The Glitter and The Gold

“The Glitter and The Gold: Fashioning America’s Jewelry” is the title of a new exhibit that will examine the evolution of the jewelry industry in Newark, N.J., from 1850 to 1950. The exhibit will be featured in the Newark Museum from May 7 to Aug. 17.

The exhibit and its accompanying catalog will look specifically at the design, production and sociological significance of Newark’s jewelry. The exhibit includes more than 300 objects from more than 60 makers, most of which are no longer in the business or have undergone considerable change. These makers are well-known to today’s collectors, including such notables as Durand & Co., Alling & Co., Riker Bros., Krementz & Co., A.J. Hedges & Co., Unger Bros. and William B. Kerr Co.

Included will be rare archival material, ranging from drawings, cost books and trade catalogs to items used in production, such as dies and gallery samples.

In the time between the American Civil War and World War II, there was a dramatic rise in the middle class. Jewelry was an avenue for this new moneyed class to flaunt its riches and good taste, and craftsmen stepped in to fill the need.

The exhibit will be organized into five walk-through stages covering the different segments of this period. At the entrance, “Prologue” will cover 1850-1872, a time of tremendous growth in the American jewelry industry. And at the end, “Epilogue” will analyze 1930-1950, a time of change, merger and survival. In between will be three segments that comprise the main body of the exhibit: “Community and Process,” “Style and Fashion” and “Etiquette and Marketing.” These segments will highlight 1872 to 1930, when Newark jewelers produced 90% of America’s 14k gold and 50% of its 18k jewelry.

“Community and Process” will examine the craftspeople who made the jewelry, their working environment and the ways in which the jewelry was produced. In the 19th century, the industry was dominated by German immigrants. As a result, many of the designs bear relationships to jewelry that was produced in Pforzheim, still a jewelry center in Germany.

The great wave of immigration brought innovation to Newark. Ferdinand Herpers advanced the industry by patenting such important inventions as the pronged setting for gemstones. William Edge invented a process for making chains in a cheaper and simpler manner. John Obrig, who worked for A.J. Hedges & Co., perfected a technique for stamping gold with a design in two-color gold. George Krementz invented a machine to make the one-piece collar button.

“Style and Fashion” will follow the evolution of design from its early reliance on European styles to the 1930s, when U.S. jewelry became more independent and found its own distinctive style. Fashion in men’s and women’s dress has always dictated the form of jewelry that best enhances it. The exhibit will trace the resulting changes in jewelry forms over a century.

“Etiquette and Marketing” will examine 19th century rules governing the way people wore jewelry. For example, a man was supposed to wear certain accouterments in formal society. Likewise, children’s jewelry and the jewelry given to a young woman when she turned 16 were carefully spelled out. The section on marketing will cover the growth of a nationwide demand for Newark’s jewelry and the distribution to virtually every retail jewelry shop in the nation. Most Newark manufacturers maintained sales offices in New York City for visiting buyers and employed sales representatives who traveled the country with their suitcases of samples.

The Newark jewelry industry produced an array of gold, platinum and silver articles, from small handy pins to elaborate neck ornaments. “The Glitter and The Gold: Fashioning America’s Jewelry” will include examples of every type of jewelry made in Newark. Over 100 exhibited objects constitute the permanent collection of Newark jewelry the museum has assembled. They range from collar buttons to an Art Deco sapphire-and-diamond platinum dress clip, both by Krementz & Co. The remaining objects have been borrowed from private collections. The objects illustrating these pages represent a sampling of jewelry and accessories employing a variety of materials and techniques.

Catalog: Janet Zapata, a jewelry and silver historian and contributor to Heritage, is a cocurator of “The Glitter and The Gold: Fashioning America’s Jewelry.” Ulysses Grant Dietz, the other curator of the exhibit, is also curator of the Decorative Arts Department at the Newark Museum.

The exhibit catalog contains material never before published. Dietz wrote the introduction – “The Emergence of Newark’s Jewelry Industry” – and an essay titled “Producing What America Wanted: Jewelry from Newark’s Workshops.” Two other experts in the field contributed other essays: “An Intelligent, Respectable, Well-Dressed Body of Men: A History of Newark’s Jewelry Workers, 1801-1945” by Kevin J. Smead and “Jewelry: The Natural Gift” by Jenna Weissman Joselit. Zapata contributed 60 biographies of important jewelry makers in Newark.

The exhibit has received funding from many sources, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Krementz & Co., Tiffany & Co. and the New Jersey Committee on the Humanities. Fund-raising continues. Additional venues are planned for the exhibit.

The Newark Museum is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free. A secured parking lot adjoins the museum. For more information or inquiries regarding tours, call the museum at (201) 596-6550 or Ulysses Grant Dietz at (201) 596-6661.