As a jewelry designer, I often look for inspiration around me to design new pieces. Whenever we travel to different parts of the world, I search high and low for ways to be inspired, whether it is within the architecture of incredible structures or through the magnificence in nature such as a beautiful sunset or the spectacular colors of the sky or sea.
This is a necklace I designed called “Maui Sunset.” The colors in the amethyst pendant reminded me of those displayed across an evening sky in Maui that took my breath away. The pearl just above it resembles the sinking sun. I love to create based on my inspiration.
I recently learned about another who simply needed a little inspiration which led to making a big name for himself. This man was Mr. James H. Napier.
In the Beginning
The roots of The Napier Co. go very far back to the Bliss family. The founder, Egerton Ames Bliss, worked in the jewelry business from the very young age of 16. He learned the trade from his uncle Eliakim Rice.
It all began in 1875 in North Attleboro, Massachusetts under the name The E. A. Bliss Company. They started out manufacturing silver novelties including men’s watch chains, ornate belt buckles, match safes, and chatelaines. The company grew quickly during that first decade. In 1882, they relocated to Meriden, Connecticut, and operated from there for over a hundred years – until 1999.
After World War I, in 1920, James H. Napier became President of the company. It was quickly renamed The Napier-Bliss Co. which was changed yet again in 1922 to The Napier Co. The name “Napier” was not yet associated with costume jewelry.
In 1925, James H. Napier attended the World’s Fair Exposition in Paris, France. He came back with several design and business ideas, influenced by European fashion, which were later incorporated into their jewelry. Although he did not personally design the jewelry, he worked for the company as President until his death in 1960.
The Designing of Fashion Jewelry
Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, The Napier Co. designed necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and brooches in a wide variety of styles including Egyptian, Victorian Revival, and Art Deco. They used many different materials such as sterling silver and gold plated metalwork, beads, Swarovski crystals, rhinestones, enamel, and even plastics.
The designers they hired were creative artists, given the freedom to design any way they wished before presenting their ideas to the design team. This is why Napier had such a variety of different styles.
The meaning of Napier is “without equal.” The employees were always held to a very high standard to produce quality products.
Sterling silver jewelry was very popular during the 1940s because of the need for base metals for defense production during World War II. It was often plated with a gold vermeil finish. Napier focused mostly on producing war-related items during this time such as medallions and medals.
The fashion/costume jewelry market exploded during the 1950s. A wide range of bold, new styles were produced by Napier including modern, geometric, and floral designs. Button-style clip earrings, like these, were very trendy during this time:
Napier presented First Lady Mamie Eisenhower with a bracelet bearing an elephant design which she dearly loved and wore often. They also gave jewelry to the contestants of the 1955 Miss America Pageant. Napier received endorsements from Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day as well.
Napier’s brand continually kept up with the trends of jewelry fashion and could be found in many fine department stores including Bergdorf Goodman and Gump’s. Regardless of where it was sold, it was affordably priced. By 1994, they were the largest privately-owned manufacturer of fashion jewelry in the United States.
The company was purchased by Victoria & Company in 1999. That same year, the plant was closed in Meriden, Connecticut. Jones New York bought the Napier name in 2000. They continue to produce jewelry under the brand as part of the Jones Apparel Group.
Beginning in 1922, pieces were stamped NAPIER in block letters. Prior to 1955, the U.S. copyright law did not protect jewelry designs, so major manufacturers employing talented jewelry designers protected their investment with patents.
After a design was completed, they applied for a patent. The process usually took several months, so during that time of waiting the jewelry would be stamped PAT. PEND. advising others that a patent application for that design had been filed:
After 1955, the copyright symbol was added. Its script form Napier was then introduced and used until the plant closed in 1999.
If you are in need of a little inspiration to start something big or small, sometimes all it takes is simply opening your eyes to your surroundings and then letting the creativity flow!
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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