Our contributor Abdul Basit has been busy again exploring the world of Napier jewellery, one of the best and most prolific jewellery companies of the first half of the 20th century and is still going strong!
A Way to Tell WHO YOU ARE without uttering a word...
There was a time when the fashion industry was all about Napier jewellery. It was considered one of the most famous costume jewellery brands as their designs were simple, sleek, and fashion-forward. The famous movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelley, Arlene Francie, Lana Turner and even the Duchess of Windsor wore bracelets, earrings, and necklaces made by Napier jewellery.
Where Did it All Start?
The company was established in North Attleboro, Massachusetts in the late 1800s under the name – The E.A. Bliss Co. At the time, they manufactured gilt men’s watch chains. Later the company expanded and moved to Meriden, Connecticut. Due to World War I, the production of jewellery was suspended, so the company started to manufacture medals and medallions. When the war was over, the company diverted its focus towards creating jewellery and when James H. Napier took over as the company’s president, the company was renamed as Napier Bliss Company. Later in 1922, the name was finally changed to the now famously known, The Napier Company.
The Napier Style
The reason why Napier jewellery was so famous was because of its outstanding and eye-appealing design. When James Napier attended the Paris World’s Fair in 1937, he came back with new inspirations for the jewellery design. The company also incorporated designs inspired by Egyptian symbols like cobras, King Tut, and Isis. This kind of design made the company stand out from the rest.
The company was at the peak of popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. They became immensely popular for producing geometric and floral designs, faux pearls and beading, gold- and silver-plated metals, colourful enamel pieces. They developed everything from earrings, necklaces, bracelets to brooches and often with glass beads and charms and even sterling silver pieces. Their jewellery style was bold, large, and chunky. They had so many designs that suited anyone which is also why it was famous among the masses. Even though most of their designs were gold-plated, they did make a few pieces from real gold. The Napier Company made 14k gold pieces as a limited edition during 1950-1960. This vintage style mostly consisted of simple, petite earrings, small brooches with pearls and diamonds, and diaper-style pins.
From 1922-1980, the company stamped their name in block style letters on each of their piece which made it very easy to identify for the masses. But when the company was sold to Victoria & Co. the style of the mark was changed to script letters. Even though many pieces were sold without any mark, it is believed that they were not originally created by The Napier Company.
Is it Valuable?
It is amazing that Napier jewellery still holds great value for costume jewellery collectors, especially the sterling silver pieces, glass art charms bracelets and necklaces. Their prices greatly vary with respect to the date they were manufactured. The timeless vintage pieces from the Egyptian motif are considered a gem even today.
This era between 1939 and 1950 was identified with a period of economic growth with a new prosperity reflected in the jewellery styles. In accordance with those times Napier jewellery designed large, bright and colourful gemstones set in either yellow gold or platinum but at the same time due attention was paid to textured, finished and white gold which also become very popular. Some elegant pieces of the Napier style during mid-later 20th century were the bark finished bracelet, rope styled gold necklaces and animal broaches not to forget the elegant diamond ring collection.
The 1980s saw a massive advertising campaign using the play on words "Napier is...". It could be "sexier", "glossier", "worldlier", "classier" - the point being that Napier was still on top, still relevant and still beautiful.
The company has produced costume jewellery in a range of different styles and many of their pieces are bold and alluring. If you like such jewellery designs, then some of the vintage Napier jewellery may interest you. Some of their stylish and classic bracelets look wonderful and would match anyone. But if you are more into large, bold, and chunky designs, then you would definitely love this vintage style.
If you'd like to learn more about one of the biggest and best jewellery companies, the best resource is "The Napier Jewellery Co" by Melinda L Lewis & Henry Swen, internationally renowned as one of the best sources for 20th century jewellery.