WWII Era Sweetheart Jewelry

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet

Today is Veteran’s Day – a day on which we all recognize the sacrifice and burden borne by those men and women who put their Country and its people before themselves. Anyone with a close family member in the service knows that the commitment of our soldiers, sailors and airmen (hereafter “service members”) effects not just the service member, but the families who stay home waiting and hoping for a safe return.

Fortunately, advances in communication technology during the last several decades have made it somewhat easier for service members to communicate with their families and friends– when time and circumstances permit. During the WWII era, however, the overwhelming majority of communication with the folks back home was by written letter.

It was not uncommon for service members to send small gifts back home along with their letters or to bring these gifts home. These gifts often consisted of jewelry items that corresponded with the member’s branch of service, specialty or posts. The jewelry was then worn at home as a memento, a display of patriotism, and an acknowledgment of the pride derived from a having a family member in the service. Recipients included mothers, sisters, wives, fiances, friends and of course – sweethearts!

Nowadays, these special items are collected by military collectors, jewelry enthusiasts and regular people who just appreciate them for the special items they are.

We like to divide jewelry items of this type into two broad categories: handicrafts made by service members (sometimes called trenchart) and manufactured items that were purchased by service members for the purpose of gift giving. Most of the Sweetheart Items we carry from the WWII era are of the manufactured type. We have not yet come up with a good system for verifying the authenticity of trench art pieces and are thus refraining from carrying them at the moment.

Many pieces of sweetheart jewelry, like the “Jump Wings” bracelet at the top of this article (from our ebay store – sold) are crafted from sterling silver. This bracelet uses the paratrooper’s symbol of a parachute between two gothic wings. The clasp is a classic 1940’s fanning hook clasp. It is marked sterling but bears no maker’s mark.

It is not uncommon for Sweetheart pieces to be engraved, wither by the service member, or the dealer from the member acquired the piece. Below is an example of 1943 West Point sweet hear bracelet that is engraved on the back.

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet 2West Point Bracelet from our ebay store

Authenticating WWII Sweetheart Jewelry

Unlike trench-art, there is not a lot of manufactured WWII era sweet heart jewelry being counterfeited. It is more common to run into a later piece that is wrongly attributed to the WWII era.

WWII ran from 1939-1945 – but there is some disagreement in the community as to what items can fairly be said to be from WWII. The United States did not enter WWII until December of 1941. Thus, arguably, U.S. pieces from before 1941 are not “WWII pieces”. Likewise, because the War ended in 1945, pieces manufactured after that date are also not “WWII pieces”.  But this date range – 1941-1945 – does not consider the first few years of reconstruction or the fact that a brutal war was raging in 1939 and 1940. Because we are jewelers, rather than military collectors, we prefer to use the catchall “WWII ERA” when describing military items that date from 1939-1947.

Authenticating items from this period requires close examination. We rely on three approaches. First – ask the current owner. Personal prevenance is one of the best ways to authenticate an item. If it was sent by your friend’s grandfather from the front line – you’re pretty much done.  Second, we look at general (non-military specific) jewelry construction and markings:

1. U.S. Sterling Silver Jewelry from the WWII Era should be stamped “Sterling” “Ster.” “Silver” or “SS”. We have not encountered any U.S., British or Australian pieces marked 925. If the piece was made in continental europe, or from materials derived from continental Europe, this rule goes out the window.

2. Clasps and catches should be fanning hooks, spring clasps, fold over hooks or custom safety clasps. Be weary of lobster clasps and lightbulb shaped clasps.  At this point, safety (aka helmet) clasps were already common on most pins and brooches. Pin hinge construction was also modern.

3. Electric welding was uncommon and Laser Welding was  not used.

WWII Sweetheart Bracelet Clasp

Example of a Fanning Hook Clasp on a WWII Era Bracelet

Third, we look at the symbols, military insignia and any dates (obviously dates can be a huge help)

1. It is imporant to identify, at a minmum, the branch of serivice that the member was serving in. Hopefully you will also be able to determine his unit / division etc. If like me, you’re not an avid military historian or collector – this can be very tough. If you don’t have one of the many guidebooks available, you can try to describe the insignia and google it. For example “WWII Parachute between two wings”.

