The Hobé Company
The Hobé Company (Est. 1887 – ) It may well be that the term, “costume jewelry” originated from pieces made by the Hobé Company for American theatrical productions. However, the business was founded in Paris in 1887 by Jacques Hobé, a goldsmith who was known throughout Western Europe as a producer of fine jewelry.
Jacques had three sons, one of whom (also named Jacques) realized the potential of machinery and automation brought about by the Industrial Revolution. But it was another son, William, who made the family name, Hobé, a leader in mass-produced costume jewelry.
Originally, William Hobé was a representative of a German company selling theatrical costumes. When he arrived in New York, he sold some of these to the theatrical showman, Florenz Ziegeld so he could use them in many of his productions including the “Ziegfeld Follies.”
It is said that Ziegfeld asked William to create inexpensive but real looking jewelry to would add glamour to the showgirls’ costumes. According to some scholars, Ziegfeld described the jewelry that accompanied Hobé’s wardrobe creations as costume jewelry.
This, according to the family legend, is how Hobé began producing costume jewelry. When collectors think of Hobé, they imagine the tasseled, beaded necklaces made and sold through an American offshoot of the Parisian Hobé company. William established it in 1927 placing Hobé at start of the American costume-jewelry boom that flourished between the two world wars.
In 1930, William created the company, Hobe Cié. Hobé jewelry incorporates excellent, elegant designs that use high quality stones to embellish superior sterling silver, platinum and gold plated metalwork. Hobé jewelry displays excellent workmanship especially in reproductions of antique jewelry that was worn in European courts and made to last.
Hobé designs produced from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s clearly show historical inspiration. Bezel-set semi-precious stones, such as chrysoprase, lapis, garnet, and amethyst, were combined with real pearls, enamels and carved ivory panels. Vermeil silver settings with woven meshes or filigrees of twisted wire were hand finished. The best early examples include carved cinnabar and ivory oriental pieces, the portrait miniatures of historical figures, and reproductions of sixteenth and seventeenth century precious jewels from the royal courts of Europe.
By the 1940s, Hobé jewelry was billed as “Jewels of Legendary Splendor” and advertised in magazines and modeled by Hollywood movie stars such as Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Ava Gardner, and Barbara Stanwyck. Hobé also produced high quality and high priced jewelry for upscale stores.
During the 1950’s, Hobé designed and produced jewelry for movies and for its stars’ personal collections. Hobé jewelry was designed to complement actresses’ fashions. Its reputation for quality remains nearly unmatched. Consequently, the Hobé Company is considered among, if not, the finest costume jewelry manufacturers in America.
Hobé pieces produced between 1935 and 1955 are highly collectible. William Hobe’s sons, Robert and Donald continued the business after their father’s passing. Some Hobé craftsman, Serillo, Ralph Demassa, Zoltan Imirshaw, Lou Vece and James Hobe have personal marks on the jewelry Hobé produced.
Post WWII jewelry is usually signed Hobe inside an oval frame (1958-1983), a triangle (1933-1957), Hobé in a crown and Hobé under crossed swords. The latter are pre 1900. From 1903 to 1917, Hobe written with an accent mark appears in an oval cartouche. From 1918-1932 a house-shaped outline has Hobé in the first line and second line is Design Pat.
Hobé pieces especially prized today are floral pins that feature tight clusters of vermeil petals. Earlier pieces also popular with collectors include filigreed bracelets and pins some of which feature Victorian-style portraits or Japanese netsuke-like figures as focal points.
The original, family run Hobé Company stopped producing jewelry in the early 1990s. However, a Hobe company still exists producing jewelry marked as Hobé but noticeably different in presentation and quality from its legendary antecedents.