Trifari jewellery was how I started collecting when I was in my teens some *coughcough* years ago. As a company name it is still used today on jewellery mass produced overseas so it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. However comparatively modern pieces from the 1970s onwards can be an affordable starting point and retain much of the quality of its heyday.
And what a heyday it was.
Trifari is famously one of the two biggest and most prolific American jewellery companies of the 20th century (alongside Coro) however as the name might suggest, this jewellery company was founded by an Italian. A true Ellis Island success story, in fact: Gustavo Trifari emigrated from Naples to New York in 1904 and founded “Trifari & Trifari” alongside his uncle a few years later.
After his uncle left the business, Gustavo expanded by joining forces with businessmen Leo Krussman and Carl Fishel over the next few years forming “Trifari, Krussman and Fishel” with the logo “KTF”. If you find an early piece in a car boot sale with this logo (with the T slightly enlarged) my advice would be: BUY IT.
Things ticked along well for a few years but the Trifari brand really came to prominence from 1930 when they hired Alfred Phillipe as Head Designer. With previous clients under his belt like…Cartier, for instance, Phillippe raised them to a whole new level of luxury as he was able to create more affordable costume jewellery with all the style and detail of the real thing using techniques such as invisible settings, gilded sterling silver and fine enamelling.
During this period Trifari started working with Broadway and Hollywood producers to create signature looks for the great stars of the day. Even First Lady Mamie Eisenhower commissioned a set - and liked it so much she did it again.
Philippe even created the famous Crown brooch which was added to the logo in the 1940s when the name reverted back to simply “Trifari”. Philippe must have liked it there as he stayed with Trifari all the way until he retired in 1968.
Between the mid 1970s and 2000, the company was bought and sold several times but different groups and holding companies, untimately by Monet which was bought by Liz Claiborne who continues to mass produce and use the Trifari name but these pieces are unsigned. The last signed Trifari pieces were made as limited edition pieces for sale on QVC in the 1990s.
A slightly less auspicious end for a company which in its heyday was widely sought after for its style, quality and accessibility with a designer like Alfred Phillipe leading the way. Earlier Trifari pieces are highly collectible and will always be signed but the later pieces do provide a cheaper entry point and were still expertly designed and crafted.
The joy of Trifari is the great variety of styles they were able to produce, from the “Jelly Belly” animal brooches who had large Lucite stomachs, to the great fruit and floral clusters of the 1930s and 40s, to their patented “clip-mate”, their answer to Coro’s Duette double dress clip, to the abstract architectural styles of the 70s and 80s; even the invention of “Trifanium”, a low cost gold tone alloy which was a cheaper alternative to all the silver used during World War Two. (One of the few metals not suitable for turning into weaponry as it was too soft.)
Warman’s Costume Jewellery by Pamela Wiggins
And for your own jewellery hunt, hopefully this chart courtesy of myclassicjewellery.com will help! :