Saturday, August 15, 2009


The sound of falling water greets us as we take in the sight of Chicago Botanic Garden's Waterfall Garden.

This is a beautiful spot with weeping conifers and hanging plants. We observe the sparkling water cascade along a hillside into smaller pools. Chicago is also the hometown of featured jewelry designer Eugene Joseff.

The movies made during Hollywood's Golden Age were loaded with broad slapstick, high drama, intrigue, romance, and above all glamour. We're talking flawless hair, makeup, couture, and jewelry.

Ove the years, I have watched a number of classic films wondering who designed the incredible, distinctive jewelry. At the time, I was not inclined to find out that is until I started this blog. Amazingly, after months of searches I found the answer so it is thrilling to share Joseff's story.

As a young adult, Joseff apprenticed for several years in a foundry doing metalwork, but his curiosity and intelligence led him to explore various interests and he later pursued a career in advertising.

In the late 1920s, just at the start of the Depression, he left Chicago for Hollywood, California to try his hand at his newfound profession. Fate stepped in, however, as he deftly maneuvered his way through Hollywood entertainment circles eventually meeting costume designer, Walter Plunkett.

After seeing a period film set in the 1500s, Joseff noticed the jewelry was historically inaccurate--20th century pieces were used--and he informed Plunkett of the discrepancy. Plunkett in turn challenged Joseff to offer a solution, which he did.

Drawing from his fertile imagination, metalworking experience, and illustrations from rare jewelry books he owned, Joseff created majestic, ornate pieces specific to each film. He developed what is known as Russian Gold-Plating for his pieces, which has a matte, coppery finish.

The plating was a huge innovation that prevented glare from bright, studio lights while possessing the appearance of actual gold on film. Joseff's eclectic range of pieces was used in Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Wizard of Oz, Cleopatra and Gone with the Wind, among countless others. His creations became so popular among the luminous starlets who wore them, they asked him to create pieces for their personal jewelry collections.

Flexing his business acumen, Joseff rented his jewelry to studios as opposed to selling them, which allowed him to retain ownership. In 1938, he enlisted the managerial assistance of Joan Castle, from Sawyer Business School, who helped run his company, Joseff of Hollywood.

The two began a relationship that resulted in marriage four years later. Recognizing the impact of his jewelry on women watching the likes of Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Bette Davis, the progressive designer sold the jewelry to the public through Neiman Marcus, and Marshall Field's.

Tragically, Joseff would not see the continued success of the company. A licensed pilot, he died in a plane crash in 1948. His wife, Joan, continued running the company extending the use of his one-of-a-kind jewelry to iconic television series including Dynasty and Knots Landing, as well as feature films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Joseff's daughter-in-law, Tina Joseff, works as a manager at the company and warns that online antique jewelry sellers who declare they have original items are more than likely fake pieces.

According to Ms. Joseff there is only one active distributor of Joseff of Hollywood, Carol Levy with whom she works closely. Levy--who as far as I can tell does not have a website--can be contacted for info on the jewelry at

Joseff's pieces are extremely rare, as he did not create duplicates. Once an item was used in a film, it was returned to him and accordingly these items are very expensive. An astounding three million original pieces, ranging from brooch pins to tiaras, are located in labeled boxes stored in an undisclosed warehouse.

Authentic pieces are marked with either one of two identifying stamps: the name Joseff written in script on a round frame, or Joseff Hollywood in block, uppercase letters on a rectangular frame.

In any event, fake or not the photos included in this post are from an online antique jewelry seller. Whether the seller received the items from someone who bought an original piece and then sold it to this seller remains to be seen; however photos were included on the website showing the jewelry's identifying stamps.

From what I have read, replicated stamps can be soldered on to a fake piece so that it appears to be an orignal. I wanted to include these photos to give you an idea of the type of grand artistry for which Joseff was renowned.
Photo 1 (top right): Princess Face Necklace and Earring Set with Blue Cabochons
Photo 2 (bottom right): Green and Red Lily Brooch Pin with Rose and Green Cabochons
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