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red white and blue American flag purse brooch

American Flag Jewelry: Paste & Patriotism

Jul 4, 2023 | costume jewelry

Although the American flag has been crafted into jewelry using precious red, white, and blue gemstones, much of the American flag jewelry we know is usually paste.

Paste is a name for “fake” gemstones that are actually polished glass or lead crystal.

The country’s economic diversity requires that all red, white, and blue jewelry isn’t set with rubies, diamonds, and rubies.

Here’s one with all precious gems and metals by renowned American jeweler Oscar Heyman found listed on 1stDibs for $88,500. I tried counting the diamonds – are there 50?

American flag pin by American jeweler Oscar Heyman

Because wearing the flag has always been a nod to love of country, popular demand requires alternatives to eighty thousand dollar pins.

Here’s a more affordable vintage (likely 1960-1980) American flag pin by extremely successful and prolific American costume jewelry company, Monet.

American flag pin by American costume jewelry company, Monet

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day.

It took another thirty years, and another world war, for Flag Day to be established officially with an act of Congress on August 3, 1949.

Now, especially in times of crisis, Americans use the flag to signal their allegiance, most notably in recent years on public servants’ and politicians’ lapel pins after September 11th.

Having witnessed the resurgence of the American flag lapel pin in 2001, I got curious about when the tradition of wearing the American flag first began.

Early American flag history

Before the “stars and stripes” was made official by the Continental Congress on June 16, 1777, every colony had its own flag, just like it had its own currency.

The American flag was meant to represent the union of the thirteen colonies: thirteen alternating red and white stripes.

This very special Civil War era embroidered pin shows 13 stars.

This very special Civil War era embroidered pin shows 13 stars.  (Image found at the World of Eccentricity and Charm, unknown origin.)

(Image found at the World of Eccentricity and Charm.)

One of the first flags had 13 stars arranged in a circle, but in 1818, Congress voted to keep the flag’s original thirteen stripes and add new stars to reflect each new state that entered the union.

Appreciating American flag jewelry: a fable

I share that information because US flag history may be helpful to appreciate flag jewelry more fully.

It’s difficult sometimes to enjoy what appears at first glance to be the same thing over and over again.

For illustration, I’ll share a short story that can serve as a fable.

Back in 2008, I attended my son’s preschool graduation. On display were a series of paintings, all of American flags, that had been painted by the students a few weeks before.

Splotches and squiggles with no rhyme or reason splattered each flimsy piece of 16×20 paper.

The only way I could tell they were meant to be American flags was the color scheme: red, white and blue.

And the fact that my son had brought home his painting two weeks before, and it had been a perfect representation. I remember pulling out his realistic (and apparently precocious) iteration of the red and white lines, the star after star after star.

I recycled it, thinking that it was nothing special.

It looked just like an American flag.

But it looked not at all like the others.

World War II Sweetheart jewelry

I found a gold heart locket with a military style insignia in my grandmother’s jewelry box after she died. It remains in its burgundy velvet and gold cardboard box with a note from my grandfather.

World War II sweetheart locket in gift box with eagle

My grandfather made it home from the war, and my mother was born in 1945. He had a lifetime to give his wife other meaningful pieces. She never wore the locket, but she kept it for the rest of their lives with his note still inside.

Although the idea of using sentimental items to connect women and men separated by war started during World War I, sweetheart jewelry was popularized during World War II.

But the American flag was not a popular feature of World War II sweetheart jewelry.

The red, white and blue color motif was sometimes included; however, the eagle was featured much more often than even the flag.

WWII sweetheart brooch showing an eagle and a flag

WWII jewelry also often used planes and anchors to signal loved ones in the Air Force and Navy.

clear lucite sweetheart brooch with hearts and WWII fighter planes.

This clear lucite sweetheart brooch features hearts and WWII fighter planes.

Read about Victorian Mourning jewelry, also designed to commemorate loved ones lost.

Or read about other types of meaningful or sentimental jewelry.

Contemporary American flag jewelry

The American flag first got fifty stars in 1960 after a proclamation by Eisenhower in 1959.

Here’s an American flag pin by “fabulous fake” high-end costume jewelry designer, Kenneth Jay Lane.

The 48 rhinestone stars suggest the timing on this piece, but interestingly, KJL didn’t start making jewelry until 1963. What could be the reason for not including all 50?

American flag pin by "fabulous fake" high-end costume jewelry designer, Kenneth Jay Lane.

See more of Kenneth Jay Lane in this post about Gripoix glass jewelry.

Since counting stars isn’t an exact science, a better way to tell the age is elements of design, like this flag brooch, which offers a taste of the Victorian flair that mid-twentieth century Americans loved.

mid century flag pin with garnets

Or this US pin that just “feels” like a piece from the late 1970s / early 1980s.

Or this brass flag pin, which places emphasis on the waves, a contemporary motif reminiscent of 1990s country music songs.

waving brass flag

England’s jewelers seem at first glance to have a similar relationship to their flag, the Union Jack.

In fact, here’s a Union Jack by Oscar Heyman with rubies, sapphires and diamonds as before, also found on 1stDibs, this one selling for $36,450.

Union jack brooch by Oscar Heyman found on 1stDibs.com for $35,450

But now I wonder about other countries’ flags and how they may or may not end up in jewelry design.

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