Michael and Joseph Chernow, the founders of the costume jewelry business we know today as Monet, had $4 to their name when they first considered entering the monogram business in 1919. The young brothers were meticulous and methodical as they laid their plans, so much so that it took them eight years to found Monocraft in New York.

Through Monocraft, the Chernows capitalized on the popularity of monogramming—the late-1920s were the height of monogram mania. Their first target was to streamline the monogramming process at automobile dealerships. The brothers had noticed how much time it took for dealers to hand paint initials on the sides of their new customers’ car doors. Monocraft offered these dealers decals that took just minutes to apply.

According to Alice Vega, who we interviewed after the publication of her book, "Monet: The Master Jewelers," the decals were a hit, and this success led M & J, as the brothers were known, to launch a new line of metal monograms that resembled the family crests of gentried aristocrats, yet were affordable to middle-class car buyers. Unfortunately, just as their business was taking off, the Great Depression hit in 1929, and the market for cars, let alone monogrammed ones, dried up.

The brothers responded by reaching out to major department stores like McCrorys and Macy’s, which would routinely monogram handbags for their customers. Until Monocraft came along, these purses and bags would have to be sent away to be customized. The Chernows gave department stores the means to keep bags in house by supplying them, for example, with storage units that made it possible to easily organize the initials without damaging them. By the mid-1930s, Monocraft was the standard for handbag monograms.

It wasn’t until the second half of the 1930s that Monocraft expanded its product line to include jewelry monograms, including dangle pins, bracelets, name chains, fobs, and watch chains. The Chernows really hit their stride with Click-Its, decorative pins that customers personalized by clicking in initials at the store counter. Click-Its were promoted aggressively in store with “mat” pages advertising the product at the counter. Demand was so great for these new products that the brothers opened their first factory in Providence, Rhode Island.

During this period of growth, in 1934, the Chernows hired designer Edmond Mario Granville. He came to Monocraft with a background in fine jewelry from Cartier. Granville remained the company’s sole designer until the late 1950s and was executive designer until his death in 1969. His leadership would span the company’s humble beginnings as Monocraft to its eventual acclaim as Monet.

As was the brothers’ practice, they researched the costume jewelry industry extensively after their success with monogrammed jewelry pieces. They concluded there was a large numb...

Monet’s first collection was largely influenced by European fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Monet pulled from both the rival designers’ schools of thought: Chanel’s style was represented by straightforward depictions of animals, flora, and people, while Schiaparelli’s could be seen in Monet's abstract and surreal pieces. The collection also included large multicolor rhinestones resembling emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, some set on clips and pins, others anchored to wide cuff bracelets. The colored stones would not last, though, as these early pieces were superseded by later collections focusing on the design and hue of the metal itself.

When the United States entered World War II, metals like brass and platinum were rationed, and Monet’s Providence factory was retooled to produce shell casings, ammunition, and seals for torpedoes. Of the jewelry the company did make, the metal of choice was sterling silver. Pins and fur clips were the most popular pieces made during the war, worn on hats, lapels, purses, sleeve hems, and evening gowns.

Some pins reflected wartime sentiments, such as the victory pins which denoted solidarity with soldiers in Europe and the Pacific. Monet was named the official Royal Air Force jewelry maker, and participated in Bundles for Britain, which raised money for civilians recovering from air raids. Other pins were more lighthearted, such as the popular figural pins—Geraldine the Giraffe, Pedro the Pup, Lionelly, Mary’s Little Lamb, and Honey Bear were gold-plated with bright enamel accents.

After the war, Monet returned to a fully operational factory. Sterling silver bracelets were plated in pink gold or yellow gold with heavy link designs. In the late 1940s, Monet introduced large single-charm bracelets. The most popular charms were the pair of lovebirds, a clover, and a perfume flask.

As postwar hairstyles became shorter, demand for earrings rose. Monet’s clip-on earrings mimicked small bows, intricate flora, fruit baskets, and wedding-band-style hoops, a Monet signature. Some designs were geometric, with metal twists and concentric circles. The color ranged from pink gold to yellow gold to silver.

