The world of vintage costume jewelry often contains mysteries, as my own quest for the elusive 1930s Mystery Jewelry Maker’s identity can attest. One such mystery was recently shared with me by Colleen Newell, who is on a similar quest to uncover the story behind pieces marked ‘Joy.’ Both of us have been trying to answer the three essential questions of all costume jewelry ‘genealogy, which are’: Who made these pieces? When were they made? Where were they sold?
Who Was Joy Jewelry?
Although I’m envious of the fact that the Joy pieces are marked (my mystery manufacturer didn’t), knowing a brand name is of little help if no other records can be found for it. That said, any jewelry signature is better than none!
There are three possible formats of Joy signatures: as an applied cartouche, as a metal hangtag, and as a signature which on some pieces appears stamped but on others looks more like it was hand-incised. Some pieces may be ‘signed’ in two places rather than just one. For example, a tree brooch shown below has a signature cartouche on the back of the tree-trunk and also an incised signature along the side of the crown outline. The downside to the loop-and-hangtag signage method, of course, is that those are easily removed, either by intent or accident.
Searches of online costume-jewelry-marks databases shed no light on this brand. The Costume Jewelry Collectors International website, incorporating the excellent database originally compiled by Dorothy Stringfield, has nothing in their J section for Joy.
Joy is also missing from the Morning Glory Jewelry marks database, as well as all of the other online marks references that Google manages to dig up.
Update, November 2021: New information has come to light about the Joy brand, and the following section has been revised to reflect this.
Colleen had a theory: The well-researched Les Bernard brand was founded by designers Bernard Shapiro and Lester Joy – hence the merged brand name Les Bernard. Could “Joy” pieces have been produced by Lester Joy either before the launch of the Les Bernard brand, or concurrently with them as a “spin-off”? Although logical, this turns out to not have been the case. ‘House of Joy’ was a small hand-made jewelry company founded in the New York City area by a woman whose name (whether first or last is not known) was Joy, and operated during the early to mid-1960s. Their chief designer was Larry Erenberg, and it was he who was responsible for what we know as the Joy jewelry look. (We will hear more about Larry later in this post!)
Where Was Joy Jewelry Sold?
No national advertising for Joy has come to light. An intriguing notion is that it may have been distributed to the “home parties” industry only, based on a comment made to Colleen Newell by a Joy owner who said she might have bought hers at such a gathering. Direct-to-consumer sales companies (Tupperware, Mary Kay, Avon, Pampered Chef, etc.) were very popular during the decades in question. Although most of them contracted with outside manufacturers to produce and brand those objects with the company’s name – Sarah Coventry, Avon, and Park Lane jewelry are three classic examples – some did not.
Because one swallow doesn’t make a summer, as the old saying goes, if any reader happens to have originally acquired their piece(s) of Joy jewelry at a “home party” and can recall which type it was, that would definitely solve one mystery! There’s a direct contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
Joy jewelry can be roughly divided into two style categories, one of which is quite distinct and easy to recognize because it features a translucent resin material held within a metal frame or outline. This technique is called plique-à-jour, and the effect when held up to the light is similar to that of stained glass. [Nerd Note: When the fill material is translucent or transparent with no backing, it is called plique-à-jour but if there is a backing, it is called cloisonné. An easy way to remember the difference is “you can peek through plique, but cloisonné is closed”!]
Plique-a-Jour Brooches by Joy
Brooches seem to have been a mainstay of the Joy line, especially for the plique-à-jour style items. The designs themselves were often whimsical, and the colors and outlines do weigh in favor of these being from the 1960s or early 1970s. Like my MJM items, pieces were often made in multiple colorways.
Many thanks to Colleen Newell who kindly shared many of the photographs below from her stock of Joy jewelry available at her two online shops! Images watermarked with AartsyLC are from her Etsy shop, while those watermarked Little Creations are from her Ruby Lane shop.
These tiny 1.5”-wide butterflies are a great example to start off with. You can see how the different colors of the resin and/or metal create very different looks. During the 1950s and early 1960s, small brooches of this size were often called “scatter pins” because several could be worn at once. Tiny creatures such as bees, flies, butterflies, ladybugs, and turtles were very popular.
To create this flowering-tree brooch, the gelatin-like translucent green resin was poured into the gold metal ‘treetop’ frame, and then individual tiny plastic flowers were pressed into it before it hardened. The brooch is 3.5” high and 2.5” wide.
Here’s the same mold/frame being used to make an apple tree instead, with reddish plastic cabochons forming the apples.
Cabochons of multiple colors create an artist’s palette. (Brooch dimensions unavailable.)
A simple but holiday-perfect holly-and-berries brooch is 3” long and 1.5” high.
It’s tempting to wonder if this peacock brooch was made in a multicolor version, because it would have been very easy to use different color resin in each of the “wing bays.” It is 2.5” at the widest point.
Plain white seems most appropriate for this sailboat brooch, though.
I suspect that this balloons brooch came in multiple colorways. It is 3” high and 1.75” wide.
