oscar de la Renta. They also diversified into new styles including the famous Egyptian Revival pieces of the 1970s by Lawrence Vrba.
Identifying early Haskell can be a minefield though some good books and resources are available to help but you should definitely get a hands-on look before committing as some early pieces can be worth a lot of money, and equally some later pieces over-priced.
Warmans Costume Jewellery by Pamela Wiggins
Miriam Haskell Jewelry by Cathy Gordon & Shelia Pamfiloff