What do you think of when you hear the name Monet in reference to jewelry? As a fan of vintage accessories, for the longest time I thought most of the company’s jewelry was, in a word, boring. That changed when I discovered pieces from the late 1960s and early ’70s at an estate sale a couple of decades ago. Then, about eight years ago, I ran across a necklace that thoroughly perplexed me.
The piece in question looked like a Victorian revival festoon necklace dating the 1960s. But as I examined it closer, I noted really fine enameling that looked much older, as did the filigree elements on the necklace centerpiece. It also held very nice colored machine-cut rhinestones that had held up beautifully over time. The mark was “Monet Jewelers” on a small metal hang tag with the word “Jewelers” written in script.
As I went down the glorious rabbit hole that equates to vintage research, I discovered Monet’s early history and the lovely jewelry pieces made many decades ago under this brand. Read on to learn more about the first jewelry related to the company that grew into Monet.
Starting Out as Monocraft
Brothers Michael and Joseff Chernow founded Monocraft Products Co. in 1927. In addition to their business offices in New York, the company operated a factory in Providence, Rhode Island. They started out making metal monograms for purses. Some of those could be cleverly customized, and that concept was expanded by adding similar jewelry to their lines during the 1930s.
Monocraft’s ads during this period urged shoppers to “make it personal.” One line of identification bracelets had linked letters spelling out the owner’s the first name for women and key chains for men. Other styles of monogram jewelry incorporated swappable letters so each piece could be customized. Popular lines called “Dangles” and “Click-Its” featured initial charm bracelets, necklaces, pins, and fobs.
“Dangles” charms, according to author Alice Vega in her book, Monet: The Master Jewelers, were made in a variety of shapes including letters. These dangled from traditional charm bracelets as well as pins. The pin styles included scimitars, seahorses, hands with painted nails, and several styles of bows among others. Charms sold for about a quarter apiece while a bracelet with three charms went for close to $1. This sounds affordable, but keep in mind that even inexpensive jewelry was a luxury for many thrifty shoppers during the Great Depression.
The “Click-Its” line also offered customization easily and affordably with letters that actually did click right into a premade frame. The frame shapes ranged from fairly plain to Art Deco styles on trend for the period. Some sported fancier Victorian revival influences. The styles of the individual letters varied as well offering another way to further customize the jewelry. These pieces, along with the Dangles line and others made during this era, were marked Monocraft in block letters.
One of the issues Monocraft collectors deal with is condition. If these pieces were stored away from other jewelry to prevent scratching, they can still look pretty good. That’s not always the case though, so many turn up in the secondary marketplace looking worse for wear.
The company also made Shirley Temple and Dionne Quintuplets jewelry in 1936. The manufacturing was rushed to meet deadlines, however, and the result was inferior workmanship in comparison to other Monocraft-branded jewelry. Needless to say, these novelty pieces were short-lived.
Monet Jewelers Launch
Monocraft expanded its market reach in 1937 by launching Monet Jewelers as a subsidiary. The new business ran its first full-page advertisement in the October 1937 edition of Vogue, showing jewelry with “the famous Monocraft finish and expert workmanship.” Prices in that initial ad ranged from $5 to $100. To put those prices in perspective, that’s the equivalent of about $20 to $1,800 today.
The jewelry shown in those ads, and moving forward, was far different than earlier Monocraft products. While some pieces have a timeless appeal and others carried over Art Deco and Victorian revival characteristics, Monet Jewelers was clearly targeting the fashionable woman of the day. Global influences were part of the early Monet collections as seen in the “Hindu Bells” and “Etruscan” lines as well as their Egyptian revival designs.
Marks are the key to differentiating the early Monet pieces from newer ones. Look for the aforementioned “Monet Jewelers” metal hang tags on necklaces and bracelets made from 1937 until the mid-1940s. Brooch styles, including dress clips, are a bit more difficult since they are just marked “Monét” in a serif typeface. The trick is looking for the accent over the “e,” since later jewelry made under this brand is marked “MONET.” None of the older pieces are super easy to find these days but can be well worth the effort to hunt down.
While much of the Monet jewelry made during the period was centered on metals in both silver- and gold-colored versions, pieces were made with enameling and rhinestones in very limited quantities through the mid-1940s. As with Monocraft jewelry, the condition of all these pieces largely depends on how they were stored. Higher prices should be reserved only for those in excellent condition.
Learning More About Monet
Plan on learning more about Monet jewelry in future columns since the company also made some interesting designs and did some beautifully creative advertising in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the 1980s jewelry by Monet, along with their collaborations with couture houses, is worth a closer look as well.
In the meantime, if you’re wanting to delve into Monet more deeply, I’d recommend getting your own copy of Monet: The Master Jewelers by Alice Vega. The book covers the complete timeline of the business with interesting insights like company documents and vintage advertising reprints. While not a comprehensive encyclopedia of the company’s styles by any means, it can still be helpful for pinpointing exactly when many pieces of Monet jewelry were produced.