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Vintage Designer Costume Jewelry

Authenticating Miriam Haskell Pieces


 
Miriam haskell jewelry is hugely popular and highly collectible. This alas makes it ever more expensive to buy, so it is doubly important to ensure that what you invest your money in is the genuine thing. Unfortunately Haskell jewelry can be very difficult to identify and date. We have all seen the 'unsigned Haskell' description but how can you be sure it really is what it claims to be? If you really wish to master the subject you must read the seminal work 'Miriam Haskell Jewelry' by Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff, which is full of glorious examples of Haskell pieces from the past 70 or 80 years.
For those who have not yet mastered the book, and would like a few pointers, please read on!
Signed or not Signed
Miriam Haskell set up her business in 1926 and soon afterwards took on Frank Hess as her chief designer. At this time the company did not sign any of its pieces with a permanent tag, but only a paper one (black and gold). It was only in the 1940's that a permanent signature was attached to protect the Haskell name from cheaper competition that imitated her style.
The first signature was a semicircular plaque (horseshoe) that was attached to the back of the piece. This probably began in 1947/48 but was not put on all pieces. Then in the early 1950's the tag was changed to an flat oval shape with 'MIRIAM HASKELL' stamped on to it. The stamping came through to the other side, but indented and, of course, reversed. This tag was usually attached to the back of the piece but was also used as a hangtag.
This tag was used until the late 1970's, but it was then changed to a similar tag but without the stamping coming through to the reverse ('flat back'). This tag is still being used. Thus if you have a flat back piece it dates from c1980 to the present.
Haskell also produced a special edition in the 1990's which required the addition of an identification number to the center of the tag.
Clasps were usually bought with the Haskell signature in raised letters already imprinted inside an oval on to the flat metal rear of the clasp.
TO RECAP:
Before 1947/8 no permanent signature
After 1948 to late 1970's, horseshoe shape, then reverse signature oval tag
1979 to present flat back oval tag

However it is possible to add or remove a hangtag and luckily there are many other points of identification for a genuine Haskell piece. It takes years to gain this expertise, unfortunately for the novice, and the best way is to look at as many Haskell pieces as possible. Below we summarize a few key points in the identification process, but remember that it is a simplified summary and not meant to be exhaustive.

Clasps

Clasps are an important element in identifying Haskell pieces. Early unsigned necklaces tend to have box clasps which were quite elaborate and decorated with pearls, beads or rhinestones, and either round, or oblong if the piece had multiple strands. The other main clasp used was a very simple spring ring clasp but distinctive as it did not have the protruding prong (the 'thumb' part).
After the war, during the signed period, Haskell introduced the hook and tail design to allow the necklace length to be varied. It consisted of a distinctive hook on one end and an extender on the other consisting of several pearls or beads. The hooks were signed 'MIRIAM HASKELL' and were usually decorated, either with an eight-petal 'flower' with pearls/beads as petals, or, more rarely, a dove or a turtle attached to the top of the hook. In the late 70's the decoration was dropped from the hook on less expensive necklaces, though it was still signed.
During the signed period box clasps were still used and were often elaborate and intended to be worn at the front or side of the necklace.
A new clasp was introduced in 1975, the slide clasp, which was a flat oblong shape with the patent number 3,427,691 on one side and the Haskell signature in block capitals on the other. This clasp was discontiued in the mid eighties.
Modern necklaces now have toggle clasps and lobster clasps, in addition to box clasps and hooks.

To Recap
No hook fastening on unsigned pieces
If spring ring, no 'thumb' part
If necklace has a slide clasp, it dates it to 1975-mid 1980's.
If hook, it must the the distinctive Haskell hook
If claw or toggle clasp it is a modern piece

Metal Backs
Nearly all Haskell pieces have at their heart a metal plate onto which the decorative elements are attached. This back plate is a very important element in identifying genuine Haskell pieces, and tracing its development is, fortunately, relatively easy.
Very early Haskell pieces had as backs metal plates that were pierced with small round holes at regular intervals (NOT mesh). Beads and pearls were then wired by hand directly on to this base. This back was then left uncovered, giving the piece an 'unfinished' look. By the 1930's the back was being covered by a flat metal plate, of which Gordon and Pamfiloff say 'This metal plate is a key identifier for pre-1943 Haskell jewelry" (page 44).
The shortage of metal during World War 11 meant a substitute had to be found and the metal back was replaced with a pierced plastic back with the similar regularly placed holes. These backs were uncovered and they are a key identifier for mid-1940's Haskell pieces.
Once metal was again abundant the Haskell company decided to replace the pierced plates with much more sophisticated filigree metal backs, which were weighty and extremely well-made. These were then coated in a variety of finishes (the most popular being Russian Gold, a secret formula that actually contained genuine 24 carat gold) depending on the design and piece they were intended for. At about this time Haskell began signing its jewelry and although not impossible, unsigned pieces with filigree backs are extremely rare (see Gordon and Pamfiloff page 46).
Cheaper copies and fakes tend to have filigree backs that are lighter in weight and without the degree of finish and design of Haskell filigrees.

To Recap

Earliest pieces had open pierced metal backs
A flat  covering indicates a late 1920's/early 1930's piece
A mesh back was never used
Open plastic pierced back indicates WW11 piece
If unsigned piece with filigree back, be cautious!
Be suspicious of lightweight or poorly made filigree backs
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