Miriam Haskell (1899-1981)
Miriam Haskell is one of the 20th century’s most celebrated makers of hand-crafted costume jewelry.
Miriam Haskell was born in 1899 in Tell City, Indiana. Her parents, Jewish Russian immigrants, ran a dry-goods store in nearby New Albany where Haskell attended high school. After graduating high school, Haskell attended Chicago University for three years before moving to New York City in 1924 with little more than a dream and a $500 loan from her father.
In 1926, Haskell opened her first jewelry boutique in the McAlpin Hotel, selling her designs to the hotel’s wealthy patrons. This first business endeavor was a resounding success. Within a year, Haskell had opened a second outlet on West 57th Street and enlisted the talents of jewelry designer Frank Hess, who would be Haskell’s primary designer for decades to come.
Miriam Haskell’s jewelry designs, despite being constructed of non-precious materials, are unusually stunning and innovative - the unmistakable product of exceptional craftsmanship. Haskell and Hess employed only the finest costume quality materials imported from Europe.
This may be why Haskell and Hess thrived throughout the Great Depression of the 1930’s, even as other makers of affordable costume jewelry struggled to survive. Haskell’s jewelry caught the eye of the era’s rich and famous, appearing in publicity shots, movie posters and even on the silver screen. High-profile clients including Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Gloria Vanderbilt and even the Duchess of Windsor scrambled to acquire her newest designs.
There is no single style or design philosophy upon which to pin Haskell’s designs as her work continually evolved to suit the tastes of an ever-changing market. Rather than churning out costume reproductions of popular jewelry designs, Haskell sought to satisfy customer preference by anticipating and observing changes in public taste and adjusting her designs to match. As such, Haskell’s designs are often considered interpretive rather than derivative.
Haskell never produced printed catalogs or archives of her designs and rarely signed or marked her creations prior to 1950, making accurate identification of early Miriam Haskell pieces especially difficult. However, the market for correctly attributed works by Miriam Haskell is exceptionally strong compared to other costume jewelry designers. Vintage pieces command high prices and even advertisements and movie posters featuring her designs are highly collectible.