In the ’50s, costume jewelry flourished as it became a part of people’s everyday fashion. Bracelets lined arms and necklaces grew bigger and longer than ever, fitting with the trending fashion for lower necklines. Monet’s heavy, chain-link necklaces of the 1940s were updated in the '50s. Slide necklaces like the Priscilla and chokers with names like Elite and Carousel were everywhere. Other necklaces sported dangling pendants and chain fringe. The complex metalwork did not stop with overall design—even the surfaces were textured and engraved .

For the fashionable teenage girl, there was the Monettes line. The Chernows envisioned jewelry that a girl could wear to the the prom or during a tennis match. Accordingly, Granville designed delicate chain necklaces ending in charm-like flowers, hearts, cupids, and perfume balls (similar to the perfume flasks of the ’40s).

Monet’s multi-charm bracelets, which drew inspiration from the single-charm bracelets of the ’40s, exploded in popularity in the 1960s. Some charms shaped liked the words “peace” and “love” reflected the hippie movement, but most were representations of animals or everyday objects such as shoes and cuckoo clocks.

Monet partnered with General Mills in 1968, a first for the intentionally small, family-oriented company. The 1970s saw the arrival of pierced earrings (until then, all Monet earrings were all clip-ons). In 1977, Monet launched Ciani, a line of fine jewelry in 14-carat gold, sterling silver, and vermeil. Some pieces included onyx, ivory, semi-precious stones, and pave diamonds. Ciani pieces were specially packaged in velvet pouches or suede jewelry rolls to differentiate them from traditional Monet lines, and each silver piece included a polishing cloth.

In the 1980s, Monet continued to expand. Its jewelry, like everything else in the culture, became louder, with bright colors and bold designs. Art Deco inspired pieces were a hit, and while new materials were incorporated, Monet designs still focused on the metal. Monet expanded its product line to include other accessories like pens, watches, and belt buckles, and the company jumped into the mail-order business by starting Complements, a catalog business, in 1988.

Monet acquired two major lines during the ’80s and ’90s. In 1981, Monet was licensed to sell the costume jewelry of French designer, Yves Saint Laurent, in the United States. YSL designs had high standards, and Monet was likely the only costume jewelry company that could meet the manufacturing requirements. After success with that line, Monet began manufacturing Christian Lacroix costume jewelry in 1995. Like YSL, Christian Lacroix used quality materials, and Monet sold the line exclusively in upscale department stores. Christian Lacroix was different from YSL, though, because the Monet staff did not have final approval on the jewelry, while the style itself was more playful and colorful than Monet’s traditional lines. A common Lacroix motif was a heart, and many pieces had multiple stones of varying colors and sizes.

Today, Monet is particularly prized by collectors for its quality. Thanks to triple-plating, it's not unusual for Monet pieces to last for decades without showing signs of wear on the finish. In addition, most Monet jewelry is marked with its name, like a fine jewelry manufacturer would do, which is unusual in the costume jewelry trade.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Researching Costume Jewelry

Researching Costume Jewelry

Jewelry lovers, venture through this amazing database of vintage jewelry articles, catalogs, and brochures, as well… [read review or visit site]

