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Vintage Jewelry Designers

  • Paul Flato jewelry

    Paul Flato Jewelry in ‘Holiday’

    Before I even knew his name, I was a fan of Paul Flato jewelry. I was introduced to his talent when I first saw Holiday, a 1938 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. During that viewing many years ago, I remember wondering if the fabulous three-strand diamond necklace Hepburn wore was real. Indeed, it and the other pieces in the film were fine jewels designed by Flato, at the request of George Cukor, the film’s director. The designer even received what was then a rare on-screen credit.

    The Movie

    The film opens with Johnny Case (Cary Grant), just back from vacation in Lake Placid, visiting his closest friends to tell them he is engaged to Julia, a woman he met on his trip. He knows nothing about her background or family. When he arrives at the Park Avenue address she has given him and sees a stately mansion, he rings the bell at the back door, thinking that she works for the family who live there. Julia is, in fact, the daughter of Edward Seton, a very wealthy banker and widower. She introduces Johnny to her older sister and then leaves to join her father at church, to break the news of her engagement. Johnny agrees to return for lunch with the family.

    Arriving early, he spends time with her unconventional, outspoken sister, Linda (Katherine Hepburn), and her well-meaning, alcoholic brother, Ned. Johnny tells Linda about his background and his dreams. Because he has worked very hard since childhood, he wants to make a fortune quickly and then take an extensive holiday to find out the true meaning of life, while he is still young. Linda, in turn, confesses that she (the black sheep in the family) and Ned (who reluctantly works at their father’s bank) have never found their places in the world.

    At first Mr. Seton is unwilling to grant his permission for the couple to marry. He relents when he finds out how successful Johnny has been at his job. After the engagement is announced at their New Year’s Eve party, Seton offers Johnny a position at his bank. When the bridegroom-to-be confesses his plans to Julia and her father, they both react with disdain. In the meantime, Linda tells Ned that she has fallen in love with Johnny.

    The story continues as Johnny struggles to decide which path to take: his plan for an immediate long-term holiday abroad with Julia as his wife, or Julia’s plan for their marriage followed by a job at the bank and postponement/abandonment of his dream.

    I won’t spoil the movie by revealing more of the plot, but I will promise you that magnificent jewels and some fun acrobatics performed by the film’s stars await you. Mark your calendar: according to the TCM website, the film will be broadcast on December 31 at 11:15 am (ET).

    The Jewelry

    In April 1938, a month before the film opened, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) wrote: “The fact that some $600,000 worth of jewels from Paul Flato are used in the production has led [Robert] Kalloch, who designed all of the costumes, to keep his lines classic, as the best background for the jewels”. Following the film’s debut, two more articles about the costumes and jewelry appeared in WWD – in June and July. Let me tell you about my favorites among the Paul Flato jewelry.

    Paul Flato ad for initial clips in sign language

    Vogue, December 15, 1937

    When Linda talks with Johnny while waiting for her family to return from church for lunch, she is wearing a black enamel hand with diamond cuff at the throat of her white silk blouse. The piece was one of Flato’s “initial clips in the sign language”, shown in this ad from Vogue.

    Katharine Hepburn wearing Paul Flato jewelry


    On New Year’s Eve, Linda wears a black silk-jersey dinner gown adorned with spectacular jewels, shown in this movie still. Hollywood Jewels describes these pieces as “a diamond ‘toe’ ring (named for an Egyptian ring worn on the foot), a sunburst brooch of canary diamonds, and a dazzling three-strand diamond collet necklace with a three-inch diamond loop that hangs gracefully down her back, a beautiful detail that complements the shoulder-length hairstyles of the period”. Linda is wearing the “toe” ring on her finger. You have to watch closely to see the back of the necklace.

    Flato’s Life & Work

    Paul Flato (1900 – 1999) was born in Shiner, Texas. After attending the University of Texas at Austin, he moved to New York in the early 1920s to attend medical school. But a downturn in his family’s finances took him in a different direction. After working as a watch salesman, in 1927 he launched his own jewelry boutique on East 57th Street. Creations for his wealthy clients caught the attention of fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and then Hollywood.

