Last weekend, I hopped in the car and sped off to one of my favorite antique shows that I look forward to attending twice a year here in Dallas. Antique dealers from all over the country come to set up their extraordinary vintage jewelry and clothing collections dating from the mid-1800s to around the mid-1900s. It’s always so much fun to look at and try on beautiful things worn so many years ago that have remained in mint condition.
The highlight of the show for me was a booth that I stopped to check out with a huge display of jewelry from Joseff of Hollywood. He had made stunning jewelry back in the 1930s through the ’60s for actresses in Hollywood to wear on-screen.
Joseff’s family had loaned several of the pieces to be displayed during this particular antique show which was a huge thrill for me. It was exciting to see and touch the delicate pearl chandelier earrings worn by Grace Kelly along with many other beautiful pieces that had been worn by well-known actresses of that era. There had been a high demand for this glamorous look, so Joseff copied many of those exact pieces and sold them to the public in retail stores.
From Costumes to Jewelry
I recently discovered there was another company similar to Joseff of Hollywood who also made jewelry for movie stars. Perhaps you have heard of it. The name is Hobé.
The Hobé Company was founded in 1887 in Paris, France by Jacques Hobé. He was known as a master goldsmith and producer of fine jewelry throughout Europe. He was so talented that he became the royal jeweler to the court of France. He taught the trade to his son William.
While in France, William had been a sales rep for a German company selling theatrical costumes. After immigrating to the U.S. in the 1920s, he continued to sell these costumes. Florenz Ziegfeld became a customer, buying costumes from him for the Ziegfeld Follies, a series of elaborate theatrical productions in New York City on Broadway beginning in 1907 and continuing through 1931.
Fanny Brice, Ziegfeld Follies publicity photo, the 1910s or early 1920s
He commissioned William to create inexpensive but authentic-looking, dramatic stage jewelry to complement the showgirls’ costumes. According to some historians, Florenz Ziegfeld described the jewelry that accompanied Hobé’s costumes as “costume jewelry,” leading to the belief that Hobé played a part in the term we use today.
Huge Success for Hobé
Creating for Ziegfeld was the beginning of Hobé’s success and is most likely what led to him working with the entertainment industry.
In 1927, William opened a factory in New York and started the company, Hobé Cie Ltd. NY, and began producing costume jewelry. It was not long before William himself became a star in the theatrical and film world as orders increased for actresses to wear his jewelry in the movies. This, of course, also gave Hobé a huge boost in retail sales.
Movies with a need for historical costumes such as Gone with the Wind were popular in the 1930s and ’40s. Along with it was the need for costume jewelry with a traditional antique look which William was able to create. He became quite well-known, not only for his knowledge of period dress but also for his ability to recreate it.
Hobé jewelry is said to have been the jewelry of choice in Hollywood, favored by both producers and movie stars because of its look of elegance and royalty. William designed for movie stars’ personal collections as well.
By the 1940s, Hobé jewelry was advertised as “Jewels of Legendary Splendor.” During the Golden Age of the 1950s, it was being modeled by some of the greatest Hollywood movie stars including Bette Davis and Ava Gardner.
Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa in 1954
Hobé also produced high-quality, high-priced jewelry with unique designs for exclusive stores. It was advertised that their jewelry was handmade using semi-precious stones such as lapis, garnet, and amethyst. They were often plated with sterling silver, platinum, and gold. Their labor-intensive woven meshes or twisted wire filigrees were all hand-finished.
Hobé 1950s woven mesh milk glass clip earrings
William registered over 100 patents for jewelry designs, some of which were created personally by hand. Hobé jewelry was all marked and was signed in a variety of ways which now helps collectors to be able to tell what time period the pieces were created.
Very rare Hobé marks include the word Hobé under a pair of crossed swords or inside a crown, possibly dating the jewelry back to when it was first manufactured in France. The name Hobé was typically stamped in an Art Deco style script with an elongated H or B or in block letters which was first used in 1926. A copyright symbol in a triangle was later used in 1958.
Hobé’s pieces went very well with the “cocktail style” of the 1940s and ’50s. Cocktail parties were a popular form of entertaining at home during that time. Women dressed up and needed plenty of sparkle to accessorize their outfits!
Here is a 1960s Hobé clip earring with sparkle that I repurposed into an adjustable ring:
A Family Business
During the 1960s, William’s sons Donald and Robert took over the company until the 1980s. After that, a grandson named James ran the company and then sold it in the ’90s. Although the mark is still in use, the original company founded by the Hobé family is no longer operating.
Most of the pieces produced by Hobé Cie were designed by the family from the 1930s through the ’70s. Those produced between 1935 and 1955 are highly collectible. It has been said that Hobé jewelry is unrivaled in quality and has been considered one of the very best costume jewelry manufacturers in America.
Although I have never been on the silver screen and most likely never will be, I can always feel like a star when I put on my dramatic Hobé jewels of legendary splendor!
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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