Baubles for Bubbe

Now, when I talk about “real” Weiss being devalued, I’m not referring primarily to lower market value, although that’s certainly been a consequence of the rampant fakes and one my friends and I gnashed our teeth audibly over. For me, though, the real tragedy is the muddying of our sense of where Weiss fits into the American costume jewelry legacy. I love fingering (and wearing) my sparkly, rainbow-candy vintage brooches, earrings, etc., as much as the next half-crazed flea market/antique show/estate sale addict. But what’s hooked me on a deeper level is knowing that some of the brightest stars in the American costume jewelry firmament were Jewish. In fact, according to Tracy Tolkien in her terrific A Collector’s Guide to Costume Jewelry (not a price guide but an art book focusing on trends and influences), the industry’s growth during the Depression coincided with an influx of refugees from Nazism who happened to be fine jewelers, and whose overqualification for their new jobs contributed much to the aesthetic arms race between the jewelry factories. That may be a historical footnote to most collectors, but to me, it’s part of my American Jewish heritage, and something I feel a little ferocious about preserving.

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