    On March 4, 1938, Flato opened a boutique on Sunset Boulevard. On display at the grand opening were jewels he had designed for Linda Lee Thomas (wife of Cole Porter), Elsa Schiaparelli, Elizabeth Arden, and actor Marion Davies, among others. In attendance were socialites, movie stars, and royalty.

    Following Holiday, Flato designed jewelry worn by Virginia Bruce in Hired Wife (1940), Greta Garbo in Two-Faced Woman (1941), Merle Oberon in That Uncertain Feeling (1941), Rita Hayworth in Blood and Sand (1941), and Marlene Dietrich in The Lady is Willing (1942).

    According to Penny Proddow, a jewelry historian and author who was quoted in Flato’s New York Times obituary: “He was the first of the major American jewelers to do highly imaginative work on a par with European jewelers. … He would take his ideas to his four designers – they were his hands – and they would go on from there to his workshop”.

    For More Information

    Read Elizabeth Irving Bray’s book Paul Flato: Jeweler to the Stars. You can also see a number of Flato pieces in the article on the Antique Jewelry University website.

    TruFaux Jewels
  • Flexible choker worn by Ann Sheridan in The Unfaithful

    Jewelry in the Movies: A 1940s Flexible Choker

    Movies produced in the 1930s-1940s rarely credited jewelry. In fact, in many cases, the names of the costume designers weren’t even disclosed on-screen. For this reason, I always look closely at what the female characters are wearing in these films, hoping to recognize a jewel. Last night while watching The…

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  • Movie jewelry by Harry Winston and worn by Ingrid Bergman in Notorious

    Jewelry in the Movies: Winston

    As we eagerly anticipate this year’s Academy Awards ceremony on February 26, many of us are as interested in what the stars will be wearing as who will win. And the dazzling jewels worn on the red carpet will get as much press as the gowns they adorn. So with…

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  • Who Made Those Art Deco Bracelets?

    Have you ever wondered about the maker of a favorite piece of vintage costume jewelry? Many collectors who favor the Art Deco style (as I do) are undoubtedly familiar with the trademark Diamonbar, which appears on sterling silver and imitation gemstone bracelets produced in a wide range of styles in…

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  • Jewelry in the Movies: Ruser

    Although vintage costume jewelry is the focus of my life and work, I am also a fan of beautiful fine jewelry created in the 1920s through the 1950s, the decades I specialize in. (Fine jewelry is jewelry created with precious metals – such as gold or platinum – and precious…

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  • Mellow Yellows for Spring

    Yellow, the color of sunshine, is associated with positive feelings such as joy, happiness, cheerfulness, intellect and energy. Not surprisingly, a tone of yellow is usually included in Pantone’s top 10 women’s spring/summer colors. This year’s shade is called Custard, which is defined as “Sweet and sunny … a cheering…

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  • Aquamarine for Spring

    Even though the weather outside may not feel like spring (at least where I live!), we can still look at colors for the upcoming season.  Based on their survey of fashion designers, Pantone has named the palette for women’s clothing in spring 2015:  En Plein Air, a French expression which…

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  • Dress Up Your Little Black Dress with Schiaparelli Jewels

    You may already know that Maison Schiaparelli, the house of French couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, re-opened in July at its former address, 21 Place Vendôme, and that Marco Zanini, the new creative director, will premiere his first collection in January during couture week in Paris. With the Schiaparelli name in the…

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  • Schiaparelli costume jewelry signature

    Elsa Schiaparelli: Shocking!

    Shocking, the name of the vivid shade of pink that became Elsa Schiaparelli’s trademark color, is a name that has become synonymous with this extraordinary 20th century Italian-born couturière who viewed her profession as an art. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the color Shocking pink “was dubbed thus…

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  • Vintage Bridal Jewelry: Pearls

    Pearls have been a traditional bridal accessory for generations. They have been made into necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, and rings, and have been sewn onto shoes, wedding gowns, purses, and veils. My favorite vintage pearl jewelry comes from France, where the process for making artificial pearls was born. The TruFaux…

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