One of the most immediately recognizable examples of vintage costume jewelry is the Jelly Belly pin or brooch. Pioneered by Trifari in the 1930s and perfected by the company’s head designer, Alfred Philippe, in the 1940s, the phrase Jelly Belly refers to a figural—usually an animal—pin with a rounded middle made out of polished Lucite. Jelly Bellies produced immediately after World War II are must-haves for many collectors of vintage costume jewelry.
One of the earliest Trifari Jelly Bellies depicts a duckling hatching from an egg. With its pavé-set rhinestone head, red coral eye, and gold-plated eggshell, wings, and beak, this 1930s piece is everything a good Jelly Belly should be—elegant, charming, and whimsical.
In the 1940s, Philippe created a menagerie of Jelly Belly creatures. Some were simple, such as a fly pin with rhinestones accenting the insect’s neck and wings. Others were more complex—Philippe’s seal featured an enormous arching Lucite body balancing a rhinestone sapphire ball on the tip of its gold-plated nose.
Roosters and penguins are among the more common examples of the form. Rare Trifari Jelly Bellies include poodles, rhodium-plated elephants with black enamel tusks and a red enamel eye, and a cat pin with a chain in its mouth, from the bottom of which dangled a Lucite goldfish bowl (a goldfish was carved into the plastic from behind). Lucite goldfish-bowl earrings completed the ensemble.
Not to be outdone by the competition, Coro made its own line of Jelly Bellies, designed by Arthur Katz and sold through department stores as a part of its upscale Corocraft brand. One particular striking example from the postwar period was an angel fish, with lots of blue and aqua enameling in the fins and an enormous white ball of Lucite for the body. Other Coro Jelly Bellies were sold as Duettes, Coro’s famous collection of paired pins.
Trifari sued Coro for infringing on its design, but numerous other costumer jewelers of the day produced their own versions of Jelly Bellies, most of which were left unsigned. Today signed Trifari pieces are sought by serious collectors, but unsigned ones by other manufacturers represent a relative bargain, and may even be more appealing to those who like to wear their costume jewelry without worrying too much about its welfare.