Miriam Haskell

Birthplace: Tell City, Indiana

For connoiseurs of costume jewelry, Miriam Haskell's pieces are among the most coveted. Made of the finest faux pearls, brass filagree, and handmade glass beads, her designs were beautifully intricate and perfectly executed.

Haskell began her career in the early 1920s as the manager of a stylish boutique in New York's McAlpin Hotel. Reportedly inspired by Chanel's innovative imitations, as well as her exposure to the chic items sold in the hotel shop, she founded her own company in the mid-1920s, creating original pieces that were an immediate success. She acquired a huge and fash ionable following, including celebrities such as the great Flo Ziegfeld, for whom she designed spectacular "jewels." By the 1930s, Haskell became so well known that she was able to open a shop on Fifth Avenue and establish the Miriam Haskell Company to wholesale her designs which were renowned for their uncompromising beauty.

Haskell was well known for her versatile pieces, among which is a convertible necklace that can be worn as a lariat with floral endings, a long rope with a double floral clasp, or a short multilayered necklace with two separate floral pins; her imaginative color choices which included combinations of tan, mustard, and orange or black, turquoise, and coral; and her natural themes, ranging from shells to butterflies to birds.

As did many American costume jewelers, Haskell opened her factory in Providence, Rhode Island, which remains a center for U.S. costume jewelry production to this day. It was in Providence that she worked to create the unique "antique Russian gold" finish that characterized most of her jewelry. Haskell is said to have worked with the same French companies Chanel used, such as Gripoix and Rousselet, to create the special stones that made her pieces so handsome.

When Miriam Haskell retired in the early 1950s, she turned the company over to her brother, Joseph. Since then, it has changed hands several times, most recently in 1990, when Frank Fialkoff became the new owner, dedicating himself to maintaining the Haskell reputation for excellence in design. Still made by hand, quality costume jewelry bearing the Haskell name appears in retail stores throughout the country. However, there is no doubt among collectors that the truly elegant and classic pieces are the ones originally developed by the talented perfectionist herself. See also: Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel.

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