I’d be surprised not to find this “cloud nine” brooch in blue or white as well. Red does seem an odd choice for a cloud color. It is two inches high and uses silvertone metal.
This sun face also incorporates an added metal decoration pressed into the resin. This is a big brooch at 3.5” diameter.
Since we have a mouse, it’s only logical to bring in a cat! This whimsical, long-whiskered fellow has an amber-colored resin body and head section. No dimensions were supplied by the seller.
Two entirely different colorway/looks for the googly-eyed fish which measures 2.25” from nose to tail.
This footprint brooch is Cinderella-dainty at only 1.25” high…small enough for several to form a “trail” up to someone’s shoulder, perhaps!
Who wouldn’t smile at this ‘happy girl’ brooch? I wonder how many color combinations this was made in! She is 2.75” high and 2” at the widest point.
This is a good example to take us into the next section of styles. The rooster at left has their typical translucent-resin body, but the one on the right looks as though it is filled with chunks or chips of plastic instead. However, the back section is smooth black resin, indicating that the chips were pressed into the top (face) only – the same technique as we saw with the flower and fruit tree brooches, but in much larger quantity. He is 2.25” high.
Non-Resin Joy Brooches
The pieces in this section are sometimes traditional, sometimes whimsical, and sometimes do incorporate plastic – but are not exactly plique-à-jour.
Having said that, I’ll instantly contradict myself by showing this sunburst brooch with a nubbly center! Yes, the center section was created in the same way as the black rooster above, so technically it is a plique-à-jour piece. However, most people looking at it would probably not think of it that way. On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to someday see a version of this very large (4” diameter) brooch with a translucent red or orange smooth resin center.
Here’s another Joy fruit-tree brooch. It is 3” high and uses the same ‘trunk’ finding as their two plique-à-jour trees but the top part is different (which accounts for the slightly shorter height.) Colleen tells me that the fruits appear to have been made from a paper-mâché type of material rather than plastic. The leaves are green fabric.
The lollipop tree uses the same metal finding as the fruit tree and is essentially the same size. The lollipop heads are plastic.
As long as we’re in Candyland, let’s check out Joy’s single lollipop brooches that were available in several primary colors.
These two examples are interesting because of the differing materials. The amber-colored one appears to be the same translucent resin used for their plique-à-jour brooches, while the orange one looks like the red, yellow, and green examples above: an opaque formula that better hides the top of the ‘lollipop stick.’ Each lollipop is 2.5” long, with the top being 1” in diameter.
Joy also produced some very traditional pieces that incorporated a glass stone element, such as this round baroque brooch with a central cabochon. This design is 1.5” in diameter.
This design is definitely Art Nouveau-inspired, complete with long-tailed griffins on each side. The metal has an unusual (for Joy) pewter finish. It is 2.25” high.
This very traditional turtle’s body is an unusual green stone with sparkling gold inclusions. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but it almost appears to be reverse-carved as well; if so, it’s probably Lucite rather than glass. It is 2.5” long from nose to tail.
This super-textural goldtone brooch seriously reminds me of a thumbprint cookie! (and now I’m hungry…)
The reverse side has plenty of room for the Joy signature cartouche. This brooch is 2.25” in diameter – a good-sized cookie, for sure.
Three dramatically different looks for the same stylized Maltese-cross brooch, depending on the center stone and/or the metal treatment. The pink-cabochon one is showing some serious wear (or oxidation?) to the goldtone plating but still looks very feminine. The one with the red/multicolor molded stone is the version more often seen, but what a difference in the black-and-gold colorway which would probably look right at home on Game of Thrones! This brooch is 3.5” ‘square.’
Metal wear is definitely in evidence on parts of this lion-head brooch which is 3” high and 2.5” wide. This one has red paint accents but I came across one in an old thrift-store auction listing that was unpainted but was also missing its original chain.
This silvertone ‘spoon’ brooch is 2.5” long which is the same size as an actual vintage salt-cellar spoon. A friend of mine used to hunt for such spoons (in pewter or silverplate) at tag sales, add a pin to the back, and sell them as brooches. [Nerd Note: If a very small spoon is approximately 2.5” long, it’s a salt spoon; if it is between 3.5” and 4” long, it’s a demitasse spoon. Some people make brooches out of demitasse spoons also.]
This very classic design would probably be described as a sunburst, although it also has a decided “faux straw” look to it. It is 2” in diameter.
I’ll round out my Joy-brooches revue with some of their non-resin whimsical designs, such as this dog which is 2.5” wide and 2” high. I am sure that this pup was made in a plique version as well!
Here’s our friend the rooster, unfilled.
Is it a coat rack or a hat rack? Hmmm… you decide. It is 2.75” high. Do you recognize the bottom section? Four of them form the arms of the Maltese-cross brooch!
Doesn’t this sitting-girl brooch look straight out of the 1960s? This is another design that could be easily filled with resin in order to give her some colorful clothing to go with her ribbed-metal turtleneck sweater. She is 2.5” high.
