Napier (Est. 1875 -1999) When the last company that owned the Napier brand ended jewelry creation using that name and ceased operation in 1999, Napier was considered the oldest fashion jewelry house in America. It was also one of the first modern corporations in the United States.
Originally established in Attleboro, Massachusetts as Whitney and Rice in 1875 to manufacture silver products and men’s gilt watch chains, the company was sold in 1882 and its name changed to Carpenter and Bliss. Not long after, the name changed again and the company became known as, E. A. Bliss and Co., Inc., New York.
During the 1880’s the thrice re-named company grew significantly and in 1890 moved to Meriden, Connecticut where it was located until all production ended around the close of the 20th century.
Napier jewelry was named for James Napier, who worked for the company starting in 1914 and served as its president from 1920 until 1960. In 1922, he again changed the company’s name; this time to Napier-Bliss Co. Shortly thereafter the name was shortened simply to the Napier Company. In the period after World War I ended, the company revised its production focus from silver products to modern, costume jewelry.
“NAPIER” was the mark used for jewelry from 1920. The “By NAPIER” mark was placed in boxes used for scarf pins, bracelets, brooches, dress clips, bar pins, rings, dress and shoe buckles, and more beginning in 1942. “NAPIER with a copyright symbol” started to appear around 1955. The company’s trademarks all included the name “NAPIER.” How the trademark was affixed (stamped, embossed, or on a plaque) was based on the design of the piece.
Early designs that included Egyptian influenced pieces created during the 1920s and 1930s are sought after by collectors as are the hefty gilt metal charm bracelets made during the 1950s and 1960s.
Most, but not all, Napier jewelry is simple in its geometric forms and floral motifs. There is little of the fancy ornamentation and embellished glitter found in other manufacturers’ costume jewelry. However some pieces do use sterling and silver plating on the backgrounds. Some background metalwork displays a sculptured look that gives these pieces the appearance of Mexican and Scandinavian silverwork.
During World War I, the company stopped producing jewelry and focused on producing war-related items such as medallions and medals. They did the same during World War II, but by the time of the second world conflict, the company’s creations had become popular with Hollywood movie stars like Lana Turner and ice skating queen Sonja Henie who were wearing Napier.
The company’s reputation grew, in part, from its ability to be in the forefront of fashion and design. Always seeking ways to invigorate Napier creations, James attended the Paris World’s Fair Exposition Internationale des Artes Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. He returned with business ideas that included designs influenced by Parisian and European fashion.
James was not a jewelry designer, thus the company’s storied history tells of the many designers who Napier sent to Europe to absorb the techniques that made the Continent’s jewelry and fashions a leader in style and couture.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Napier designed necklaces, bracelets and earrings that included designs featuring Egyptian motifs, such as cobras, Victorian Revival designs and Deco-style pieces. In the 1940s, most of Napier’s jewelry was sterling silver tailored pieces. In the 1950s, it now started producing jewelry in a wide range of styles.
Napier’s collectibles include, of course, their early and unique sterling silver designs and the unusual Oriental inspired coin and charm bracelets of the 1950s. Napier jewelry was mass produced and marketed through major department stores.
The costume jewelry designs are simple and elegant but without decorations like aurora borealis rhinestones in order to keep the cost down. The jewelry, nonetheless, exhibits high style and superior craftsmanship and ranges from business jewelry to casual wear and also special occasion wear. For example, Napier’s fan jewelry collection was introduced in 1955.
In the 1950s, the Napier Company presented Mamie Eisenhower, then America’s First Lady, with a bracelet bearing an elephant design. It was reputed to be one of her favorite pieces of jewelry and she often wore it. The Napier Company gifted contestants of the 1955 Miss America Pageant with its fashion jewelry.
Victoria & Company Ltd., later called Victoria Creations purchased Napier in the late 1980s. In 1999, Jones Apparel Group became the owner and also bought the Napier brand. Jones Apparel Group stopped producing “Napier PIER” jewelry that year and closed the plant in Meriden, Connecticut.
Napier costume jewelry from the 1920s and early 1930s is extremely hard to find. Like Ciner jewelry, it’s difficult to date Napier’s pieces simply by looking at the mark. Pieces from various decades are frequently misattributed as 1920s because very similar marks were often used on pieces made in later decades.
To accurately date Napier jewelry, look at its overall style, construction and components. It will help to determine the age of the pieces. Styles from the 1920s and ‘30s are usually very different from the pieces Napier made later. Older pieces are often more delicate in appearance even though they are well made.
In a book that took eleven years to research, write, and publish, Melinda Lewis tells the definitive history of the company and chronicles the history of its management, manufacturing, marketing, and most important, of the exquisite beauty of its jewelry. With over 4,000 pictures and 250,000 words, experts consider this book as one of the best jewelry reference books for antique and jewelry collectibles.