I recently came across a beautiful pair of turquoise-colored vintage clip earrings which had been stamped W. GERMANY. They were the perfect size for repurposing into rings so they were quickly added to my collection of vintage costume jewelry.
It wasn’t the first time I have seen costume jewelry with that stamp on the back of it. I knew they were made in West Germany, but what else could I find out about that mysterious stamp? I needed to do some serious world history research to find out…
In 1871, the German Empire originated. It was called Germany through the end of World War II. In 1949, it was split into West and East Germany.
A barbed wire and concrete wall known as the Antifascistischer Schutzwall (Berlin wall) was built in 1961 between East and West Berlin to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and to prevent large defections from East to West.
In November of 1989, the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the German Democratic Republic were free to cross the border. Communism ended in 1990 and the Berlin wall was torn down. East and West Germany reunited, becoming known as Germany once again.
West Germans peer at East German border guards through a hole in the Berlin wall on January 5, 1990.
Rebuilding the Economy
Germany had been devastated from WWII, so West Germany set out to rebuild the economy through very rapid reconstruction. They experienced what is known as Wirtschaftswunder or “economic miracle” throughout the 1950s. From the late ’50s on, West Germany had one of the world’s strongest economies. The East German economy also showed some strong growth, but not as much as in West Germany.
A large contributor to the success of this huge economic upswing came from increased production and manufacturing of goods such as costume jewelry. However, the materials they used in making jewelry in West Germany had to be inexpensive due to its struggling economy.
They became known for their plastic bead sets, beaded tiered bib-style necklaces, and crystal beaded cluster earrings, brooches, and bracelets. They also produced striking jewelry made of glass, imitating precious gemstones.
Here is a 1950s brooch stamped W. GERMANY which I repurposed into a triple strand pearl bracelet:
Hand-painted porcelain and enamel pieces in floral settings were also popular and often constructed by women who were in need of jobs after the war. West Germany’s relations with the U.S. improved and costume jewelry, which grew to become a significant industry, was now a part of international trade.
During one of my vintage jewelry hunts, I found a beautiful bright blue rhinestone and pearl clip earring and brooch set stamped W. GERMANY which I had lots of fun repurposing!
I turned the clip earrings into adjustable rings and the brooch into a long pearl necklace with a suede tassel:
Knowing this bit of history makes it relatively easy to date costume jewelry with the West Germany marks to the time period between 1949 and 1990. Identifying stamps vary with the region. These marks include WEST GERMANY, MADE IN WEST GERMANY, W. GERMANY, MADE IN WESTERN GERMANY, and WESTERN GERMANY.
Here are a couple of examples from pieces I have purchased:
If you happen to find any costume jewelry simply marked GERMANY, it was either manufactured prior to World War II or after 1990. East German pieces were marked GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.
After all of my research, I have discovered there is a lot more to that stamp than I would have ever imagined. When I accessorize with my West Germany jewelry, I now know I am wearing a very special piece of history…kind of like owning a piece of the Berlin wall!
Berlin wall – photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0105-029 / Reiche, Hartmut / CC-BY-SA 3.0 German Federal Archive
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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