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

It looks like we're not in Kansas anymore with Elizabeth Rowlands' site on vintage costume jewelry from the 1940s a… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Jewellery Gorgeous Retro Link Bracelet Signed 'monet'Vintage Designer Costume Jewellery Grosse,erwin Pearl Monet Brooch Necklace EtcAwesome Monet Gold Tone Set- Necklace, Bracelet & Earrings ExcellentVintage Monet Heavy Gold Tone Egyptian Revival Style Bib Necklace 16"Signed Monet Vintage Brooch Pin Butterfly Rhinestone Faux Pearl C327Vintage Monet 12k Gold Filled Art Deco Style Graduated Bead Choker Necklace 16"Signed Monet Vintage Bracelet Fringe Tassel Double Strand Silver Tone C505Vintage Signed Monet Gold, Bead, & Crystal Clip Earrings FantasticSigned Monet Vintage Bracelet Magnetic Clasp Metalic Color Multi Strand C31Vintage Monet Signed Silver/black Snake Choker NecklaceSigned Monet Vintage 16" Necklace Y Dangle Tassel Bow Gold Tone C401Decorative Monet Dragonfly Shaped Gold Tone Metal Stick Pin W/wire WingsVintage Estate Jewelry ~signed Monet Haute Couture NecklaceFabulous Monet Swarovski Crystal Open Bezel Necklace Rhinestone Chain VintageMonet Gorgeous Exceptional Wide Heavy Gold Mesh Link BraceletVintage Signed Monet Large Purple & Gold Rhinestone Crown Brooch Pin Royal GtGold Plated 'monet' CollaretteVintage Style Clip Earrings Signed Monet 7 Pairs Vintage Signed Earrings Crown Trifari Monet GiovanniStunning Vintage Monet White Enamel Long Statement NecklaceVintage Monet Dangle Modernist Silver Tone Clip EarringsVintage Monet Gold Tone White Enamel Butterfly Pin BroochUnmarked Monet Chunky Gold Tone Double Hoop Chain Necklace & Pierced Earrings~Vintage Gold Tone Blue Glass Clip On Earrings Signed MonetStunning Vintage Estate Signed Monet Jewelers Fabric Flowers Bracelet!!! 1601eBrand New Monet Gorgeous Black Crystal Gold Tone Drop EarringsVintage Monet Bracelet Triple Chain Gold ToneMonet Gold Tone Raised Texture Link Choker NecklaceVintage Estate Designer Signed Graduated Crystal Signed Monet Necklace 16-1/2 InStunning Vintage Gold Tone Signed Monet Tear Drop Rhinestone Clip Earrings! 683rVtg Monet Earrings Gold Tone Spiral Rope Dome Button Signed Costume JewelrySexy Beautiful Silvertone Vintage 70s Monet Necklace Bracelet Earrings SetVintage Estate Signed Monet Boutique Style Boho Floral Pendant Abstract Neckace Vintage Monet 20mm Gold Cross Hatch Ball Bead Chain Linked Necklace 20"Vintage Signed Monet Gold Necklace Terrific Vintage Signed Monet Gold Bracelet SuperbAbb Vintage Monet 52" Length Silver Tone 3 Multi Strand Chain Link NecklaceMonet Gold Tone & Cut Amber Glass NecklaceVintage Signd Monet Silver Pierced Earrings FantasticVintage Signed Monet Gold Clip Earrings FantasticVintage Signed Monet Gold Clip Earrrings WonderfulDecorative Monet Swirled Gold Tone Metal Brooch W/ribbed Design Monet2 Silver Snowflake Pendant NecklaceMarked Monet Winged Styled Pearl Cab Rhinestone Gold Tone Huge 4" Vtg Pin BroochStunning Vintage Gold Tone Signed Monet Floral Autumn Maple Leaf Brooch!!! 687kVtg Stunning Massive Charm Bracelet 50s Enamel Detailed Rare Monet Very RareMonet Bee Pin/brooch Signed Gold Tone Metal Wire Wings Bumble Bee No Stone Nice Monet Enameled Bracelet, Flowers, Pink, Yellow, White, Rhinestones, LinkVintage Singed Monet White Lucite Beads Runway Pendant Necklace!Vintage 60s Big Chunky Haute Couture Signed Monet Chic Runway Necklace EstateMonet Swarovski Crystal Black Pearl 2 Strand Necklace Estate Unused MintVintage Signed Monet Clip Earrings, White Enamel Openwork Scallop/swirl DangleMonet Earrings White Enamel Pierced Vintage 80's Half Moon Design Boho Chic NrNice Vintage *signed Monet* Silver/gray Beads And Rhinestones Stretch BraceletVintage 60's Large Monet Silver Toned Ocean Sea Starfish Brooch PinVintage Pasadena Jewelry Monet Rhinestones Elephant Brooch PinDecorative Monet Gold Tone Dangle Clip Earrings W/amber Color Acrylic StoneMonet Triple Strand Gold Tone Necklace With Tiger's Eye AccentsVintage Signd Monet Gold Pierced Hoop Earrings FantasticVintage Monet Ivory Enamel & Goldtone Pierced Earrings ~ A Touch Of Class!