Tuesday, November 8, 2011
West Germany Costume Jewelry - A History
As a collector of vintage jewelry and other pretty girlie things, the 1950s are the era I most connect with. I just love the gloves, the formality, the pumps and the sparkles. Which, for people who know me personally, you'd probably never guess, as I hate wearing heels, pantyhose and makeup... But when it comes to vintage fashions I concede and go all out! There are two specific types of jewelry that I always associate with the 1950s - those marked West Germany, Western Germany, W. Germany and those marked as Hong Kong or Japan. Today's post will focus on Germany and I'll cover off on the Japan items at a later date!
When you see a pair of round, 1in in diameter, beaded clip earring, odds are it's from one of these two regions. And you know it's vintage as Western Germany no longer exists and Hong Kong is no longer a city-state!
After World War II Germany split into two countries, which lasted from 1949 until the Communist East Germany was dissolved in 1990 - with the very broadly publicized tearing down of the Berlin wall. After the devastation from World War II Western Germany set out to rebuild the economy of Germany and experienced what is known as the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the 1950s and became the world's third largest economy. A large part of this success came from an increase in the production and manufacturing of goods, like costume jewelry.
Relations between Western Germany and the US also improved during this period of time, which led to better international trade, including items like costume jewelry. Besides the popular plastic bead sets, Western Germany also became know for hand-painted porcelain and enamel pieces, mostly of floral settings and cabbage roses. Even when not marked you can often tell a Western Germany piece by the style of the painting and the color palates.
Many German women went to work after the war manufacturing and painting the jewelry and certain artists became very popular, such as the artist M.Goyer that's featured in one of my brooches. She did porcelain earrings and brooches, as well as glass and china sets during her career.
What the markings of W. German, West Germany and Western Germany tell you is just the country of origin, this doesn't indicate an actual manufacturer or brand at all. So it's a bit hard to tell exactly where the piece came from, but unless signed by the artist it's generally assumed that the pieces were part of a surge of mass production.
Despite some of the information I've seen online that says things were only marked West Germany after 1970s through the 1990s, I know this to be false. While they may have been required to mark things during that time frame you can tell by the style and materials the time periods that these pieces came from and they were definitely before the 1970s. By the 70s the trend had turned to post or "pierced" earrings and the size of the earrings themselves had changed drastically. The heavy use of beads had also changed by the 70s, or at least the colors and styles had. So had the desire for the hand-painted pieces, manufacturing had grown drastically by the 70s and you would see more mass produced pieces that were stamped (which you can usually tell if it's a stamp or sticker applied as those materials don't hold up to wear as well as the paint).
Throughout the post I've tried to include photos of pieces for you to watch for. While there's not a lot of money in pieces marked West Germany (again, unless signed by a well known artist) they are considered by vintage collectors to be more valuable than pieces that are unmarked and have no country of origin. Plus you'll have collectors that will specifically collect pieces from specific regions - so there is some innate value there.
My recommendation - buy the styles and colors you like!