Monet (Est. 1937 – ) Despite extensive research and documentation about the founding and history of the costume jewelry company. Monet, little is known that definitively describes what motivated the founders to give the company its name. Experts tend to think that the principals were inspired by the works of the Impressionist painters Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, but that remains speculative.
The founders, Michael (???? – ????) and Joseph (Jay) Chernow (???? – 1966), were Russian-Jewish immigrants who were already experienced businessmen when they brought the Monet brand to the market in 1937. Their first venture was a monogram business they began in 1919.
Monograms were very popular during the 1920s and 1930s. From handbags to cigarette cases, handkerchiefs to compacts, everything was monogrammed. The brother’s business idea came about when Michael observed a local automotive shop painting initials on a car. He saw it took as long as two hours to hand paint initials on a car door. He believed there could be a way to make the process quicker and easier. It was soon after this that the brothers began to sell decals.
Because they were diligent about research and development, it took eight years before they were ready to launch their company, Monocraft, into a formal operation that began in 1927. First based in Brooklyn, New York, the company made decals to use as monograms. The company did, in fact, streamline the monogramming process at automobile dealerships by offering dealers decals that took just minutes to apply.
Monocraft took further advantage of the monogram craze by launching Initials by Monocraft which targeted car owners who also showed interest in personalizing their vehicles with decals. It wasn’t long before this advanced into metal initials. Monocraft developed a patented metal crest for cars that allowed the letters to be interchangeable.
According to Collector’s Weekly who interviewed Alice Vega shortly after the publication of her book, “Monet: The Master Jewelers,” the decals were a hit. This success led M & J, as the brothers were known, to launch a line of metal monograms that resembled aristocratic family crests but were still affordable to middle-class car buyers.
Just as their business began to take off, the world was faced with the grim realities of the Great Depression that began in 1929. This forced Monocraft to change course because car dealerships and owners could no longer afford the expense it took to monogram their vehicles.
Consequently, the brothers reached out to major department stores like McCrorys and Macy’s that routinely monogrammed handbags for their customers. Until Monocraft came along, purses and bags were sent away for this embellishment. The Chernows gave department stores a way to keep the bags in-house by supplying them with storage units that made it possible to organize the initials without damaging them.
By the mid-1930s, Monocraft was the standard for handbag monograms and the effort was a huge success. Monocraft products were greatly sought after because of their superior quality and craftsmanship.
After being in the monogram business for two years, the brothers expanded their products to include costume jewelry pieces. Using the same gold-plating techniques they used on monograms, they created beautiful jewelry designs. Many of their early works were gold-plated monogram brooches signed Monocraft.
By the second half of the 1930s Monocraft had expanded its product line to include jewelry monograms that included dangle pins, bracelets, name chains, fobs, and watch chains. The company really hit on something when it introduced Click-Its, decorative pins that customers could personalize by clicking in the initials at store counters. Demand was so great for these new products that the brothers opened their first factory in Providence, Rhode Island.
During this period of growth the Chernows hired designer Edmond Mario Granville in 1934. He came to Monocraft with a background in fine jewelry gained while he worked for Cartier. Granville remained the company’s sole designer until the late 1950s and was executive designer until his death in 1969. His leadership spanned the company’s humble beginnings as Monocraft to its eventual acclaim as Monet.
As was the brothers’ custom, they thoroughly researched the costume jewelry industry after achieving success with their monogrammed jewelry pieces. They concluded that there were many “women of discriminating taste” who could afford fashion jewelry that looked like the real thing but was classified as, “costume jewelry.”
Costume jewelry had been made popular by various designers in the mid-20th century. Some of the most remembered names in costume jewelry include both high and low priced brands such as Crown, Trifari, Dior, Chanel, Miriam Haskell, Monet, Napier, Corocraft, Coventry, and Kim Craftsmen.
Monet Jewelry was made by the Monocraft Products Company in Providence. At first, Monocraft, under the name Monet, began creating these costume jewelry objects and included necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings and ornamental clips. However, the company did not market its jewelry pieces as Monet until 1937, recognized as the official launch date of Monet jewelry. However, Monocraft continued as the parent company and also continued to produce initials until 1959.
The brothers were determined to produce finely crafted pieces of jewelry with top quality materials that were affordable for all woman. The results, some of the most beautifully designed and constructed pieces, were Monet creations made from the 1930s to the 1970s. The high quality, gold plated statement sets of necklaces, bracelets and earrings created from the 1950’s to the 1980’s are known for the attention to detail put into each piece.
