When attempting to identify unsigned vintage necklaces, the chain can be a useful tool. Not only can certain chain styles help to date a piece as to era, but subtle differences between them can sometimes differentiate one anonymous manufacturer from another.
A great example of this can be seen in necklaces from the Art Deco period (1920s–1930s). Chains made of decorated open rectangular links were a popular style for costume jewelry. Let’s look at three distinct groups of necklaces from this era, sorted by the chain that was used. (I am not including my 1930s Mystery Jewelry Maker’s chain in this group, by the way, although theirs was somewhat similar.) Two of these three chains are identical except for very small differences.
Group A: Embossed Open Rectangles with Pierced Sides
Necklaces using this chain do share a characteristic with those of my Mystery Jewelry Maker (MJM for short) in that sometimes the smaller connecting links were enameled and sometimes they were not. But unlike my MJM’s chain, there is an open (pierced) section in the middle of this rectangle’s long sides. There’s another characteristic to this anonymous/unsigned maker’s line as well: there’s an element placed between the end of the chain and the central station (in other words the chain doesn’t directly to the central piece) and in almost all most cases the central station includes a plastic, either galalith or Bakelite. [The inclusion of a plastic is something I’ve never found on any of my MJM’s pieces although they did occasionally use a glass stone.]
The necklaces produced by this manufacturer were well made, with a decent weight and substance – no thin flimsy metal – and beautifully designed.
Here we see the links and the flanking stations having brilliant orange enamel, but the “tubes” in the pendant seem to be made of orange glass.
The central station was described as a “circular teal blue galalith pendant.” As shown in the not-so-great second image, this was also made in a white colorway.
This necklace uses several of the same elements as the last one but the look is quite different. The circular element is probably Bakelite, because I have seen matching bracelets in which the bangle and the circle tested positive for Bakelite.
And finally an unusual and attractive example combining ball and circle elements. The seller cites the blue circle as celluloid as per a camphor smell under hot water. An extremely interesting note was that “originally the chain was covered with off-white enamel but this shiny silvertone chain looks rather better”. I can only assume that “covered” meant that the smaller connecting links had enamel, because I have never seen this chain with enamel on the rectangular ones.
Group B: Embossed Open Rectangles with Solid Sides
This chain is a knockoff/copy of the Group A one. However, it lacks the pierced opening in the long sides of the rectangle, and there’s no “bulge” on the inside long edge, as in chain A. The stamping is close but is not precisely the same, either on the rectangular or on the connecting links. Also, the rectangle appears to be slightly more squared than the Group A link. This manufacturer was clearly copycatting some of the Group A necklace designs above. And there’s another difference in the necklaces using this chain: none of them contain a plastic element. They are either plain metal or have enamel accents.
I’ve seen this same necklace both with and without the black enamel accents. Notice that the wing-shaped findings are the same as used in the two orange-enameled Group A necklaces.
Completely different but also quintessentially Art Deco; the central station at once suggests to me either an airplane propeller or a bee! This evokes but is not the exact same finding as the eighth photo in Group A.
An unusual red and white enameled sunburst design, this necklace looks as if it should have some substance but as with the other examples is surprisingly lightweight due to the thinnesss of the metal.
This necklace, using the same ribbed teardrop finding as the “propeller/bee” necklace above, has a completely blank (unstamped) chain.
When I first noticed these designs I did wonder if perhaps they might have been from my Mystery Jewelry Maker but when I asked Alicia of Boylerpf Jewelry who has sold a number of these as well as several MJM pieces, her opinion was that these necklaces are considerably lighter/flimsier and overall not up to the quality of the MJM’s typical work. (Many thanks to Alicia for so many of these lovely photos!) Also, I’ve never found any of these chains paired with a known MJM design element.
Group C: Embossed Wide Ladder Chain
I’d be willing to bet a box of chocolates that the necklaces in this third group were made by the same company that produced the ones in Group B above. Notice that the first two below have the identical black-enamel-decorated half moon shapes as in the last example in that group.
Here’s that “fringe” element again, similar to the red-and-white necklace in Group B.
The glass stone in this one is a bit surprising and makes me wonder if it’s indeed original to the necklace, despite the fact that the green is a very good match for the enamel accents.
If the Group B and Group C necklaces were indeed made by the same company, a chain wasn’t the only copycat stamping they used: The two necklaces below use an adaptation of my Mystery Jewelry Maker’s larger bow:
This is the genuine MJM bow, for comparison:
While at first glance the copycat’s ‘drop’ may look the same, the stamping of the lower portion is different from the MJM’s finding.
The “copycat” bow finding was used by various makers well into the 1970s and early 1980s for brooches; I’ve even found a few bearing a Miriam Haskell cartouche!
And Just to Make Life Interesting….
In spite of such fairly easy matchups as shown above, there are times when using the chain as “evidence” for maker identification and correlation can really throw you for a loop. Take these two necklaces, for example.
This necklace not only has the same chain found on two of my confirmed Mystery Jewelry Maker pieces, but also a leaf-pair finding that they also used for several other necklaces. The MJM’s chain is shown below.
Although the base chain is the same, the connecting ‘domes’ on the leaf-collar necklace have a heavily textured surface, something I have not yet seen on any confirmed MJM piece; so that’s one strike against it. The second strike (sort of) is the clasp which, although appearing to be original, isn’t one that I’ve ever seen on any MJM necklace.
And the third strike is the overall design. Even though I’ve found some quite unexpected MJM examples, festooning the entire front of a necklace with foliage really doesn’t follow their usual design aesthetic. And I may be wrong but this necklace just does not say “early to mid 1930s” to me at all. After having looked at more than 200 examples (to date) of the MJM’s output, my guess is that a 1970s or 1980s manufacturer either got hold of some old 1930s finding stock, or a findings company temporarily brought these two castings back from the dead, so to speak. It’s probably just coincidence that the maker of this necklace decided to use not only a chain but also a finding that my Mystery Jewelry Maker used… right? 😉
This necklace combines an “almost-MJM” chain with a pendant that I’m willing to bet was the product of whatever manufacturer produced the Group B and Group C necklaces above (the clasp is probably a replacement, not original to the piece.) The “almost” caveat is because of two differences: the smaller connecting links are smooth instead of ribbed, and the inside edges of the rectangles appear to have a tiny milgrain trim. Mystery Jewelry Maker’s favored chain is shown below.
Because many antique and vintage chains and findings were reproduced throughout later decades (some are still available today; for instance, the Salvadore Tool Company currently offers literally thousands of castings from all decades of the 20th century) using chains as the sole dating or identification method is very risky. Other “date-able” factors such as overall style, colorways, materials, and design elements need to be taken into consideration. However, assuming that the entire piece is original, the chain can sometimes provide a chunk of corroborating evidence. 🙂
Now this article is a piece of research unparalleled by even most of the makers! So interesting to see all the different chains that all seem to follow the same design to one degree or another. Well done and a treat to read!!
Fascinating in depth research. Loved all the chains presented. 🙂