The Craftsmanship of Coro | March 31st, 2015

When I first began frequenting antique shows in 2009, the most common stamp I would see on the back of a pin or pair of clip earrings was the name Coro.

I usually look for names that are rare and hard to find, so whenever I would see Coro, I would put it right back on the table where I found it and keep on hunting.

I recently purchased a beautiful 1930s Art Deco Duette, a set of dress clips that lock together to be worn as one large pin or as two dress clips. Art Deco happens to be one of my most favorite styles of jewelry with its geometric shapes and lines, so it was a “must-have.”

When I took another look at this stunning Duette, I discovered it had been patented and made by Coro! From then on, I decided I had better start looking twice at pieces marked with that name.

I now wanted to find out all I could about this company who made my beautiful Duette. Perhaps there was another story to Coro besides the only one I had heard which was about how they were mass-produced.

My curiosity was heightened even more when I learned they had achieved the reputation of being one of the largest and most successful costume jewelry manufacturers in the world!

Coro, Inc.

In 1901, Emanuel Cohn and Carl Rosenberger partnered to establish a costume jewelry company. Cohn died in 1910, but the name remained Cohn & Rosenberger. In 1943, the name was changed to Coro, Inc., using the first two letters of each of their last names to form the name Coro.

It began as a small boutique, selling costume jewelry and a few personal accessories on Broadway in New York City. Cohn and Rosenberger were not jewelry designers, but they employed some of the best to design for them which contributed greatly toward their success.

Designers and Duettes

In 1924, Adolph Katz was hired as their design director. He selected the designs for Coro to manufacture from a portfolio of drawings sold by a variety of artists. He also filed most of the Coro patents for mechanisms invented by their employees that were used in Coro’s jewelry designs. Katz’ vision in creating Coro’s look for the jewelry buying public helped to give them phenomenal success.

Coro was also successful due to employing several talented designers over the years such as Francois, Robert Geissman, Oscar Placco, and Gene Verecchio (“Verri”) who, at age 22, became Coro’s chief designer.

Among Verri’s most famous creations are the Coro Duette designs of the 1930s and ’40s. Many of the first designs created were Art Deco style with pavé-set clear rhinestones.

In 1931, Coro patented the Duette and its interlocking mechanism based on one that was designed by Cartier in 1927.  It had two openings in it for each dress clip so they could be attached to the frame and worn as a set, or detached and worn individually:

Verri found it quite a challenge to create drawings and molds for the Duettes because they had to be three-dimensional.

Coro had even more success when they began making figural Duettes featuring flowers, cherubs, birds, and other animals. Coro sold the most Duettes up until 1946. They retailed for 5 to 9 dollars, the average weekly salary at the time.

No other jewelry company could manufacture a Duette since Coro had the patent on it. If they dared, Coro would sue…and they always won.

I repurposed one of the Duettes into a sweet necklace…

Verri created another Duette called the Quivering Camellia pin (highly collectible today) which became famous for its unusual delicate trembler flowers that moved as they were mounted on springs.

After 31 years with Coro, Verri left to work full-time with his identical twin and talented designer, Alfeo, at his company called Gem Craft. He created jewelry for major designers such as Oscar de La Renta and Kenneth Jay Lane. Verri continued to work at Gem Craft, crafting one-of-a-kind pieces for his friends and family, until he died at 101 years old!

The Duettes finally started diminishing in their popularity by the early ‘50s once new, lighter fabrics became fashionable after World War II and they became impractical to wear. Although the Duettes changed along with the fashion trends, they did not continue to sell like they once had.

Branding Success

Despite the onset of the Depression, Coro opened a factory in 1929 to manufacture their jewelry in Providence, Rhode Island. This city had been one of the main hubs for jewelry production in the U.S. since the 18th century.

Coro was on the cutting edge, using production line technology. At the peak of its operation after World War II, they had over 3,500 employees. The Coro brand was very well-made and reasonably priced. In fact, much of their jewelry could be found in five and dime stores! No matter where it was sold, it always reflected the latest fashions.

Here is a pair of high quality crafted Coro clip earrings made of enamel, faux pearls, and rhinestones from the 1950s:

With a concentration on sales and continued company growth, they hired a dynamic sales director named Royal Marcher. In 1933, he took their products overseas and opened an additional factory in England, establishing the Corocraft brand.

Corocraft was a notch higher than the Coro name in quality, price, and prestige. For example, Coro pieces used metal, but Corocraft designs were often made of sterling silver or were plated in gold.

Coro continued to grow rapidly with several retail stores, showrooms, and factories opening throughout the U.S. and another factory in Canada. It was not long before they became the world’s largest costume jewelry manufacturer.

In 1944, Coro introduced another high-quality line called Vendôme which ultimately replaced Corocraft. Coro had become associated with being a mass-produced line of costume jewelry. Vendôme gave them a new line to market toward a higher income bracket. Vendôme was sold to better specialty stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue where Coro could not be sold.

Coro, Inc. is Sold

In 1970, Coro was purchased by investors from Kidde, Inc. and was renamed as Richton International Corporation. They continued to produce costume jewelry, but the company was heavily invested in stampings, castings, and rhinestones and were not ready for change.

Simple gold tone jewelry without stones, suitable for every day and business wear, became fashionable during the 1970s. Jewelry giants, such as Monet and Napier, took over. Unfortunately, Coro lost its market dominance. Although they continued to produce jewelry in Canada through the mid-1990s, they quit operations in the U.S. in 1979 after 78 years in business.

I still may not be buying any of the five-and-dime Coro pieces, but I will definitely be on the lookout for those collectible jewels Coro crafted in the earlier years that will certainly hold their value for many decades to come.

Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.

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