Joseff of Hollywood: Jeweler to the Stars

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When choosing what you want to be for Halloween, the costume is the first start but what about the jewelry and accessories? Have you dressed up as a princess, Egyptian Queen or Southern Belle? If you have dressed up as your favorite movie character I’m sure you put some thought into the accessories. Well the jewelry about from the movies The Little Princess, Cleopatra, and Gone with the Wind all had the same company supplying and creating the jewelry, Joseff of Hollywood.

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I had known of the company for quite some time, the office that houses these Hollywood treasures is still running and located in California. You can read more on that in this article but I am reviewing the book Jewelry of the Stars: Creations from Joseff of Hollywood by Joanne Dubbs Ball. It was published in 1991. Which has now been 25 years but still a great book because Joseff’s wife was involved in the making of this book, otherwise the stories and extenstive photos of the jewelry created would not have been so in depth. The book is an easy read, divided into 8 ‘scenes’. Starting with the movie production beginnings and ending with the present state of the company. I will briefly cover some main points but not go too detailed so those interested in buying or borrowing the book can do so and not have all the interesting facts given away.

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So in the beginning…

Movies produced had costume designers but a lot of the jewelry was real and belonged to the actress. This does not seem like a big issue but if a period piece on the early 1800’s is being made and an actress in the 1920’s has on trend jewelry the scene does not feel as authentic. You could try and buy period jewelry but again it may not suit the character and role being portrayed. This can also get expensive and hard to find.

 

Joseff’s full name was Eugene Joseff but many thought Joseff was his first name so he answered to that as well. Joseff was born in 1905 to Austrian parents in Chicago, Illinois. We he started out on his own his first attempt at business failed largely due to the Great Depression so Joseff headed to California to try it again at the jewelry business. His younger brother also went with him to be a part of the business.

 

In 1934, Joseff saw a movie starring Lucille Ball as a lady-in-waiting set in the 16th century he was distracted by her 20th century jewels. He knew the costume designer and went to complain about. The costumers’ response, ‘Well, if you’re so smart, let’s see what you can do.’ Well Joseph did and soon he was designing jewelry for most of the Hollywood movies.  Joseff had studied jewelry and its history so he had an idea of what a piece should look like. He also did a lot of research to get the jewelry historically accurate.

 

What I loved most about the book besides the beautiful photos was that it talked about the business side of the business and the strategy. Joseff was great at creating jewelry but he had so areas that he needed to improve, I will touch on 3 important ones.

 

1: The Manufacturing: Joseff had to use outside artisans to create his jewelry, this worked if they could fulfill Joseff’s artistic vision on a piece. There were a few times that the manufacturer claimed the request could not be done. So Joseff knew he needed to spend the money to create his own in-house manufacturing. So, that he could work on those denied requests and he could achieve the designs he created. So, that was one problem solved.

Would not want to attempt to recreate this!
Would not want to attempt                 to recreate this!

2: Selling his Jewelry: The time and effort going into this historically accurate jewelry was costly and time consuming, especially considering the early times when Joseff did not have the jewelry manufactured in house. So Joseff reached a deal with the production team. He would rent the jewelry to them. This was a win/win for both parties. For Hollywood, the cost was reduced by not paying full price and the headache of storing and finding it again was eliminated. For Joseff his creations would not need to be recreated and he would insure they would not get tossed out or forgotten in his archives. I loved this aspect of the story of Joseff. You can some of his jewels reused in several movies. Below is a movie that starred Angela Lansbury (left) the middle photo is Vivian Leigh and on both is the stunning necklace on the right.

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3: The bookkeeping/other business matters: Joseff did have some good business sense. However, he was not great at bookkeeping and other business related tasks. He recognized that and called a local business college to send over their best and brightest to help. For the University of California Los Angeles that student was Joan Castle. She quickly assessed that the design part of his business was consuming every moment which is why other business aspects were causing some troubles in his business that would grow worse without any one to fix them. Joan and Joseff worked long hours to get the business on the right track and somewhere in all of that they fell in love. Joan described Joseff as handsome and charming, it was love at first sight for her.

 

The story of them getting together is one you should read from this book. It was romantic, funny and filled with some twists. A perfect script for a Hollywood movie!

Joseff and Joan
Joseff and Joan

 

Movies was not to be Joseff of Hollywood’s only revenue stream. Since Joseff’s work was becoming so well-known he decided to go into the retail business. He sold creations seen on the stars he accessorized and made copies to sell in boutiques across the country. He was selective in who sold his jewelry and it was a major success and is still highly collectible. Some of the stars and the retail jewelry below.

joseff-retail-collection

Unfortunately, Joseff’s success was short lived. On September 18th, 1948 Eugene Joseff died in a plane crash. Joan was scheduled to fly with Joseff but had to cancel when some unexpected circumstances came up. The other part to make this more tragic was Joan and Joseff had an 11-month-old baby boy who would never know his father. Joan was inconsolable for weeks but with her resolve to be both mother and father to their son and continue with the business Joseff started she did get back into a routine. She even designed jewelry going forward but with lots of research and photos/paintings from that period to reference.

 

I loved the book and hope another is made maybe with the story on the manufacturing and suppling Hollywood in the modern day. Let me know if you have read this book. If you have any Joseff of Hollywood Jewelry, I’d love to know how you like it! Have a safe and Happy Halloween! Check back later for more Data in the Rough!

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