Heraldic jewelry enjoyed popularity several times during the 20th century, including the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. So when it comes to indentify a particular decade that a piece could have been introduced into a jewelry line can often be difficult from a visual perspective. Fortunately, our ability to research collections has improved over the years making it more possible to put the pieces of history together.
This beautiful bracelet was part of a “Legends in Silver Heraldic Jewelry” collection presented by Napier in the spring of 1949. The collection consisted of two distinct bracelet styles, one necklace, and two pins. The multi-chain bracelet with a decorative gauntlet clasp and barrier spring ring closure was complemented by an unusual pill box charm bracelet of a European Knight’s Helmet. The matching necklace to the gauntlet bracelet, measured 16” with a 4” drop suspended from the center gauntlet clasp.
The two pins of this collection consisted of a gauntlet pin that appears to have had a moveable knight’s mace; finding a pin with the mace still intact would be considered quite rare. The second pin was a heraldic shield, while the accompanying French clip earrings bore a heraldic design suspending a four-chain tassel.
Pieces from this collection ranged from $7.20 to $36.00, which included the 20% tax imposed on luxury items such as these.
The marking of the barrier spring ring with both the words “NAPIER and “STERLING” across the bar was not a common practice in the following years. The sterling clasps are usually marked “STERLING” with an adjacent jump ring marked “NAPIER.”
Mystery Surrounding The Mamie Eisenhower Bracelet Solved!
After nearly six decades, the mystery surrounding the Napier Mamie Eisenhower bracelet has finally been revealed. In December 1954, women’s editor Edyth Radom, of The Hartford Currant, wrote an exposé on The Napier Co. Featured in the article was Napier’s most famous bracelet, dubbed by collectors today as the “Mamie Eisenhower” bracelet. In the article, readers were told that only two bracelets existed; one bracelet worn by Mamie Eisenhower, and another kept secure under lock and key by The Napier Co. The caption under the detailed sterling bracelet read, “There will be no others.” This was a myth.
While doing research, Melinda L. Lewis, jewelry historian and author of The Napier Co.: Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewelry (Life By Design Publishing, 2012, www.thenapierbook.com), learned that in 1991, Barbara Bush also became a recipient of the famous bracelet. To find the true story about how many bracelets actually existed, Lewis engaged in over 10 years of research and spoke with over 50 ex-employees, from CEO’s to jewelry designers to plant managers.
“When we are dealing with limited-edition collectibles, we have to be sure the provenance is correct. I had to question the 1950s marketing of this piece.” said Melinda. “In the process, I not only resolved the mystery of the Mamie Eisenhower bracelet, I’ve uncovered lots of common misunderstandings about The Napier Co. and brought to light hundreds of previously unknown facts about the company’s product—especially the jewelry lines.”
It turns out that there were actually 25 bracelets made, which were not destroyed as the original story went. They were distributed … 8 of the 25 are now accounted for, with several lucky collectors yet to find the remaining 17.
Lewis tells the whole story about the bracelet in her 1,000 page book on The Napier Co., which covers the company history decade by decade from the years 1875-2000. With over 4000 images, this visual encyclopedia is the authoritative reference on Napier jewelry, including sixty pages devoted just to findings and trademark history to accurately circa-date the jewelry.
“Forget about what you used to think about Napier. It’s a hidden treasure in the collectibles market of vintage jewelry,” says Lewis. “If you go by name only and believe that Napier produced exclusively modest tailored pieces, you’re going to miss out an opportunity to purchase some phenomenal jewelry.”