Trifari Costume Jewellery

Trifari is one of America’s best-known and prestigious manufacturers of costume jewellery. Madonna wore it in the 1990s movie ‘Evita’. The company was founded by Italian goldsmith Gustavo Trifari in the early 1900s, when he arrived in New York from Naples.

The young Italian worked with his uncle in New York to form Trifari in 1910. After just two years Gustavo decided to go it alone and so the Trifari name was born. Sales Manager Leo Krussman joined in 1917 and his influence brought great commercial success to the company. The company went from strength to strength once salesman Carl Fishel joined Trifari in 1923. Two year later the company name was changed to Trifari, Krussman and Fishel.

In the 1930s Alfred Philippe became their head designer and the distinctively classic look of Trifari jewellery was born.  Philippe didn’t retire until 1968 and he not only produced a wide range of beautiful and commercially successful designs, but he also introduced sophisticated jewellery-making techniques, such as invisible setting – previously only used for top-range precious jewellery.

During the 1930s Trifari designed exclusive pieces for Broadway musicals and Hollywood stars, whilst Mamie Eisenhower wore a set of their pearls for her husband’s Presidential inauguration balls in 1953 and 1957.  This enhanced the reputation of Trifari as one of the finest costume jewellers.

During the 1930s Philippe used Austrian crystals.  By the 1940s, use of white metals was prohibited due to the War, but Trifari continued to excel in its production of beautiful jewellery – using heavy sterling silver, often with a lavish gold plated finish.  Post-war materials included Lucite (heavy clear plastic), moulded or pressed glass, milky coloured pastes that resemble moonstones, faux pearls and Trifarium, which is a gold-finish alloy.

Some of their most collectable brooches are known as Jelly Bellies, their Lucite centres resembling the popular sweets and the heavy plastic having a wobbly look, despite being solid.  A 1940s Jelly Bely poodle brooch, gold plated with Lucite belly and red rhinestones could fetch around £500-£600 at auction.  You need to be aware, however, as there are many fakes and they can be spotted by cloudy and distorted centres.  The figural brooches come shaped as birds, fish and animals and are rare, which makes them very desirable.

The crown brooches designed by Alfred Philippe, using coloured cabouchons, are highly collectable.  From 1937 onward, TRIFARI with a crown over the T was used as the Trifari mark, with a copyright symbol being added in 1955.  This shows how much of an impact the Crown Pin range of designs had commercially – the public at the time were fascinated with the lifestyles of European royalty.  You need to take care not to mistake the original 1940s Crown Pins with those re-launched in the 1980s – the latter are worth a lot less and are made of inferior materials.

Other designs which have proved popular include the patriotic pieces, such as the Eagle pins and American flag.  But it is the flower and foliage brooches that have been consistently popular over the years.

 Some Trifari jewellery does command prices in the hunderes and thousands of pounds, but that is for ther rarer and highly sought after pieces.  There are plenty of opportunities for collectors on a smaller budget, especially some of the attractive items from the 1960s and 1970s.

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