This one is a toss-up as to whether it’s the ‘same’ Joy or not. A toothpaste tube is certainly whimsical, but the metal has a somewhat different finish; it looks more like actual brass rather than the brighter goldtone plating seen on most Joy pieces. Then again, it does show noticeable pitting and so oxidation may be the culprit there. It is signed Joy but it is also dated 1965. Joy pieces are typically not dated. Is this a very early Joy brooch, perhaps a sample or test piece? Could be!
Joy Necklaces and Earrings
Joy seems to have produced far more brooches than necklaces and/or earrings, but they did not neglect those genres entirely.
These rich orange plique-à-jour style clip earrings have a subtle shading, much like the leaf/bud brooch shown earlier. They are 1” in diameter.
This set of necklace and earrings makes quite a show, with 1”-long pink quartz(?) tubes dangling Cleopatra-like from a 15.5” long chain. Three of them cascade from the matching earrings, creating a 3” drop.
This flapper-length chain of flattened/twisted bars is 61” long and still retains its original Joy hangtag.
Here’s a combination of a 32”-long goldtone link chain necklace (with hangtag) with two pendant elements: a blue plique-à-jour lock, and matching key, both with a Joy cartouche. The lock is 2.25” high, which makes the total ‘drop’ of the necklace slightly more than 18 inches.
No Joy Here, But….
When searching online for vintage Joy jewelry, you may come across some results with that name which are not by this manufacturer, and also some by a different name that are eerily similar to Joy’s items – and for a good reason!
The “same name, different look” products come from Mexico and China.
Pieces that are often inlaid, but marked in any version of what’s shown here, were made in Mexico by an entirely different company.
Items that have a copyright symbol followed by Joy usually have a separate made-in-China indication elsewhere. Just FYI, the “925” on such items means “plated with 925 silver” … not solid 925 silver, which would be sterling.
The Mystery of Mr. We – Solved!
Shown below is one of the lookalikes, and remarkably close one it is, too!
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that this was made by Joy, except for the signature which is MR. WE. Who the heck was “Mister We”? We (no pun intended) don’t know – or rather, didn’t know until November 2021 when I was contacted by Steve Erenberg, the son of one of the founders of the Mr. We jewelry company, who happened to come across this post.
I mentioned earlier that the chief designer for the Joy/House of Joy jewelry company was Larry Erenberg. In 1966, Larry and his brother Murray Erenberg (Steve’s father) launched their own jewelry company. Their original intent was for the company to be called Mr. E, for two reasons: the first letter of their surname, and because the name would sound like “mystery” – and there would be a charm in the shape of a question mark on pieces that were not cast metal. The “mystery”/question mark association made perfect sense and was a neat pun. Unfortunately, they learned that the company name Mr. E was already taken and so they decided on Mr. We as the alternative. The cast pieces were marked WE and the non-cast pieces did still get the question-mark charm.
Larry Erenberg’s designs formed the basis of the Mr. We line (thus explaining the Joy/We similarity) and he also handled the company’s sales. Murray Erenberg was in charge of production. Their factory was in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn but the showroom/corporate office of Mr. We, Ltd. was in the iconic NYC fashion building at 1407 Broadway. Steve Erenberg, who worked there during the summers, described the showroom:
[it] looked like an art gallery with a touch of English pub. The walls were covered with all different size ornate gold painted antique frames. In each frame was black fabric and the pieces for that season were displayed against the black background.
Mr. We operated for roughly a decade, from 1966 until the mid-1970s. Their target consumer was the teen/young adult market and so they advertised in the two major national magazines for that demographic which were Seventeen and Ingénue but also in Vogue. This may seem puzzling at first glance, because most teen girls in the late 60s and early 70s couldn’t afford the items seen in Vogue – but I can personally attest (because I was in that demographic) that many of us did read it avidly. I subscribed to all three of those during that era and also (for reasons that elude me even to this day) to Women’s Wear Daily. Nobody ever claimed that teenage girls operate on principles of logic!
Because the jewelry was hand-finished and produced in relatively small quantities, the buyers were boutique shops and small stores rather than department stores or chain stores that dealt with large-scale jewelry companies such as Monet or Coro.
A comparison of this Mr. We wirework dragonfly brooch with the ‘wire style’ Joy pieces clearly demonstrates the much higher level of hand-work that was involved in these. (Photo courtesy of Steve Erenberg. This brooch and two others, designed by Murray Erenberg, are offered on this web page)
January 2022 update: This Mr. We business card has just come to light. Isn’t it great?
A huge thank-you to Steve Erenberg for contacting me with the inside scoop on Mr. We jewelry (and, by extension, Joy) and for the business-card image! He now lives in upstate New York, operating a one-of-a-kind store specializing in antique and custom lighting fixtures as well as a fascinating trove of unusual objects. If you enjoy the truly unique, take a look at his Early Electrics and Radio Guy websites (the latter has much more than old radios, so don’t let the name mislead you.)
The only thing better than sleuthing a mystery is being able to solve it and tie it up neatly with a bow – thanks so much, Steve!