Jewelry boxes were once like treasure chests for the royalty, priests, and aristocrats who could afford to own valuables worth being stowed away. But as fine jewelry became more affordable during the Industrial Revolution, jewelry boxes, too, were mass-produced for the middle class. There were small boxes made for single rings, larger boxes meant for multiple pieces of varying sizes, and boxes designed for jewelry as well as accessories such as gloves. Some had myriad compartments, drawers, trays, and velvet slots for rings. Others contained mirrors, clocks, or mechanical music-makers. And while many were sealed with a lock and key, some boxes were puzzles whose solution revealed the jewels inside.

One type of jewelry box is the jewelry casket, a rectangular box made of inlaid or carved wood, metal, porcelain, button-pressed glass, or plastics like celluloid or Lucite. Others are shaped like squat cylinders with feet, heart-shaped boxes, egg-shaped containers, or human figurines. Respected ceramic factories in Limoges and glassmakers like Fenton have also made their own unique jewelry containers.

Others jewelry boxes are like miniature replicas of household furniture such as cabinets and bureaus. Sometimes these tiny replicas are produced by craftsmen who specialize in the full-size stuff, but these miniatures are not to be confused with jewelry armoires, which are actual pieces of furniture large enough to sit on the floor and hold a substantial jewelry horde, like that of Marie Antoinette. Handcrafted and hand-carved jewelry boxes are often considered family heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next.

A close cousin of the jewelry box is the trinket box. As Victorians filled their homes with curiosities, souvenirs, gadgets, and other knick-knacks, they embraced these gorgeous containers, which often featured miniature figures of kids, flowers, or animals on the lids. Characters based on children's illustrations by Kate Greenaway were particularly popular motifs for these boxes.

In the early 1900s, metal jewelry caskets flourished. Mass-produced in Europe, they were sold to U.S. customers through mail-order catalogs such as Sears & Roebuck, Marshall Fields, and Montgomery Ward. Cast of antimonial lead, the boxes would be electroplated in copper and finished in silver or gold with names like French Bronze, Roman Gold, Pompeian Gold, French Gray, and Parisian Silver. Later, these metal boxes were also enameled with ivory. Inside, these boxes would be lined with velvet, satin, faille, or silk.

The emergence of the naturalistic Art Nouveau movement led to flowing organic motifs, such as sinewy flowers, fluttering birds, and the magnificent tresses of beautiful women. Keeping with Victorian tradition, the type of flowers on the jewelry box could represent a coded romantic message: four-leaf clovers meant good luck, daisies meant innocence, and roses were for love. Since most of these metal boxes, made from the turn of the century to the 1920s, have been destroyed or fallen apart, they are highly sought by collectors today.

Americans of that era were not content to just buy these European jewelry boxes; they created their own, often depicting scenes from American history, like plantation life prior ...

Early American jewelry-box manufacturers include Jenning Brothers, Benedict Manufacturing Company, NB Rogers, Kronheimer and Oldebusch, Brainerd and Wilson, and the Art Metal Works. Many of their jewelry boxes are unmarked, as catalog companies such as Sears & Roebuck didn't want any names other than their own on the products they sold. Fashions dictated they incorporate motifs with ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian imagery. Brainerd and Wilson put patents on their Art Nouveau designs, while Weidlich Brothers patented their Colonial patterns.

Established in New York City in 1912, Mele installed sophisticated displays for jewelry-store windows on Fifth Avenue, and that eventually led the company to produce high-quality jewelry cases. While metal was rationed during World War II, Mele had the honor of designing the boxes that held the Purple Heart medals awarded during the war.

After the war, Mele renewed its success by inventing a jewelry box with a tray that popped up automatically when you lifted the cover. According to a 1948 "Life" magazine, Macy's listed this box as one of its top-10 best-selling Christmas gifts.

The musical jewelry box evolved out of mechanical music maker invented in 1502 and the cylinder-driven music box of 1796, an advance credited to Swiss watchmaker Antoine Favre. By 1865, another Swiss watchmaker, Charles Reuge, was making pocket watches with musical movements and smaller music boxes that men carried in their coats. These tiny music makers were all the rage in the late 1800s, used in perfume bottles, necklaces, and children's toys. Eventually, Reuge made musical jewelry boxes, too.

Thanks to the Great Depression and World War II, American manufacturers all but quit producing jewelry boxes. As the war came to a close, many U.S. soldiers returned home with music boxes from Switzerland as gifts, reviving interest in these quaint little musical-cylinder devices.

Around that time, Mele began to import that musical movement from Switzerland, and in the mid-1950s, the company introduced its iconic ballerina jewelry box for children, which opened to reveal a ballet dancer pirouetting to a tinkling tune. Over the years, musical jewelry boxes have expanded their themes to include angels, carousels, or Christmas-themed characters.

During the '50s, Mele also introduced new non-musical jewelry box lines that were popular with adults, including the black Japanese-style lacquer and "furniture miniature" jewelry boxes. In the '60s, Mele began to acquire other jewelry box makers including E&A Gunther Co. in Canada and European manufacturer Lionite Ltd. In recent decades, Mele has adapted to the taste for long-lasting leather jewelry boxes.