Monet’s first collection was largely influenced by European fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli from whom Monet derived inspiration. Chanel’s style was represented by straightforward depictions of animals, flora, and people, while Schiaparelli’s could be seen in Monet’s abstract and surreal pieces. The collection also included large multicolor rhinestones resembling emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, some set on clips and pins, others anchored to wide cuff bracelets. These early colored stone pieces were superseded by later collections that focused on the design and hue of the metal itself.
This jewelry was a huge success, but when the United States entered World War II, metals like brass and platinum were rationed, and Monet’s Providence factory was retooled to produce shell casings, ammunition, and seals for torpedoes.
Of the jewelry the company did make, the metal of choice was sterling silver. Pins and fur clips were the most popular pieces made during the war and were worn on hats, lapels, purses, sleeve hems, and evening gowns.
Monet jewelry from the 1940s was found in almost every department store. The jewelry, designed with classic, simplistic beauty was often embellished with sparkling Austrian crystals or rhinestones. Many of the pieces showed a military influence. Some pins, such as the victory pins, showed solidarity with soldiers in Europe and the Pacific.
Monet was named the official Royal Air Force jewelry maker and participated in Bundles for Britain, which raised money for civilians recovering from air raids. Other pins were more lighthearted, such as the popular figural pins—Geraldine the Giraffe, Pedro the Pup, Lionelly, Mary’s Little Lamb, and Honey Bear that were gold-plated with bright enamel accents.
After the war, Monet transitioned back to a fully operational factory. Sterling silver bracelets were plated in pink gold or yellow gold with heavy link designs. In the late 1940s, Monet introduced large single-charm bracelets. The most popular charms were a pair of lovebirds, a clover, and a perfume flask.
During the 1940’s Monet was also responsible for several technological advancements in jewelry, such as the development of the friction ear clip which adjusted so it could firmly fit the ear without causing undue and painful pressure. They also introduced the barrel clutch for pierced earrings that replaced the butterfly clutch. These are often called screw back/clip backs because the clip can be adjusted by turning the knob to tighten or loosen.
As times changed so did fashion trends. In the 1950s the jewelry made by Monet were a reflection of changing times in design. Among their many popular creations were figural pieces such as poodle dog pins, bow pins, charms and charm bracelets.
Monet’s clip-on earrings mimicked small bows, intricate flora, fruit baskets, and wedding-band-style hoops, a Monet signature style. Some designs were geometric, with metal twists and concentric circles. Colors ranged from pink gold to yellow gold to silver.
As the penchant for costume jewelry flourished in the ’50s, it became part of everyday fashion. Bracelets lined arms and necklaces grew bigger and longer complementing the trending fashion for lower necklines. Monet’s heavy, chain-link necklaces of the 1940s were updated in the ’50s. Slide necklaces like the Priscilla and chokers with names like Elite and Carousel were everywhere. Other necklaces sported dangling pendants and chain fringe. The complex metalwork was an integral part of the overall designs as surfaces were textured and engraved.
For teenage girls, there was the Monettes line. The Chernows envisioned jewelry that could be worn to a prom or during a tennis match. Accordingly, Granville designed delicate chain necklaces ending in charms-like flowers, hearts, cupids, and perfume balls that were similar to the perfume flasks of the 1940s.
Monet’s multi-charm bracelets, which drew inspiration from the single-charm bracelets of the ’40s, exploded in popularity in the 1960s. Some charms shaped to form words like “peace” and “love” reflected the hippie movement but most designs were depictions of animals or everyday objects such as shoes and cuckoo clocks.
After Joseph Chernow died in 1966, Michael searched for a new business partner and in 1968 signed with General Mills. Many new products and fashion lines were created after this and the business expanded considerably. In 1977, Monet launched Ciani, a line of fine jewelry in 14-carat gold, sterling silver, and vermeil. Some pieces included onyx, ivory, semi-precious stones, and pave diamonds. Ciani pieces were packaged in velvet pouches or suede jewelry rolls to differentiate them from traditional Monet lines and each silver piece included a polishing cloth.
By 1979, the company had expanded internationally. Various new lines released in the early 1980s were seen as “fashion forward.” The company also acquired a Yves St. Laurent license for costume jewelry and these stunning creations hit high end stores beginning in 1982.
During the 1980s, Monet continued to expand its jewelry lines. Mimicking the culture of the time, the jewelry became louder with bright colors and bold designs. Art Deco inspired pieces were also hits and, while new materials were incorporated, Monet designs still focused on the metal.
During this time, Monet expanded its product lines to include accessories like pens, watches, and belt buckles. The company entered the mail-order business by starting Complements, a catalog business, in 1988.
However, by 1985 the Monet company, once a family orientated business, was no more. Original Chernow family members were gone as were many of the original team members. The General Mills corporate management style had taken over.
