When I think back on some of the best gifts I have ever received, the one I opened just a few days ago for Christmas was definitely one of them. Inside a huge holiday bag was a fluffy, white monogrammed bathrobe sewn with my own personal initials, KMN, on the front:
Believe it or not, I have never owned anything monogrammed before in my entire life, so this was truly a very special gift.
Brothers, Michael and Jay Chernow, also saw the value people placed in personalized monograms which became a huge trend during the 1920s and ’30s. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the brothers began a company in 1927 called Monocraft. They targeted those who were interested in personalizing their cars with their initials.
Starting out with decals, they soon began making metal initials and patented a metal crest with interchangeable letters. Their business was a huge success.
And then the Great Depression hit in 1929. People could no longer afford new cars or to personalize their vehicles.
The Chernow brothers decided they needed to change the focus of their business to monogramming handbags in major department stores. Handbags could be personalized at the time of purchase with gold plated letters. Until Monocraft came along, they had to be sent off to be customized.
By the mid-1930s, Monocraft, with their superior quality and craftsmanship, was the standard for handbag monograms and they became quite successful once again.
In 1934, Michael and Jay were ready for yet another change, this time focusing on making affordable, quality costume jewelry. They hired designer Edmond Mario Granville whose background was in fine jewelry from Cartier. In 1937, their business was renamed, Monet. Granville remained Monet’s only designer until the late ’50s and was then the company’s executive designer until he died in 1969.
Monet incorporated initials into the jewelry, continuing to produce them until 1959. Monet also used large, multi-colored rhinestones that looked like precious gemstones such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Later, their collections focused solely on the design and color of the metal itself.
Monet had incredible success with their jewelry which led them to open their first factory in Providence, Rhode Island.
Monet’s magnetizing mark was first used on their jewelry in all capital letters in 1937. Other marks included MONET Jewelers, MONET STERLING, Monet, and Monet with a copyright symbol which was added after 1955:
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, metals such as brass and platinum suddenly became rationed. Monet’s factory was repurposed to produce items assisting with war efforts. Most of their jewelry production was replaced with making shell casings, ammunition, and seals for torpedoes.
The jewelry they did manufacture at that time was made using sterling silver. Pins and fur clips worn on hats, lapels, purses, and evening gowns were the most popular pieces made during the war. After the war was over in 1945, Monet turned the factory back to manufacturing jewelry once again.
During the 1950s, costume jewelry became quite fashionable among women of all classes in society. Hairstyles were now shorter, increasing the demand for earrings. Bigger necklaces became trendy as fashions changed to a lower neckline.
Monet’s designs for their clip earrings included geometric twists and circles like seen in these from the 1970s:
Monet used a heavy, chain-link design for their necklaces beginning in the 1940s:
By the 1960s, their jewelry became so popular that they were not able to meet the demand of consumers. This enabled them to be selective with who carried their jewelry, so they chose upscale department stores, many of who still carry their jewelry today. Their sales reached $8 million by the early ’60s.
Monet’s success was due, in part, to consistently producing high-quality jewelry. The metal was triple-plated to keep the finish looking new, even after years of wear.
After Jay Chernow died in 1966, Monet signed with General Mills in ’68. They became international by ’79 and by the early ’80s, sales grew to $110 million. The original Chernow family members were now gone and General Mills took over with their corporate management style.
During the early 1980s, Monet began manufacturing costume jewelry for Yves Saint Laurent in the U.S. YSL had high standards for their jewelry and believed Monet was the best-qualified company to manufacture their jewelry. Their great success for YSL led to Monet being asked to produce costume jewelry in the mid-’90s for Christian Lacroix as well.
In 1985, Monet changed hands again, becoming a part of Crystal Brands Apparel Group who also bought Trifari and Marvella. These three companies together went on to become one of the largest costume jewelry makers in the world.
However, in 1994, the Crystal Brands Apparel Group’s debt grew considerably until they finally had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. They renamed it Monet Group with an attempt to relaunch the brand. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in recapturing its past success, so two years later they went into bankruptcy once again.
Liz Claiborne bought the business in 2000, continuing to produce Monet’s “best sellers” and create pieces that were inspired from earlier decades that had the greatest success. JCPenney ended up buying the U.S. rights to the Monet brand from Liz Claiborne in 2011.
Today, collectors prize Monet jewelry for its quality spanning almost eight decades. If you happen to own a piece or two in your jewelry box, I’m sure you understand how one could so easily be magnetized toward the mark of Monet.
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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