In general – Anchors indicates Navy. Wings indicates U.S. Army Air Forces (USAF’s predecessor). Keep in mind that there are hundreds of unit specific insignia. I like to use the website of “War Dog Militaria” – this site provides good color examples of authentic WWII era patches http://wardogmilitaria.com/index.php?main_page=index

 2. Look for Dates! While they can be faked – it’s uncommon.

 3. Ask for help. Most military collectors I’ve encountered are happy to help identify items for non-collectors, as long as you don’t abuse their willingness to help. If you frequently rely on a particular forum for assistance, you should make a contribution to that forum. 

WWII Sweetheart EarringsWWII Prop and Wings Sweetheart Earrings from our ebay store

Finally – all of us here at Hunter Ridge would like to express our deep gratitude to all service members and their families.

Collecting Vintage & Antique Silver Jewelry – Life Lessons Learned

Collecting Vintage & Antique Silver Jewelry – Life Lessons Learned

by Marjorie

It would require several lifetimes to complete a truly representative collection of Vintage Silver Jewelry – I know because after 25 years of avid collecting, I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available in the marketplace. I hope that my early experience in this hobby (read obsession) will be of some benefit to those just starting out.

My Feeding Frenzy

Initially, I had no focus. If it was silver and it was vintage – I bought it. Within a year or two I had amassed a sizeable collection of brooches, rings, necklaces, chatelaines, bracelets of every type and enough earrings to decorate the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. But – the collection was severely lacking. Common brands like Beau and CarlArt were over represented. I had too many thoughtless, gaudy leaf brooches and an unjust supply of once vermeil, but now “spotty” rings.  The euphoria of “buying” had worn off  – It was a real crisis and the diagnosis was grim.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t buy everything!

My Deco Delusion

The only solution was to liquidate the bulk of the collection and get some focus. I re-engaged by visiting my favorite antique stores and limiting my purchases to one essential piece a month. There was an early inclination to target Deco pieces – but I know now that was just because it seemed like the “sophisticated” answer to my earlier mistakes. I bought a classic 800 silver and black French paste bracelet, a marcasite studded Raven (which turned out to be a reproduction) and a pair of matching geometric bangles. I wasn’t happy.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t focus on eras, cultures or brands just because they sound cool. Don’t worry about whether other people will be impressed by your taste.

I get in touch with my inner Taxco

I kept the Deco pieces – as a reminder to never buy anything again that I wouldn’t wear if I was just spending the day at home and to instead focus on the pieces that made me happy. The only piece from my early collecting days that I wore regularly was a stark green quartz and 980 silver Taxco brooch. It incorporated a mix of modernistic lines and more naturalistic swirls in striking to contrast to each other. I loved this piece (I left in an airport bathroom along with my jacket). How stupid I was not to recognize that this was MY STYLE! – and should be the focus of the collection. It was easy to find like minded folks at the growing number of flea markets and swap meets in here in the North East. I got to know quality dealers and learned to identify periods, styles and even individual designers without having to remove a piece from a display case. My collection was smaller – and I was happier for it.

LESSON LEARNED: Figure out what you honestly like and stick with that to start. Find other people who share your passion and try to learn as much as you can from them.

The Dawn of the Information Age (at least for me!)

Then came the growth of online shopping ….. suddenly every imaginable piece was at my fingertips. I was in grave danger of again entering a remorseless feeding frenzy – but I though back on my CarlArt days and focused on disciplined buying. I learned that some of my prized possessions were not quite as rare as I’d thought and that others were far more valuable than I believed. Most importantly – I learned more than I ever could have even if I travelled to every flea market and antique store in the country. By prudently shopping on eBay and Etsy, I was able to put together a museum worthy collection. I am hoping to share some photos with all of you in the next time I contribute to the Hunter Ridge blog.

LESSON LEARNED: The internet is evil! (Just kidding). Stay focused on quality even when the market and / or your access to it changes.

Thanks – and best of luck in your collecting endeavors.