I love mysteries. As one who grew up reading the Nancy Drew series, I’ve continued to enjoy the genre to this day. If I’m unable to figure out whodunit, I know the guilty party will be identified by the end of the story. Unlike the world of fiction, vintage costume jewelry collecting often presents mysteries – such as who made it – we can’t solve. Most pieces were not consistently signed (if at all) before 1935 (Romero, 2013). Some well-known companies used paper hang tags instead of stamping the jewels as late as the 1940s and 1950s. So identifying unsigned vintage jewelry is particularly challenging.
As I peruse online offerings, I inevitably come across numerous inaccuracies in this area. I don’t know if vendors feel obliged to attribute what they’re selling, even when they’re in doubt, or if they believe a piece will bring a higher price if linked to a desirable maker. Whatever the reason, buyers need to be aware of the potential for incorrect and unsubstantiated claims.
Identifying Unsigned Vintage Jewelry
Correctly attributing a piece to its maker requires a practised-eye, an in-depth knowledge of that manufacturer’s output, and authoritative documentation. One of the most common mistakes I encounter is attribution of an unsigned jewel to a particular maker based solely on the type of clasp used. Hardware alone is not a reliable clue – jewelry makers bought from the same findings manufacturers.
Vintage costume jewelry buyers and resellers need to consider the totality of a piece – its design, construction, materials, and quality – when thinking about who might have made it. Let’s look at one of my favorite makers, to whom much unsigned work is wrongly attributed.
Louis Rousselet: Bead Maker & Jewelry Designer
In 1922, Louis Rousselet started manufacturing hand-wound and finished glass beads and pearls. Workers were trained for six to seven years and produced a “wide variety of colors and styles of beads: foiled; iridescent; or lamp-wound multi-colored swirls … in the same way for fifty years” (Moro, 67). In the 1920s and 1930s, “80% of the production made by 800 workers was exported to North and South America, Europe and Australia” (Müller, 204).
In addition to supplying hand-made beads worldwide, Rousselet produced opulent jewels for couturiers. “Between 1945 and 1975, the houses of Chanel, Jean Patou, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Robert Piquet, Balmain and Nina Ricci chose models from the four collections he created every year” (Müller, 204). Certain designs “were sold to French department stores as well as to Saks Fifth Ave. These pieces were tagged with the paper label marked ‘Louis Rousselet, Made in France’” (Moro, 67).
Because such exceptional jewelry was produced by this company, I am particularly dismayed when a reseller attributes an unsigned, ordinary piece to it. To help you avoid being duped, here are some well-documented characteristics of Louis Rousselet jewelry.
Rousselet Earring Clasps
This photo shows a pair of 1950s ear clips with clusters of apple-green-glass barrel-shaped beads with striations. The beads are lovely, but the earrings’ construction reveals much more.
On the left, you can see the horseshoe-shaped ear clip Rousselet often used. What’s most telling in this pair, however, is shown on the right. The wiring of the beads onto “a metallic support in the shape of a rosette was a signature of the firm and identifies its work unmistakably” (Müller, 205). This “signature” can be found on many Rousselet necklaces.
The use of this type of earring clasp may not be limited to this maker’s designs – “Rousselet also manufactured metal structures, clasps and settings” (Farnetti Cera, 154). Whether the company sold this particular hardware in addition to its beads to other jewelry makers is unclear. Here are two pairs of earrings with the same horseshoe-shaped clasp but with filigree backs instead of rosettes. Did Rousselet make them? I’m not sure.
And to add to the mystery is the fact that this maker used more than one style of earring clasp. For example, in my personal collection I have a pair of pearl pendants with screw-backs that are actually signed.
Rousselet Necklace Clasps
As with earrings, Rousselet made necklaces with various types of clasps. Some had the bee-hive-shaped barrel (as shown on the left). Some had an embellished box clasp (shown on the right). Both of these examples are stamped “Made in France”, a mark that can lead to mistaken identities when considered on its own. However, in these cases, the necklaces are by Rousselet.
Ginger Moro (64) describes the “puzzle beads” on the left as “barrel-shaped or cylindrical beads in a stepped geometric design”, which were made of Galalith (“a casein plastic made from a sour milk protein derivative mixed with formaldehyde”) or Bakelite. The same page shows a necklace with “Galalith beads simulating lapis … and ivory” in this stepped pattern.
The necklace on the right with beautiful mottled green glass beads has another trait common to Rousselet – a box clasp topped with a button-shaped bead. The Moro and Ferneti Cera books have photos of this maker’s necklaces with the same clasp design. In addition, my personal collection includes a necklace with faux pearls and beads set in rosettes which closes with the same embellished box clasp.
Identifying Rousselet Jewelry
Rousselet typically signed jewelry with a paper label that read “Louis ROUSSELET, Modèle Déposé, Made in France” (Moro, 67), which the owner had to remove to wear the item. Occasionally, pieces were marked on the back of the clasp with “LR” in script. Here is one such necklace.
Because you are not likely to find a signed piece, buy jewelry attributed to this maker with caution. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read in a listing that the item for sale “has been attributed to Louis Rousselet” without a statement of the source of the attribution. Or a jewel that is described as by this maker without any justification for or reasoning behind the claim. Unless you are very familiar with Rousselet, ask questions.
The Series: True vs. Fake
This article is the fifth in this series, whose goal is to help vintage costume jewelry buyers become more informed consumers. If you haven’t already done so, read the first four installments: I Was Duped, How to Avoid Tarnishing a Sterling Reputation, Is It Crystal Clear? and Missing the Mark. And subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss my next article!
Printed Sources Cited
Ferneti Cera, Deanna. Adorning Fashion: The History of Costume Jewellery to Modern Times. ACC Art Books, 2019.
Moro, Ginger. European Designer Jewelry. Schiffer Publishing, 1995.
Müller, Florence. Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture. Vendome Press, 2006.
Romero, Christie. Warman’s Jewelry: Fine & Costume Jewelry. 5th edition. Krause Publications, 2013.