Jewelry tickles me. I see something, and I wonder, why? A low-stakes, bloodless mini mystery brightens my brain. And, as a bonus, I know there will be pictures.
That’s how I felt last weekend when I came across this tempting fakelite palm tree brooch for sale at my favorite Ithaca, NY antique dealership, Found. (Worth a trip from anywhere!)
I’d of course seen palm trees on stuff before – they’re a familiar motif. Lo and behold, here, across the aisle at Found, was a pair of fiesta style Rose Laughlin vases…
Palm tree jewelry is a thing, on that we can agree.
But, my question remains: Why?
Hawaiian jewelry and other vacation souvenirs
Palm trees satisfy jewelry customers’ desire for beyond.
And the solution to the mystery kind of starts and ends there. Palm trees are a symbol of travel for a Western tourist class.
Here’s a case in point: a 1930, Baumann Massa brooch of a woman in a porter’s cap carrying actual suitcases (figured from emerald-cut gemstones!) under a palm tree.
The same group who can afford a trip to Hawaii – or Mexico, Morocco, Rio, or Israel can also afford to bring a little piece of the tropics or desert home with them via jewelry in the shape of a palm tree.
Read about souvenir jewelry made with English Whitby jet.
Want to learn more about botanical motifs in jewelry? Here’s one about Scottish thistle jewelry.
Art Deco era island jewelry
The 1920s and 1930s, with the increased ability to travel the world, embraced jewelry with tropical island themes.
This included the “exotic” – from geometric Islamic patterns to Egyptian revival style, and literal island motifs like palm trees, coconuts, and monkeys.
Diamond-studded jewelry was the norm during the Roaring 20s, and island jewelry with palm trees was no exception.
Mogul Art Deco jewelry Cartier created a diamond palm tree brooch with briolette coconuts in 1939.
Read about Art Deco era Islamic and Asian influences on jewelry designers that inspired, among other things, the palm tree motif.
Mid Century island jewelry
Travel expanded still more in the 1940s and 1950s. World War II flung men across the globe. Then, the ones who came back were tasked with living lives enriched by economic boom.
Images of prosperous, middle class men and women lounging comfortably in airplanes remain colorful evidence that tourism heated up mid-century.
Baumann Massa was a St. Louis-based company that specialized in “travel”-themed costume jewelry, (some of it perhaps problematic for the more liberal-minded).
This Baumann Massa monkey and palm tree figural brooch is circa 1940.
And here’s a Coro brooch with pearls for coconuts, and another monkey climbing up the palm tree for lunch.
The jeweler’s long fascination with monkeys is more difficult to explain than the fascination with coconuts, which can easily be expressed in gemstones.
Mid century also loved Hollywood, so California palms likely also served as a jeweler’s muse.
Also, of course, Rio!
Contemporary island jewelry
Here’s a fabulous 80s pair of earrings by Saugerties NY-based Lunch at the Ritz.
Once jewelry manufacturers have a motif, it’s here to stay. Brand new jewelry with palm trees is available all over ebay. And they can be boring and basic, or ugly and weird.
And, yes! Also fabulous. Lunch at the Ritz is still in business.
Island jewelry at minusOne
I try to have a couple of pieces of palm tree and island jewelry in the shop. It’s hard to pass them by now that I’ve seen them. New personal collections pop up this way all the time.
Here’s an onyx and sterling sunset pendant for sale at minusOne that feels like the 40s.
And a classic and classy sterling palm tree brooch (unmarked but tested) from the same era.
And if these are sold, there may be more in the shop.
Bon voyage!!!! Wish you were here!
Some might think this 1930s Hattie Carnegie brooch is a mushroom, but you and I know better.
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Stay and buy yourself something nice.