This did not hurt the brand as business continued to develop with sales growing from approximately $8 million in the early 1960s to approximately $110 million by the early 1980s. However, other divisions within General Mills were not performing as well and the company decided to focus on what it knew best: food.
In 1985, Monet became part of the Crystal Brands Apparel Group who had two apparel lines that were not profitable. To increase profit, the company purchased additional costume jewelry lines from Hallmark, Trifari and Marvella. This consolidation evolved into one of the largest costume jewelry makers in the world. However, due to the acquisition of many other apparel lines over time, the Crystal Brands Group debt grew larger and the jewelry lines could not sustain overall costs. In 1994, Crystal Brands filed for bankruptcy.
As a result, the company was renamed Monet Group once it was acquired by the CBJG Acquisition Group. Existing management tried relaunching the brand after it signed fashion designer Christian Lacroix in 1995 for a 5 year licensing agreement.
After its success with Yves Saint Laurent pieces, Monet exploited its arrangement with Christian Lacroix. Like YSL, Christian Lacroix used quality materials and Monet sold the line exclusively in upscale department stores.
Christian Lacroix was different from YSL in that the Monet staff did not have final approval on the jewelry. Indeed, the style itself was more playful and colorful than Monet’s traditional lines. A common Lacroix motif was a heart and many pieces had multiple stones of varying colors and sizes.
In 1996 Cynthia Rowley was signed to design pieces inspired by vintage Monet jewelry from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Unsuccessful in their attempt to recapture the success of the past, the business once again went into bankruptcy in 1996. It was bought out by Liz Claiborne in 2000 because the jewelry lines were still profitable.
The business continued to produce Monet “best sellers” and later signed a new fashion director, Tiffany Bausch, who set out to re-brand and create more pieces inspired from the late 1950s to late 70s when Monet was at its peak. Even though the brand remained successful, Liz Claiborne sold the Monet brand’s U.S. rights (as well as its name sake brand) to JC Penney in 2012.
As of October 2015, traits that define Monet jewelry included large focal stones, bright splashes of seasonal color, and styles such as drop earrings and sizable statement necklaces. This affordable costume jewelry is available exclusively from Penney where it sells Monet online and in its stores.
The Monet lines include a variety of typical jewelry styles, including necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and both traditional and clip-on earrings. Pieces from the lines often feature large, colorful stones in metal settings. The stones may be faceted or smooth. Some pieces feature faceted glass or epoxy stones, while others include real gemstones. The line’s extensive selection of drop earrings often feature these focal stones.
Monet lines include vivid hints of season-appropriate colors such as black, amber, coral, turquoise and deep blue. The collections features both gold- and silver-tone settings.
In addition to drop earrings, Monet continues to specialize in fashion-forward statement necklaces. These substantial pieces often feature numerous stones which hang from large-link chains or dangle to create a collar or bib effect. As of fall 2015, examples of Monet statement necklaces include the Gold-Tone Topaz-Colored Y Necklace, the Aqua and Marcasite Shower Necklace and the Purple Passion Drop Collar Necklace.
Other collectible Monet lines include Jewels of the Nile, Jewel Box, Almodine Metal, Things of Beauty, Color Awakening, Twilight Dreams, Emerald City, and Magical Moments.
Today, Monet is particularly prized by collectors for its quality. Due to triple-plating, it’s not unusual for Monet pieces to last for decades without showing signs of wear on the finish. In addition, most Monet jewelry is marked with its name like fine jewelry that is unusual in the costume jewelry trade.
Like Trifari, the key to collecting Monet is to buy the older pieces even though Monet remains easy to find at department stores at reduced prices.
By 1955, many unscrupulous manufacturers had begun to copy Monet’s style but did not care much about the quality of the materials used to make the jewelry. This forced the company to mark Monet jewelry as Monet, Monet Sterling or Monet Jewelry with a copyright.
For some vintage pieces, the signature is on the jeweler’s tag, but if the tag is missing, it is necessary to identify the Monet piece in other ways. For example, check the piece to see if the metal is triple plated since that is a distinguishing characteristic of all Monet jewelry. Although most Monet jewelry is affordable, it is a good idea to verify the authenticity of rare or vintage pieces before purchasing.
The quality, design and craftsmanship make Monet’s older jewelry items an investment. From simple classic designs to intricate statement pieces, Monet can take the wearer from day to evening. The difference with Monet from the early years, compared to other designer brands, is that the majority of the pieces were made solely of plated metal without the gem embellishments, a fact that some collectors suggest make the items less collectable but with which true aficionados often disagree.
Vintage Monet jewelry is considered classic today. The brand occupies a prominent position among the world’s most illustrious fashion houses. To buy this brand, contact elite jewelry houses because that is where Monet’s most prestigious collections are usually found.