Sarah Coventry (Est. 1949 – ) Baby-boomers, especially those who fondly remember mid-20th Century American television including shows like “Days of Our Lives,” “The Carol Burnet Show,” and the game shows “Hollywood Squares,” Queen For A Day,” “The Price is Right,” and “To Tell The Truth” will undoubtedly recognize and recall the Sarah Coventry name. Its jewelry was offered as merchandise, prizes, and consolation gifts to contestants.
Sara Coventry, Inc. was founded by Charles H. Stuart in Newark, NY in October 1953. Another Stuart family member was the founder of the Emmons Home Fashion Company that began operation in 1948. Both companies did not design or produce their own jewelry but contracted the work out to manufacturing companies located around Providence, Rhode Island.
Unlike its competitors, Sarah Coventry did not focus on getting prime counter space in department stores or marketing its creations to Hollywood stars to enhance its reputation. The Stuart approach was to use house parties, like Tupperware and Avon, to get people interested in his company’s affordable jewelry. He also gave his costume jewelry away to contestants at beauty pageants. The word of mouth from these marketing strategies made Sarah Coventry one of the most popular jewelry brands of the mid-20th century.
Lyman K. Stuart, son of Charles H. Stuart, founded Emmons Home Fashions in 1948. Soon afterwards, the company’s name was changed to Emmons Jewelry, Inc. Many credit Charles with founding the company, but more reliable sources name Lyman as the company’s owner.
According to a 2009 article by Jan Bridgeford-Smith that appeared in the regional publication, Life In the Finger Lakes, “The birthplace of Sarah Coventry, both the child and the jewelry that borrowed her name, is the village of Newark, New York. Nestled between Syracuse and Rochester, this small community sits on the banks of the Erie Canal….
“… In 1853, Charles W. Stuart began selling fruit trees and berry bushes directly to consumers. The family-owned nursery also began several other enterprises thanks to the marketing skills of C.W.’s son, Charles H. (C.H.) Stuart.
“With a degree from Cornell University and a passion for chemistry, C.H. returned to his hometown and started his own business. The C.H. Stuart Company offered everything from spices to cosmetics to china. It thrived by developing different product lines with a common thread – door-to-door customer sales. In 1949, Bill Stuart, grandson of C.H., became company president.
“That February, Bill Stuart launched Caroline Emmons Inc., the first company in the nation to sell jewelry directly to consumers using a party-plan model. Later, in November, Bill formed another jewelry company, Sarah Coventry Inc., which also used the party-plan idea.
“Though Emmons jewelry came first, Sarah Coventry would eventually become more successful and better known.”
Irving Wolf, who had worked with Trifari, a well-known jewelry company, was hired as a consultant. Several home party firms were studied and Aileen VanTyle of Newark was hired to construct test fashion shows. She became Sarah Coventry’s fashion coordinator and was a pioneer in her field.
When Sarah Coventry was created as a rival company under the same umbrella of the C.H. Stuart Co., it was considered a business strategy that promoted competitiveness. Rex Wood was hired as the first salesman and the first home party was held in Holcomb, N.Y. Charles W. “Bill” Stuart, the founder’s son, was named president.
Family names were chosen for the two jewelry companies. Sarah Coventry was named after Lyman Stuart’s granddaughter, Sarah Coventry Beale, and Emmons was named after his grandmother, Caroline Emmons Stuart.
The two jewelry companies – started six months apart – were the first in the country to use the home party approach. Area managers were recruited and trained across the country. Sales zones were created. The term “home party” was replaced with “fashion show.”
Fashion show directors were hired and were responsible for recruiting hostesses for the shows. Hostesses across the country invited friends, neighbors and other guests to their homes. Jewelry would be displayed and modeled. Sales were made from examples on hand as well as from “cardexes” and catalogs. Incentives to the sellers included cash commissions, free jewelry, prizes, and premiums. Top sellers were invited to the companies’ sales conventions.
At its height, Sara Coventry ran commercials on the three major broadcast networks, ABC, NBC and CBS. By 1975, television spots for Sarah Coventry ran more than 554 million times across America on a variety of daytime and evening shows
Every major women’s magazine from Vogue to Good Housekeeping carried ads for the brand. A Sarah Coventry-designed crown was placed on the head of a Miss Universe winner and the company’s jewelry sets were awarded to Miss America participants. Sarah Coventry established relationships with almost every national media outlet with a loyal female audience.
Only fifteen years after its launch, Sarah Coventry jewelry sold at an amazing rate of 35,000 pieces each workday. By the end of the 1970s, the company had brand recognition that rivaled Coca-Cola and Kodak.
One of the earliest Sarah Coventry brooches ever sold was the Sarah Coventry Carnival Dancer. It was enameled and decorated with faux pearls. The unusual brooches were created as a pair. They are unsigned because Sarah Coventry did not start signing jewelry until several years after these pieces were produced.
The dancers were designed in gold tone, painted or enameled in coral and black and danced on bubbles made from faux pearls. Pins are 2 1/4″ tall and 1 3/4″ wide. They are well fashioned and, like much of the unsigned Sarah Coventry jewels from the late 40s and early ’50s, made with top materials.
Collectors Weekly has written that, “Even though Coventry lacked its own designer[s], many of the company’s signature pieces share stylistic characteristics…. Sarah Coventry costume jewelry tends to feature cabochons and marquise-cut rhinestones rather than densely packed grids or endless rows of smaller sparklers. Base metals were usually gold-tone or silver-tone, sometimes serving as openwork or filigree backgrounds for a handful of stones placed symmetrically upon them…. Coventry jewelry was … often ringed with eye-catching rhinestone-beads or enameled-metal fringe. Sometimes Coventry pieces even incorporated art masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa into their designs.