Of course, fine jewelry companies like Cartier and high-end watchmakers like Patek Philippe, Ulysse Nardin, and Blancpain provided specially designed boxes for their wares. Perhaps the most coveted of these is the robin's egg blue box that contained a glimmering piece of Tiffany & Co. jewelry. Founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1837, the New York retailer quickly became known as the epitome of luxury and style, as did its signature jewelry boxes.

So coveted was Tiffany jewelry, that it is became an essential part of the fairy-tale romance. The cliché goes something like, "Every girl dreams of receiving a little blue box from her beloved." "Every girl" apparently includes Holly Golightly, the fictional socialite played by Audrey Hepburn in 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's." In fact, the company has a trademark on "Tiffany Blue," a private custom color created by Pantone, PMS number 1837.

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]

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]

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]

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]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Cartier Jewelry Box Red + Gold Design Bracelet Leather Long Vtg Rare WatchVintage Swartchild German Jewelry Watch Makers Staking Tool Set In Box CompleteMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire White W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsHandcarved Green Malachite Jewelry Box Lapidary Carving - UniqueAntique Ormolu & Beveled Glass Filigree Jewelry Box, Casket, Dresser Trinket BoxVery Large Wavecrest Flower Decorated Comb Case Jewelry BoxFun Antique Art Nouveau Dresser Lock Money Trinket Junk Goodies Jewelry Box AnnaMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire White W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsRare 1979 1980 Superstar Dotw Italy Italian Barbie W/ Box Clothes & Jewelry Nr12 Watch Box Glass Top Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case Wine Pu LeatherHp Needlepoint 18ct Lee's Needle Arts Floral Insert/red Jewelry Box -jw3Frank Whiting Sterling Silver / Cloisonne Enamel Trinket Or Jewelry BoxReuge Musical Jewelry Box - "english Country Garden" Tune - Made In Italy Largest Antique Jewelry Box, Rare Gilded Capodimonte Casket, Dresser Trinket Box8 Watch Pu Leather Box Glass Top Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case BurgundyEldrd Wheeler Jewelry Keepsake Box Tiger Maple WoodCherry 45 Inch Wall Mounted Jewelry Armoire Storage Cabinet Box (damaged Top)14kt Yellow Gold Box Chain Jewelry Necklace, 16" LongWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerWatch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case Organizer12 Watch Box Glass Top Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case Wine Pu LeatherWatch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case Organizer10 Grids Slots Leather Jewelry Watch Display Case Box Storage Holder OrganizerAntique American Sterling Silver Gold Gilt Jewelry Trinket Pill Box Je Caldwell 20 Grids Slots 2-tire Watch Jewelry Case Storage Box Display Organizer Holder19thc Antique Maple Wood Desk Box / Jewelry Box W/ Tray $1 Start ___ No ReserveWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire White W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsVintage Brass & Glass Trinket Display Box Jewelry Case Ball Feet12 Watch Box Glass Top Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case Wine Pu LeatherVintage Collection Handmade Old Rare Cloisonne Vivid Yuanyang Jewelry BoxGlass Top 8 Watch Leather Box Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case BurgundyExquisite Vintage Antique 1920s Japanese Sterling Silver 950 Jewelry Box JapanHuge 7lb Box Of All Vintage Jewelry For Parts Repair Or Crafts Lots Of High End Vintage Collection Handmade Old Bbronze Exquisite Carving Yuanyang Jewelry BoxAntique Celluloid Paper Mache Jewelry Trinket Dresser Vanity Box Girls Dolls Watch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerWatch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerVintage Kid's Wood Treasure Chest Pirate Ship Skull Bones Mens Jewelry Box JapanWatch Box 6 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerSuperb Vintage CollectableBeautiful Hand Carved Antique Chest/jewelry Box With Latch For Lock And KeyAntique China Late Qing/republican Handmade Wood Jewelry Box Inlaid Jade. Large Brown Leather 24 Grid Watch Display Case Glass Top Jewelry Box OrganizerVtg Beveled Glass And Brass Ornate Trinket Jewelry Box / Angel Feet2-tire 24 Grids Slots Watch Jewelry Case Storage Box Leather Organizer Holder Bl12 Watch Box Glass Top Display Jewelry Organizer Storage Case Wine Pu LeatherBlack Leather 24 Mens Watch Box Large Glass Top Display Jewelry Case Organizer Faberge Elephant Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Swarovski Crystal Jewelry Box Vintage Collection Miao Silver Unique Wonderful People Dragon Jewelry Box RougClear Makeup Case Drawers Cosmetic Organizer Jewelry Acrylic Cabinet Box Ra44Mirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire White W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsBlack Leather 24 Mens Watch Box Large Glass Top Display Jewelry Case Organizer Vintage 1981 Working Yaps Wind Up Dancing Circus Clown Musical Jewelry BoxVintage Mens Wood Jewelry Box Dresser Top Valet Storage DrawerFaberge Egg With & Pedant By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry / Trinket Box Beveled Oval Glass Jewelry Dresser Ormolu Gold Filigree Trinket Jewel Casket BoxLarge Brown Leather 24 Grid Watch Display Case Glass Top Jewelry Box OrganizerJapan Kawaii Multipurpose Box Drawers For Cosmetic Makeup Jewelry Organizer CaseSuperb Collect Old Handmade Carved Precious Bone Jade Eexquisite Jewelry Box