Vintage Jewelry Find from Du Boff Jewelers
Thrift store hunter's fact
What starts as hunting to find buried thrift store treasure oftentimes leads to discoveries far more interesting than the piece itself. This particular purchase—a beautiful, pristine, 3 piece set of 50s jet jewelry-- was one of those finds. The search to discover the origin of this set would lead this thrift store hunter to an art movement, a tour through New York real estate and a trip through 5th Avenue’s posh jewelry district as far back as the 1940s.
The Sport of Thrift Store Hunting
For a shopping warrior, finding vintage jewelry is in itself a reward. Finding a perfectly complete three piece set from the 50s. Well, that is magic! Sets become mismatched, lost and separated over time. This one was perfectly together. Barely, if ever, worn. Normally, a set of such quality would reveal a posh designer signature like Bogoff, Carnegie or Lisner. However, this one had no signature. The only clue to its origin was the box it came in. Corners tattered as if opened a million times, the box showed the logo Jewels by Du Boff 500 5th Avenue and the words “Jet Jewelry” scribbled on its face. I started my search with those two clues.
50s Jewelry Style
A little history about these sets. In the 50s and 60s, matching earring, bracelet and necklace sets were common compliments to every day dressing. Manufactured by many jewelry houses, they were the bling of its era. They turned conservative day wear into elegant evening wear. Every woman had a set or two or three. What set them apart was the quality. Evidenced by the faceted beads and fine closures, this set was indeed highly crafted. Was it jet as denoted on the box? I would say, yes. Due to the faceting of the stones and its overall light weight, the beads could very well be real Whitby Jet.
Google & Thrift Store Hunting
It is fair to say that based on the overall quality, this set is high end. I googled the biggest clue. The box label Jewels by Du Boff 500 Fifth Avenue NY. My search led me to a fascinating place. A link to The Toledo Museum of Art and a 1974 painting of a Du Boff’s store window.
The Art Movement
Did you think the image above was a photograph? It is actually a painting by Don Eddy, a photorealist, who was significant in developing a style of art popular in the 60s and 70s called photorealism. “Photorealists … painted images that resemble the way that photographs depict visual reality“. Don Eddy took several photographs of the Du Boff windows to render this painting using layers of air brushing. He chose the shop windows of Du Boff jewelry store because in his words “The jewelry in that window…allowed me to further break down the color units and thus explore an alternate way of understanding the spatial impact of color. “ Although not directly connected to the set I was researching, it is a vital clue to the open, inventive nature of art at the time and of Du Boff central to it. The painting is part of The Toledo Museum of Art's private collection.
New York's Famous Fifth Avenue
As a non- New Yorker, my understanding of 5th Avenue is simple. It’s wealthy. I knew 5th Avenue through the mansions built for wealthy men like Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Andrew Carnegie. Today, Fifth Avenue from 42nd St to 59th St is probably the most famous shopping district in the world. Famous stores like Tiffany’s, Bergdoff Goodman, Mikimoto, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Harry Winston, Hugo Boss and Henri Bendel line both sides of the street. Could Du Boff Jewelry store have been a catalyst to its soaring prestige?
Fifth Avenue in the 40s
My research brought me to this compilation video of life on the avenue in the 40s. Although a decade before the era of my jewelry set, I still hoped I could find a store front sign glaring through the myriads of cars and bustling pedestrians. Then, case solved. But no luck. I was left only with the confirmation that 5th Avenue was a colossal consumer district ready to explode. Was the pristine set of 50s jewelry rescued from thrift shop anonymity, its legacy? In some odd way, possibly. If in fact this jewelry set was purchased at Jewels by Du Boff cannot be known for sure. It could have just landed in the box. A gift treasured for its sentiment, nestled in a box fitting the intention of its giving. Its legacy? It was rescued by a treasure hunter like me. A cherished treasure in a cluttered thrift store showcase looking for someone to find, to fascinate and to discover.