Eugene Joseff aka Joseff of Hollywood
Eugene Joseff aka Joseff of Hollywood (1905 – 1948) Born in Chicago in 1905, Eugene Joseff was known as the ‘Jeweler for the Silver Screen.’ His first job in Chicago was in advertising. Simultaneously, he was an apprentice at an art foundry. It was there that he learned how to forge statuettes and other decorative items out of bronze.
He moved to Hollywood in 1928 where he made his home on Sunset Boulevard and began experimenting in his garage with processes for making costume jewelry. With his brother Jimmy Glaser, he founded Sunset Jewelry Manufacturing. After a couple years Jimmy left the company and Eugene began to look for jewelry craftsmen he could work with while continuing to tinker on his own.
At the time, industry publications like the “Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety” included articles on proposed film productions. Eugene would call the studios and offer to provide jewelry for specific films. He would ask for a script or sketches under consideration.
Until Joseff came along, jewelry was not an especially integral part of costume design. Costume designers would go to a department store and just buy jewelry they thought appropriate. In some cases, they interpolated jewelry that belonged to the star of the movies and would often accessorize her own costumes.
At first, Joseff worked on a limited budget making pieces to order. This inspired him to start renting his jewelry to the studios because he could make more money doing that rather than by selling it. This was, perhaps, Hollywood’s first gambit with product placement.
In the ’30s and ’40s, Joseff supplied over 90 percent of jewelry used in movies. “Antiques Roadshow” appraiser, Rosalie Sayyah, has said that Joseff, who employed between 35 and 70 crafts people during his company’s peak years, made an impact on Hollywood and fashion that cannot be underestimated.
“Hands down, Eugene Joseff revolutionized the way jewelry was used in movies,” Sayyah says. “He was also a marketing genius and a perfectionist. He manufactured his own jewelry because manufacturers told him, ‘[We] can’t make this look as good as you want it to be,’ so he did his own thing.”
Not only did he set high standards for himself, Joseff was thrifty and resourceful, says Sayyah. “He would make a piece for one movie and then it might be disassembled and reassembled in another way for another movie. He was very organized, so he could either re-create something using parts he already had, or … would build the piece from the ground up.”
Eugene designed and created jewelry that appeared in thousands of films. He founded Joseff of Hollywood, Inc. in 1935 and produced fabulous jewelry originals. Because he chose to rent rather than sell his creations, it allowed him stockpile an archive of over three million pieces. His designs represent an enormous range of styles. However, his pieces share certain unique characteristics that make them easy to spot.
He developed a dull matte finish for both his gold and silver tone metal that minimized the glare of studio lighting and also used this process in his retail line. Joseff made several plain metal pieces or pieces with limited quantities of neutrally colored pastes. His product lines include flowers, frogs, owls, bees, beaded men, and bows with fantastic details.
The beautiful stones for his jewelry came from Austria and Czechoslovakia. He also used wood, glass, plastic, tin, platinum, special antique gold and silver metals and other metals and gemstones in his creations. The jewelry was hand-set and soldered so it would fit the time period of the movies in which it was to appear.
In 1938, Joseff began producing jewelry for retail sale that copied the originals he’d rented to the studios. These were sold in fine department stores like Neiman Marcus and upscale boutiques.
Joseff’s design studio lavished painstaking detail on its creations that was matched by the precision in their execution. Consequently, the stars who wore them on screen began to commission Joseff to create elaborate pieces they could wear off screen. Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball, and others were known to wear and advertise Joseff of Hollywood jewelry.
Joseff created brooches, necklaces, badges and jewelry ensembles. One notable ensemble consists of a two-piece set of necklace and earrings. However, these sets could also include a brooch, rather than the necklace or, most collectible, all three pieces at once.
Among the movies in which Joseff’s jewelry appear include such classics as, Algiers, The Rains Came, Humoresque, Forever Amber and the ultimate epic, Gone With The Wind.
Hollywood’s influence on pubic taste was so great that Joseff’s jewelry became a runaway success. Over two decades and even into the present day, Joseff became the foremost costume jewelry designer for the Hollywood movie industry. The retail pieces have a huge following among today’s collectors. Because Joseff found his design inspirations in history, his pieces were varied in style and influenced by designs that run from Art Deco to astrology.
In 1948, Eugene Joseff married Joan Castle who worked with him in the business. Tragically, that same year, Joseff died while piloting his own airplane. Joan continued Joseff’s thriving company, Joseff-Hollywood, until her death in 2010. The company continues to operate today and can also be found online.
The marks to look for that began to appear in 1938 include “Joseff Hollywood” and “Joseff” in script or block lettering. Some of Joseff’s early pieces were unmarked but can be recognized as Joseff because of their unique design.