Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Joseff of Hollywood

Breakfast at Tiffany's; My Fair Lady; Cleopatra; To Catch a Thief; Singing in the Rain; Gone with the Wind; Casablanca; The Wizard of Oz

What do these films have in common? Not the same actresses, or movie production houses, or sets. Not the same decade. Only one thing is consistent among some of the most famous American films: Joseff of Hollywood.

Production houses could not afford jewels befitting of some of the most famous characters of early to mid-20th century films. As such, copies were frequently made, but the camera could easily betray the fake gold copies. Therefore, Eugene Joseff developed a visual substitute for gold, and his success in Hollywood was cemented. Russian Gold was a semi-matte, copper-gold colored finish that was plated onto the jewels that proved to replicate real gold under the harsh lights of Hollywood. Suddenly, magnificent brooches, earrings, and bracelets were created for some of the most important films of the mid-20th century. Faux precious stones were incorporated where needed, and both the camera and people were fooled while Joseff's career was born.

Eugene Joseff was born in Chicago in 1905, but moved to Hollywood during the Great Depression. With his wife, Joan Castle, he formed a jewelry company designing pieces for films and stars to use in films, but he retained ownership. As such, his collection was over three million pieces: an astounding number of privately owned jewels. In 1937
they launched a retail line of jewelry, which became immediately successful and remain so today.

The attraction of Joseff of Hollywood pieces is two-fold. First, the designs are often gutsy and strong, but not fussy or busy. They have an almost architectural feel about them. Second, the Russian gold is most attractive when it becomes softer, darker, and more mellow with time. It is the subtlety that makes it most attractive.

Joseff pieces are always signed on the reverse; however, fakes and copies do show up on the market. It is important to be familiar with the original signature so that you can spot the fakes. Also, very bright gold pieces are most likely fakes as the Russian Gold was soft at its production mid-century and will now be very soft, even matte.

Joseff pieces show up on ebay, but be wary as many fakes also show up on the site. Flea markets and high end estate jewelers also carry Joseff pieces. Again, it is important to do your homework and know the pieces, including the gold oxidation and the signatures before you start shopping. Prices for a piece can range between several hundred dollars for a simple pair of earrings, to several thousand dollars for a rare faux precious stone pin.

Do not expect most people to acknowledge your Joseff piece. They are very different, and people who like "traditional, pretty" jewelry will not gravitate towards them. However, people who respond to interesting and unusual pieces will immediately love Joseff pieces. They have a rich patina with a gutsy scale and exaggerated forms that reveal a very creative, sophisticated source: Eugene Joseff of Hollywood.

St. Andrews from the Cathedral