When you think of North American costume-jewelry centers, glamorous cities like New York, L.A., and Chicago probably come to mind. But one of the top-notch costume jewelers in the 1950s was actually located in Montreal, Canada. Gustave Sherman’s Jewish parents immigrated to Canada to escape persecution in Eastern Europe. Once in Montreal, young Gustave took a job as a jewelry salesman, which sparked his interest in the trade.

Even though he had no schooling in business or jewelry-making, Gustave founded his Montreal manufacturing company, Sherman Costume Jewelry, in 1947. He started with one employee, Hungarian jeweler Jimmy Koretza, an expert craftsman who help make Sherman’s exquisite designs a reality. By the 1950s, Sherman had established himself as Canada’s foremost costume jeweler, and his work was starting to appear on runways in Paris and New York.

Sherman, whose slogan was “made to last a lifetime,” demanded the highest level of quality in workmanship and material. Using Swarovski crystals, special ordered to his exacting specifications, Sherman often copied examples of fine jewelry. He was willing to pay for the best materials, so his pieces always featured Swarovski’s top-of-the-line stones, often with shimmering aurora borealis coating, which he then put in sturdy japanned, rhodium-, and gold-plated prong settings.

Naturally, this meant his costume jewelry was some of the most expensive on the market—even in the early days, his pieces could go for as much as $50. His less elaborate and more affordable items sold at Canadian department stores and through the major jewelry shop Birks. The finest pieces of Sherman jewelry, however, sold at exclusive jewelry boutiques across the country.

Sherman was particularly enamored with luminous crystals cut into navettes and elongated marquis shapes, which could be arranged in flowing designs. Exploiting this fluid quality, he would set these crystals in monochromatic schemes, exploring the different hues and tones of a single color. His necklaces and bracelets would move from champagne to topaz (golds), sapphire to robin's egg (blues), fuchsia to pink (reds), and emerald to peridot (greens).

Sherman came up with thousands of color schemes, some of which were only produced for one season. Collectors are especially interested in his pieces with deep red crystals set on japanned backing. Sherman figural brooches, shaped like owls, cats, baskets, hearts, bows, and the like are highly sought by collectors.

Marks include “SHERMAN” in caps, “Sherman” in script, and “SHERMAN STERLING.” His bracelets often featured safety chains and hidden clasps, with the mark stamped on the backside ...

In the 1970s, luxurious and glamorous rhinestones fell out of fashion in favor of angular, geometric pieces made out of fake gold and silver, which caused Sherman’s business to decline. He refused to produce cheap, low-quality pieces, and instead entered the fine-jewelry market just as the price of gold and other precious metal was skyrocketing. Sherman had to close up shop in 1981, and he passed away in 1984.

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