For much of its short history (the brand was sold in 1984 and experienced a brief resurgence from 2002 to 2003), Sarah Coventry advertised its jewelry as …’for the woman who dares to be different,’ even though the names it gave most of its products were plain and ordinary.
Collectors Weekly further states, “A brooch from a line called Azure featured a faux turquoise cabochon set atop a spiral of gold-tone amid smaller stones. Wisteria is the word the company chose to describe a silver-tone setting featuring purple and pink rhinestones, even though the floral shape looked nothing like …famous flowers depicted by … Tiffany.
“Sometimes names were more evocative, such as Acapulco, whose intertwined star-like and vaguely circular shapes were defined by their red-and-green cabochons, chosen, presumably, to echo the colors of the Mexican flag. Maharani was simply meant to sound exotic—its faux turquoise stones were paired with faceted emerald rhinestones, which were positioned like leaves on the line’s brooch and matching earrings.
“…Then there were names that suggested the company’s marketing division had simply run out of ideas. For no particular reason, a four-piece set that included a diamond-shaped brooch, with matching clip-on earrings and a stickpin, was called Remembrance, while Bittersweet featured faux coral teardrops attached to gold-tone leaves. Touch of Elegance treated its green rhinestones like pieces of fruit hanging from stems and secured by filigree settings. Fashion Splendor was the phrase used to describe an organic circle of openwork gold-tone decorated with opaque pink and white rhinestones, as well as clear marquise-cut green rhinestones. Fashion Flower paired ruby and aurora borealis rhinestones on a filigree gold-tone setting with matching earrings coming in two sizes and the namesake brooch differentiated itself with the addition of a stem.
“Color-based pieces are among the most collectible from the Sarah Coventry lines. Blue Lagoon pieces from the 1960s had aurora borealis rhinestones on them alongside smaller blue and purple ones. The asymmetrical Mosaic combined solid-color and dappled cabochons on gold-tone. Strawberry Ice used silver-tone and strawberry shapes for its pins and earrings. A gold-tone necklace-and-earring set was called Golden Avocado as a tribute to the popular kitchen color of the 1970s.”
Sales were outstanding. During the company’s heyday, 35,000 pieces of jewelry were sold per day. Sarah Coventry’s field and home office staff celebrated their first Million Dollar Week in November 1959. Sales in 1964 totaled $24 million with 65 million pieces sold.
Business was so brisk that Sarah Coventry was assigned its own ZIP code. Hanover Distributors, another Stuart company, did the shipping. The company went international in 1963 with branches opened in Canada and the U.K. Australia was added in 1968 and Belgium in 1969.
All jewelry was manufactured in Rhode Island and New Hampshire with assembly and some production work done in Newark. The company’s creations for women and men included everything from bracelets, brooches and beads to belts and watches. Timeless necklaces was one of the best sellers. Men’s jewelry came in tie clasps, cuff links, and ID bracelets.
In a clever publicity stunt, the Emmons Company created the world’s longest charm bracelet at 100 feet. Joan Allen was shown “wearing” the charm bracelet in a company newsletter.
In 1975, the crown for Miss Universe was made by the company and crowns were also made for Miss America and Miss New York state winners. The Sarah Coventry LPGA Tournament in Rochester, New York was held from 1979 to 1981.
As the company grew so did its headquarters. By 1968, the company was housed in a large building just south of Newark on Route 88. The property was like a park with two ponds and a woods that was dubbed Sarah’s Enchanted Forest. In 1976, a new building was added that accommodated 350 office employees. All the buildings were designed to look like jewelry boxes.
The demise of Sarah Coventry came in the early 1980s when the company declared bankruptcy. It was said that the company had overextended when it built the new multimillion dollar headquarters. Times were also changing as more and more women entered the work force leaving little time for home fashion shows.
After the company declared bankruptcy, it was purchased by a subsidiary of Playboy Enterprises. Inc., the publishers of Playboy Magazine. It was an attempt by that company to diversify into a brand management entity. Playboy sold the company in the 90’s,
In 2003, the Sarah Coventry name was purchased by a group of investors who wanted to bring the company back in its original direct-selling model. At the time, the company’s website boasted new office and warehouse space that was purchased based on ambitious expansion plans.
In 2002, Sarah Coventry jewelry began to appear on HSN (the Home Shopping Network) and in 2003, the jewelry was again sold at home parties. However, as of January 2009, Sarah Coventry HPP Inc. was out of business.
Some marks that appear on vintage Sarah Coventry jewelry include “SC,” “Sarah Cov,” “Sarah,” SaC,” and “Coventry.” There is usually but not always a copyright symbol accompanying the mark. These marks also appeared on the later creations.
Today, pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are especially prized by collectors. Jewelry for both the Emmons and Sarah Coventry brands was often sold in matching sets such as coordinating necklace, bracelet and earrings. It is more difficult to find complete sets today, but collectors still look for pieces to complete their collections when they go to flea markets and antique shops.
Sarah Coventry jewelry is easier to find than pieces marked with the Emmons brand since the former was somewhat less expensive to begin with and sold for a longer period of time. Pieces from both companies can be found in both silver tone and gold-colored metals often set with large faux pearls and other gemstone simulants.
In the collecting world, Sarah Coventry is still not a strong designer label. It is, however, very widely collected. Many people just getting started collecting designer jewelry begin with lower priced lines like these because it’s an easy way to get their feet wet and then, over time, be able to trade up.
Collectors can use the following information for a clearer idea of both company’s histories:
Emmons Jewelry 1948-1981, Sarah Coventry 1948-1981, Sold 1984, Sarah Coventry Online Business 2003-2009.