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”)

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]

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]

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    

Large Antique Howard & Co American Sterling Silver Heart Dresser Jewelry Box NrAntique French Gilt Bronze Red Guilloche Enamel Portrait Miniature Jewelry Box6 Slot Watch Storage Box Leather Display Case Jewelry Holder Organizer Glass TopBeauty And The Beast Belle Musical Jewelry BoxJessica Roger Rabbit Statue Figurine Disneyland Disney Markrita Jewelry Box PinTiffany & Co. Classic Sterling Silver Ciggarette Jewelry Box With Wood Lining Vtg Mother Of Pearl Shell Jewelry Trinket Vanity Dresser Lidded Box Home Decor Jewelry Mirror Box Organizer Mirrored Armoir Necklaces Rings Storage Black BraceJewelry Box Armoir Mirror Organizer Mirrored Necklaces Chest Storage Brown BraceVintage Sterling Silver 925 Oval Lidded Clam Shell Form Trinket Jewelry Pill BoxExcellent Authentic Chanel Cc Fashion Bracelet Chain Rope String Jewelry BoxBig Vintage Navajo L.james Ornate Repousse Sterling Footed Jewelry Box 206 Grams34mm Hand Carved Malachite Jewelry Box Miniature Gemstone Carving - CongoAntique Parquet Inlay Wood Box Non Filter Cigarette Case Jewelry Scottie DogAntique Tooled Leather Jewellery Box, Vintage Jewelry Case - Brooch, Stick Pin!Antique Figural Winged Cherub Silverplate Jewelry CasketAuthentic Rolex Crown Collection Ladies Jewelry Box Royal Blue W/ Gold Crown KeyWatch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerBarbie Lingerie Silkstone Brunette Doll With Clothing & Jewelry No Box Or Shoes Pottery Barn Pb Teen Jewelry Box Armoire - White And Blue12 Slot Watch Box Jewelry Organizer Display Holder Case Glass Top Black Leather Lg Vintage Jewelry Box Full Sterling Carnegie Krementz 14k Gold Fill Boucher MorVintage 1976 Supersize Mattel Barbie Doll 9828 In Original Box Jewelry Stand 18"Vintage 1959 Poole Sterling Silver Cigar/jewelry BoxFine Old Chinese Carved Wood Shou Sign Brass Hinge Silk Lined Ladies Jewelry BoxWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerBeautiful Sailing Ships Incolay Stone Jewelry Box - Blue / Gray/ WhiteFine 18th C Rococo German Silver Jewelry Toilet Box Nuremberg Maker "iah"Vintage Sigma Chi Fraternity Wood Jewelry / Music Box, Crest On Lid Reuge OldAntique French Women's Vanity / Jewelry Box - Baccarat Perfume Scent BottlesFaberge Easter Egg With Elephant By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry BoxAntique Beveled Glass Petite Jewelry Casket Trinket Box Hinged Double LidFaberge Egg With & Pedant By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry / Trinket Box Teddy Bear Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Faberge Egg Swarovski Crystal Jewelry Box24 Watch Leather Box Glass Top Display Lockable Jewelry Organizer Storage Case BVintage Large Buxton Jewelry Box 1950's Golden Floral Design 2 DrawersCollectible Old Handwork Wood Book Shape Jewelry Box Paint Dragon Phoenixbx45m17Watch Box Large 12 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerLovely Tiger Eye & Onyx Vintage Modernist Handsome Unisex Jewelry BoxFaberge Easter Egg With Elephant By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry BoxFaberge Squirrel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Swarovski Crystal Jewelry BoxVintage Murano Glass Jewelry Casket Box With Ormolu Great Color!Matt Wax Gun Model 105 For Making Jewelry And Sculpting Plus A Huge Box Of Wax Vintage 1930-40's Sonsco Japan Fiesta Jewelry Music Box & Rings~necklace~earring Snap-on Intimidator Mini Tool-box-miniature Jewelry Box Dale Earnhardt Red Metal Security Dictionary Book Cash Jewelry Homesafe Key Lock Storage BoxOld Handwork Porcelain Jewelry Box Armored Dragon Phoenix Paint Figure Bx45k05Wooden Secret Jewelry Accessory Box Made In Korea Purple Crane P-crGirls First Spinning Ballerina Pink Jewelry Music Box Polka Dots Heart Mirror FsAntique French Ormolu And Beveled Glass Jewelry CasketFaberge Rabbit Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry BoxVintage Wood Jewelry Trinket Dresser Box W/ Drawer Men's Women's Folk ArtSolid Curly Koa Jewelry BoxPre-owned Rolex 51.00.01 Blue Crown Collection Jewelry BoxFaberge Egg With & Music By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry / Trinket Box A Christmas Carriagetrinket Box By Keren Kopal Swarovski Crystal Jewelry BoxFaberge Easter Egg With Elephant By Keren Kopal Austrian Crystal Jewelry BoxWatch Box Large 20 Mens Black Leather Display Glass Top Jewelry Case OrganizerVintage Ormolu Jewelry Casket Box W/beveled Glass~stylebuiltLarge 20 Slot Leather Watch Box Display Case Organizer Glass Top Jewelry Storage