I scored my vintage Trifari necklace through an online dig. This piece is a shoestring necktie (also known as a bolo tie). A bolo tie is a type of necktie of a cord (or in this case, a gold chain) with decorative tips secured with an ornamental slide or clasp. The slide and tips on my necklace are made of gold tone and black hardware. I place the slide down low where a long chain would end and let the ends hang loose.
Bolo tie slides and tips in silver have been part of Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and Puebloan silversmithing traditions since the mid-20th century. In the United States, bolo ties are widely associated with Western wear and are most common in the western areas of the country. Along with other 1950s fashions, bolo ties were revived as part of the Rockabilly look in the 1980s. (Read more about the bolo tie.)
TRIFARI is one of the most respected costume jewelry makers in the United States and is credited with making costume jewelry fashionable and popular. Trifari was founded in the 1910s by Gustaf Trifari, Italian immigrant son of a Napoli goldsmith, and his uncle. They began the company as Trifari and Trifari. G. Trifari soon left to start his accessories business, called Trifari.
In 1917, Leo Krussman became a part owner, and the Trifari was renamed Trifari and Krussman. Their jewelry was marked "TK" in a circle, with the T larger. In 1925, Carl Fishel joined the two partners, and the company was named Trifari, Krussman and Fishel. Their jewelry at that time was marked "TKF", with the "T" larger, to indicate the senior partner. From 1937, either "Trifari" was used as part of the signature or the T topped by a crown.
The 1940's pieces are among the most collectible, especially those designed by Alfred Philippe, Trifari's French chief designer from 1930 until 1968. Philippe worked for such premier companies as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. He developed invisible settings for stones adding a level of craftsmanship and technique not previously seen in costume jewelry.
Among Philippe’s contributions are the Trifari Crown pins from the late 1930s to the 1950s. The crowns were so popular that Trifari incorporated a crown into its mark in about 1937. Other collectible Trifari vintage costume jewelry categories include crown pins, floral pins (1930s), jelly belly pins (1940s), fruit & vegetable pieces (1950s-60s), patriotic pins (1940s).
Other Trifari designers were:
1930's and 1940's - Alfred Spaney, David Mir, Norman Bel Geddes, and Joseph Wuyts
1950's and 1960's - Benedetto Panetta, Jean Paris, and Andre Boeut
1970's - Andre Boeut, Diane Love and Jonathan Bailey
1980's and 1990's - Marcella Saltz
In 1953, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower adorned her pink satin gown (studded with 2,000 rhinestones) with Alfred Philippe's "orientique" pearl choker with matching three-stranded bracelet and earrings, each laden with eight pearls. Philippe made three sets: one for the First Lady, a second for the Smithsonian, and a third for the Trifari archives.
Hallmark purchased Trifari in 1975 until 1988. Crystal Brands owned Trifari from 1988 to 1994. The Monet Group bought it in 1994 until 2000. During this time, Monet made high quality signed pieces and sets in limited editions for QVC shopping sales. When the Monet Group went bankrupt in 2000, Liz Claiborne bought Trifari and still owns it today. However, it's no longer the Trifari quality or design that is considered highly desirable or collectible. All production moved overseas, and lesser quality jewelry is produced.
Trifari marks and signatures help to determine the age of pieces, as well as identify pieces from specific collections.
Authentic Trifari jewelry is typically marked with "Jewels by Trifari," "TKF" (for Trifari, Krussman & Fishel), or "Trifari," depending on when the piece was made.
Trifari signed virtually all of their pieces and ran marketing campaigns indicating that an unsigned piece was not Trifari. Trifari patented most of their designs until the copyright law was modified in 1955 to allow jewelry designs to be copyrighted.
Trifari used a Crown Symbol over the "T" as a type of logo. It appeared on boxes, tags, and cards and was stamped onto most of the pieces produced from the 1940's through the 1960's. Usually, all pieces of a set included the crown, with the exception of necklaces with hook clasps - often there was only room for the name "Trifari" on the hook. When sellers identify a "Crown Trifari", it means the piece was stamped with this symbol.
Trifari PAT. PEND. is one of the earliest Trifari marks (previous signatures are quite rare). Prior to 1955, the U.S. copyright law did not extend protection to jewelry designs, so the major manufacturers, who employed talented jewelry designers, protected their investment with U.S. patents. As soon as a design was completed, it was submitted to the U.S. patent office, and a patent was applied for. This process took a few months, so the jewelry would be stamped PAT. PEND. to advise that a patent application for the design was filed. Many of these signatures also included the Trifari Crown symbol over the "T."
Trifari started using the copyright symbol in its signature. Pieces of that era will have both the Crown and Copyright symbols in the marking, which was used in the late 1950's to late 1960's. Many of the most highly sought after vintage Trifari pieces have this signature. They are called "CROWN TRIFARI" by dealers and collectors.
Note that the lack of a copyright symbol on a piece does not guarantee that was produced prior to1955. At the time of the copyright law change Trifari had a number of necklace, bracelet, and earring clasps that it continued to use for several years until the stock of these ran out. As a general rule, however, at least one piece of a set would include the copyright symbol.
Trifari necklaces during the 1950's and 1960's used hook clasps, and because these were narrow, they do not include the crown symbol. Usually, the bracelet and earrings of a set would have the crown symbol, but the necklace hook would not. Trifari used metal hang tags on many (but not all) of these necklaces.
In the 1970's and 1980's Trifari changed their signature by removing the crown symbol and switching to a slanted text. The copyright symbol was retained to protect the designs.
Trifari, like many other jewelry manufacturers, would continue to use its stock of clasps after signatures were changed, so it's not uncommon to see pieces with mixed signatures. For example, in the 1970's and 1980's Trifari made quite a few earring designs that were available as both clips and as posts for pierced ears. Clip earrings made during that period may be stamped on the back with the 1970's-1980's Trifari Copyright signature, like the post versions were. However, the clips might have the Crown Trifari signature since Trifari would continue to use the older clasps until they were used up.
Trifari would also use up the old necklace and bracelet clasps, so was not uncommon to see the Crown Trifari signature on the clasp, while the piece itself was stamped with the later Trifari Copyright.
In the 1990's Trifari offered many high-quality pieces for sale on QVC. Many of these used original Trifari designs from the 1940's and 1950's. Technically, vintage items are those that are 25 years old or older, but many collectors include Trifari TM pieces because they are the last of the signed Trifari pieces, with high quality and stunning designs. Pieces of this era were signed "TRIFARI" followed by the trademark symbol. Some were dated, and some were dated and also Limited Editions. The Limited Editions were packaged with a card indicating how many copies of the piece were made (usually 350 or 500). It's rare to find one with its original box and card.
After the Trifari company was bought out by Liz Claiborne in 2000 (along with Monet and Napier), jewelry was produced with Trifari cards, but not signed. These newer pieces are not vintage.
The more recent Trifari pieces are produced overseas with a new version of the Trifari hang tag. The hangtag is a large thick ring with a crown inside the ring and "TRIFARI" stamped at the bottom of the ring. Trifari never produced such a hang tag when manufacturing pieces here in the U.S.
As a collector, pictures of the back of a piece are essential. They show the signature as well as the construction. The construction helps to determine the quality and age of the jewelry.
How would you style a bolo-tie necklace? Post in the comments below and check out my style tips from the Lotta à la Mode style series.
For further detailed information and photos, see the following websites:
Deluxe Redux® is a vintage fashion blog based in Chicago celebrating fashion history. I feature designers, vintage boutiques and fashion historians..