Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Puzzling Evidence - The Miriam Haskell Mystery

When I first became interested in cloisonné dragon beads, a beadcollector.net member observed that these beads showed up in costume jewelryattributed to Miriam Haskell 

Investigating further, I learned that Frank Hess was the head designer for the Miriam Haskell workshop after Miriam hired him in the late 1920s, and that Haskell jewelry prior to World War II was unsigned.  However, in none of the books I had on hand could I find the slightest mention that this jewelry featuring “oriental” charms was the product of the Haskell workshop, although such an attribution seems to be a consistent piece of internet auction legend and lore.  The closest thing I could discover was a cryptic quote from Deanna Farneti Cera's "The Jewels of Miriam Haskell” at the website of Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry:

Political events also influenced designers. Out of sympathy for the Chinese and Greek people who were fighting Japan and Italy…they turned to those antique cultures for inspiration." Cera, The Jewels of Miriam Haskell, p 29.

The Second Sino-Japanese War began in July of 1937, and the Italian invasion of Greece was in 1940.  The pieces in question are lavish with metal findings, which became less obtainable as World War II progressed and metal supplies were diverted to military manufacture, hence another indication for a 1930s or early-1940s date.

However, at first I was unable to find any evidence that these pieces were part of a manufacturer’s “line” – i.e., coordinated pieces that could be duplicated over and over again for multiple sales.  And then eBay vendor coutequecoute provided a clue, pointing out a pinback finding that matched one attributed as characteristic of the Haskell workshop on page 74 of Gordon and Pamiloff’s book MiriamHaskell Jewelry.
Note that the book brooch with this matching pin back is made from orange Czech glass leaves, not coral; however,  an adjacent picture featuring a wired pin back with folded ends is made of tiny coral branches similar to coutequecoute’s set.   Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry website shows a promotional watercolor from the 1940s of Haskell jewelry made from these little coral branches, and other Haskell coral branch jewelry pieces are discussed on page 152 of Gordon & Pamiloff’s book.
Haskell watercolor from Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry

Checking my archive of photos trawled from the Internet, I found another coral and dragon bead brooch. 
So perhaps these are indeed Haskell designs featuring cloisonné dragon beads.

More evidence for a designer’s line using dragon beads turned up in my pictures archive – four necklaces with matching clasps, chain, and overall design, including the sequence of the suspended charms (from left to right:  Japanese lacquer, cut crystal, cloisonné dragon, brass/turquoise chip inlay, carved cinnabar and jeweled brass, “Bakelite,” lampwork glass or pressed glass, Japanese lacquer).
Lower left bracelet and necklace set Laurie Steig Vintage Jewelry

Curiously, at first I thought the necklaces labeled 1 and 1A were the exact same piece and that a Neiger Czech pressed glass “Egyptian” bead had been substituted for the cylindrical lampwork bead; however, there seem to be some differences in the fine details.

Many of the beads used in the charms can be found again and again in similar compositions.  The brass findings vary from one piece to another, although appear to be coordinated within a piece.  A Czech origin seems likely for the findings.  The molded “composition” beads with Japanese motifs and the faux-ojime Japanese lacquer beads also appear in other pre-World War II necklaces, which beadcollector.net discussions have theorized might be cruise ship or tourist trinket jewelry.
Japanese lacquer beads at beadcollector.net
Molded composition beads with Japanese motifs

Note the red-white-blue theme.

with permission of Florence Foster, Beads With A Past

with permission of Florence Foster

Similar brass beads appear in the more opulent pieces above with tiny jeweled cabs attached to them

boylerpf shop at Etsy

Chinese beads, including carved glass beads similar to those used in Qing court necklaces. Likely an outlier from another designer?

Glass, Japanese lacquer, glass with molded glass cap, glass, "Bakelite," cinnabar, molded glass, molded composition with Japanese motifs, silver plated hollow blown molded glass, brass and turquoise inlay, glass.  Big beads, about an inch in diameter each.

sold by Magic Dragon



TerraSoulJewelry - sold

TerraSoulJewelry - sold

TerraSoulJewelry - sold

Not all the pieces pictured above may be from the same designer, of course.  Many pieces are from TerraSoulJewelry, so you may want to bookmark her Etsy shop if you collect this rare jewelry.  

The coral pieces and opulent charm necklaces aside, this type of costume jewelry seems to me to have more of a Ziegfeld Follies rather than a Park Avenue look to it, and might have been created as a fun, novelty line for one season, perhaps as part of a resort-wear line, with occasional one-offs for the 5th Avenue shop or given to buyers as prototypes.  If the line was indeed produced during the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression, purchasers were presumably more well-to-do and capable of buying something frivolous that within a few months would be unwearable, “so last year”  because of its distinctive and easily recognized look.

1920s?  1930s? 1940s? Haskell?  Other designers?  All of them, Katie?  Puzzling evidence.

Chinese cloisonné dragon beads also appear in brass belts, and in brooches featuring the mysterious Qun Li mark – more on these pieces in upcoming posts.

UPDATE: A commenter sent links to a dramatic necklace of jade rings and cloisonne dragon beads.  Some readers were unable to open the links, so here are the photos:


  1. Hi there. I have a necklace with a few similarities to the ones shown here, but with jade rings.

    Photo: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3101/2517013156_9aa29ffa77_o.jpg
    Another: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2178/2516191393_6eecf5a0d7_o.jpg

    The jade rings are a little dirty, which you can see in the photo. They're grouped in threes, and each ring in the middle of each group of three has a small hole drilled through one side, strangely.

    The clasp and chain (and findings!) are identical to the necklace with the white beads in your post, which I was excited to see. It's a square clasp with a raised circle.

    This is the first time I've run across any documentation of this kind of necklace. Thanks for posting it!

  2. Thank you - that is indeed an interesting and rare piece.

  3. I have loved finding this blog post, thank you! I was doing research of my own & found it most helpful. I have yet another necklace with various beads to add if you have interest. https://www.etsy.com/listing/213907759/rare-asian-chinese-style-charm-necklace?ref=shop_home_active_1

    1. Thank you for telling me about your interesting find, Suzanne. Wow!

      I took the liberty of featuring it in a new blog post:


      Best regards,