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    

Old Pawn Navajo Round Footed Sterling Turquoise Trinket Jewelry Box 54 GramsSuper Solid Wood Machinist Tool Box,8 Drawer,fish Lure Display,jewelry Case,vgc Disney Store "frozen" Jewelry Music Box Elsa Anna Doll Figurine Olaf "let It Go"Tramp Folk Art Primitive 6 Drawer Chest Box Chip Carved Cigar Jewelry MiniatureJewelry Trinket Box Korean Mother Of Pearl Inlay Lacquered Cranes Small PinkGenuine Rolex President Green Leather Jewelry Box W/ Removable Tray #234Taisho Lacquer Miniature Doll Tansu Haribako Sewing Jewelry Make-up Case/box YqzVtg Mid Century Modern Chinese Red Lacquer Wood Brass Large Jewelry Chest BoxWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerVtg Baccarat Style Large Cut Crystal Jewelry Trinket Vanity Dresser Casket Box Antique Leather Jewellery Pocket Watch Box Jewelry Case - A Marshall, Jarrow19thc Victorian Era Figural Doctors Bag Silverplate Vanity Jewelry Box By WilcoxHarley Davidson 100th Anniversary Jewelry Box *limited Edition* Msrp $179.991800s Walnut Long Glove Dresser Box Victorian Jewelry Chest Wall Candle HolderAntique Ormolu & Beveled Glass Filigree Jewelry Box, Casket, Dresser Trinket BoxBlack Leather 20 Grid Mens Watch Display Case Glass Top Jewelry Box Organizer LgWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire Black W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box Rings19th C German Dressel & Kister Jewelry Box Queen Porcelain Figure Figurine Mirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire Black W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsGorgeous 1910 German Art Nouveau Box Jewelry Case Treasure Chest Erhard & SEuc Tiffany & Co Large Elsa Peretti Wave Black Leather Jewelry Box - No ReserveCherry 24 Inch Wall Mount Lighted Jewelry Armoire Chest Cabinet Led Lighted BoxMirrored Jewelry Cabinet W/stand Mirror Amoire Organizer Storage Box Rings WhiteVintage Glass Brass Jewelry Trinket Display Box With 6 Removable DrawersDisney Store Frozen Musical Jewelry Box Music Plays Let It Go Sold OutAuthentic Antique Cartier Presentation Jewelry Box Red Leather Gold Foil VintageFaberge Egg With Flower Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Swarovski Crystal Jewelry BoxMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire Black W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsPrometheus Burled Walnut Humidor Decorative Cigar Box / Repurposed Jewelry Box1.2 Oz Nice Hand Carved Malachite Jewelry Box Lapidary CarvingLate 19th C Bohemian Jewelry Box Casket - Chinese Man Motif, Electric Blue GlassAntique 19th C Folk Art Inlaid Primitive Wood Jewelry Desk BoxHello Kitty Nesting Boxes Jewelry Armoires Sunglasses Pouches Slippers EtcCoach Black Pebble Leather Men's Women's Unisex Jewelry Cuff Link Watch Box CaseBlack Leather 20 Grid Mens Watch Display Case Glass Top Jewelry Box Organizer LgVintage Longines Watch Box Jewelry Box & Certificate Of GuaranteeAgresti Briarwood Hinged Top 2 Drawer Jewelry Box Handcrafted In ItalyAgresti Briarwood Hinged Top 2 Drawer Jewelry Box Handcrafted In ItalyVintage Gilded Cast Metal Fancy Jewelry Casket Beveled Glass Ovals One ChippedMirrored Jewelry Cabinet W/stand Mirror Amoire Organizer Storage Box Rings BlackVintage Filigree Ormolu Jewelry Casket Tea Cart Gold Tone Bevelled Glass 4"Watch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerRare Moon And Stars Clear Oval Jewelry Lidded Box W/label Le Smith Vintage GlassFaberge Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal - Swarovski Crystal Jewelry BoxFourteen Vintage Jewellery Boxes Jewelry Cases - All With WearMirrored Jewelry Cabinet Amoire Black W/stand Mirror Organizer Storage Box RingsBlack Leather 20 Grid Jewelry Watch Display Organizer Gloss Top Box Case LargeVintage Reuge Jewelry Music Box With Clock Made In Italy Romance Swiss Movement20 Grids Jewelry Watch Display Case Box Slots Leather Storage Holder OrganizerVintage Carved Handpainted Domed Jewelry Box Chest- Antique Eyeglasses-compactLarge Faux Leather Jewelry Case Storage Box Watch Box Cosmetic Case BlackPhantom Of The Opera Music Box Jewelry 25th Anniversary Collectors EditionVery Pretty European Velvet Music Jewelry Box In Working Condition Vintage24 Watch Leather Box Glass Top Display Lockable Jewelry Organizer Storage CaseBeautiful Godinger Silver Plated Jewelry Trinket Box - #227Black Faux Leather Jewelry Box Case Jewellery Watch Display/organizer Box15 Lb Box Of Jewelry Shelf Pulls, Over Stock, Sample Pieces OverBeautiful Vintage Japanese Hand Painted Toyo Music Box & Jewelry Box Shadow BoxFaberge Music Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal - Swarovski Crystal Jewelry Box