Founded in 1949 by Charles Stuart, who named his costume-jewelry company after his granddaughter, Sarah Coventry did not follow the Coro, Trifari, or Miriam Haskell practice of producing the work of a strong in-house designer. Instead, Stuart purchased designs from freelancers, then hired firms such as DeLizza and Elster, whose house brand was Juliana, to create its chokers, necklaces, brooches, earrings, and bracelets.
Also unlike its competitors, Sarah Coventry did not focus on getting prime counter space in department stores, or selling its wares to Hollywood movie stars in order to move its inventory. Stuart’s approach was more grassroots, using house parties (a la Tupperware and Avon) to get people talking about his affordable jewelry. He also gave his costume jewelry away to contestants on game shows and at beauty pageants. The word of mouth that resulted from this marketing strategy made Sarah Coventry one of the most popular jewelry brands of the mid-20th century. Today, its pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are especially prized by collectors.
Even though Coventry lacked its own designer, many of the company’s signature pieces share stylistic characteristics. For example, Sarah Coventry costume jewelry tends to feature cabochons and marquise-cut rhinestones rather than densely packed grids or endless rows of smaller sparklers. Base metals were usually gold-tone or silver-tone, sometimes serving as openwork or filigree backgrounds for a handful of stones placed symmetrically upon them. And, above all, Coventry jewelry was fun, often ringed with eye-catching rhinestone-bead or enameled-metal fringe. Sometimes Coventry pieces even incorporated art masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa into their designs.
For much of its short history (the brand was sold in 1984, and enjoyed only a brief resurgence from 2002 to 2003), Sarah Coventry advertised its jewelry as being “for the woman who dares to be different,” even though the names it gave most of its products were plain and ordinary. A brooch from a line called Azure featured a faux turquoise cabochon set atop a spiral of gold-tone amid smaller stones. Wisteria is the word the company chose to describe a silver-tone setting featuring purple and pink rhinestones, even though the floral shape looked nothing like the famous flowers as depicted by, say, Tiffany.
Sometimes the names were more evocative, such as Acapulco, whose intertwined star-like and vaguely circular shapes were defined by their red-and-green cabochons, chosen, presumably, to echo the colors of the Mexican flag. Maharani was simply meant to sound exotic—its faux turquoise stones were paired with faceted emerald rhinestones, which were positioned like leaves on the line’s brooch and matching earrings.
And then there were names that suggest the company’s marketing division had simply run out of ideas. For no particular reason, a four-piece set that included a diamond-shaped brooch, with matching clip-on earrings and a stickpin, was called Remembrance, while Bittersweet featured faux coral teardrops attached to gold-tone leaves. Touch of Elegance treated its green rhinestones like pieces of fruit hanging from stems and secured by filigree settings. Fashion Splendor was the phrase used to describe an organic circle of openwork gold-tone decorated with opaque pink and white rhinestones, as well as clear marquise-cut green rhinestones. Better was Fashion Flower, which paired ruby and aurora borealis rhinestones on a filigree gold-tone setting (matching earrings came in two sizes, while the namesake brooch differentiated itself with the addition of a stem).
Color-based pieces are among the most collectible. Blue Lagoon pieces from the 1960s had aurora borealis rhinestones on them, alongside smaller blue and purple ones. The asymmetrical Mosaic combined solid-color and dappled cabochons on gold-tone. Strawberry Ice used silver-tone and strawberry shapes for its pins and earrings. And the gold-tone necklace-and-earring set called Golden Avocado riffed on the popular kitchen color of the 1970s.