The Fun of Figural Jewelry

Bargains to Budget-busters

Ciner Fish Brooch. - Photo by Jay B. Siegel for

Quick Facts About Figural Jewelry

- The term "figural" applies to all types of jewelry, from fine to faux, in fun shapes.

- Figural jewelry dates back as far as man has been making jewelry, but modern collectors usually seek pieces made from the Victorian era onward.

- Values vary widely from $5 pins made in the 1950s and 1960s to Bakelite and designer pieces worth thousands.

- Both pricey designer pieces and Bakelite figurals have been reproduced. It is wise to do your homework and buy from someone you trust when investing in these pieces.

Defining Figural

The term "figural" applies to all types of jewelry in fun shapes. If the piece features most anything from a person to an animal to a wishing well, it is deemed by jewelry lovers to be a figural.

Figural adornments have been fashioned in mediums ranging from clay to karat gold as long as man has been making jewelry. Most of the jewelry figures found by collectors today, however, were produced during the mid to late-1800s and throughout the 20th century.

Costly Costume Figurals

Many Victorian jewelry pieces featured hands, hearts, flowers and snakes, just to name a few. Most of these have been rounded up into private collections at this point. When you find them now, it is often at pricey antique shows, but bargains can be found at antique shops and estate sales, if shoppers are diligent.

Even more costly than most Victorian figurals are those made of Bakelite. Warman's Jewelry 2nd Edition by the late Christie Romero lists a number of them for $1,100 and up. Among those pictured is a marbled green cat pin with a pivoting tail for a whopping $6,050. Devoted plastic aficionados fork out big bucks to own pieces that increase the value of their collections. This holds true for designer costume jewelry pieces, too.

Notables like Eisenberg, Trifari, and Boucher produced a limited number of figurals that can easily sell into the thousands in some cases. These designer pieces are literally miniature works of art. Fugurals manufactured in sterling during World War II, when other types of metal were scarce, are superb finds.

One of the drawbacks to collecting these desirables comes with reproductions. Now that designer costume jewelry prices have risen to substantial levels, its important to do your research and look for signs that a piece may not be authentic before investing large sums. Costly Bakelite figurals have been reproduced as well.

More Affordable Figurals

Lots of fun enameled pins from the '60s can still be found for $10 or less. Whether you're on a budget or collecting with children, these little gems can easily fit the bill. From showy, colorful flower pins to small scatter pins featuring several matching animals, look for these at flea markets, garage sales and tucked away in antique mall booths.

But don't wait too long to start hunting them down, the collectability factor will eventually catch up with these playful creations causing prices to rise. The price of enameled flower pins has already risen somewhat. They have been spotted in enough magazine spreads during the past few years to make them more desirable with fashionistas as well as collectors.

If enamel is not your thing, numerous handcrafted wood pins dating back to the '30s and '40s can also be found more readily than pricier Bakelite. Some even incorporate desirable features like glass eyes and colorful painted accents. Others have carved Lucite attachments, which appeal to collectors of plastics as well.

As with many hand worked antiques and collectibles, the quality of wooden pins often reflects the skill of the carver. Mary Jo Izard, author of Wooden Jewelry and Novelties, notes that many wooden figurals were actually practice pieces worked by Bakelite carvers.

Moderately Priced Figurals

For jewelry somewhere between dirt cheap and astronomical, many collectors look to the designers who produced figurals during the €1940s and '50s. Companies like Coro, Art and BSK made mid-line figurals that remain affordable today.

Don't make the mistake of limiting a figural jewelry collection to pins though. Look for necklaces with oversized animal pendants, scavenge for earrings featuring delightful floral sculptures, and hunt down a few charm bracelets incorporating collections of dangling miniatures of all types.

More on Figurals

Fun Jewelry, a delightful book by Nancy Schiffer, offers a bounty of figurals in all sizes, shapes and mediums. This reference joyfully overwhelms the reader with things they'd love to own, and it's a really good place to begin studying if you're considering a collection of figural jewelry.

And don't be surprised to find history repeating here. Popular motifs such as dragonflies fluttered through the Art Nouveau designs of the late 19th century and once again delight wearers in newly made creations. We are even seeing owl pendants reminiscent of those worn in the late 1960s and early 1970s being advertised in fashionable catalogs recently.

Pamela Y. Wiggins is the author of Warman's Costume Jewelry (Krause, 2014).

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