The glitz of Sarah Coventry
Jul 28, 2021 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Despite the gloom of last year, most experts don’t expect 2021 to be a reboot of the Roaring 20s. Yes, the 1920s was the age of excess. But one could argue post-war America eclipsed that era. On the heels of WWII, enthusiastic consumerism rose like a phoenix out of the ashes. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I definitely partook of too much retail therapy in the last 18 months. I can understand how the greatest generation clamored for the instant happiness that comes from shopping your feelings away. The trauma of WWII had gripped the entire globe, so it’s only fitting that people craved joy. And as we’ve discussed in previous posts, designers translated a generation’s feelings into fun offerings. Think of Dior’s New Look or automobiles – cheerful was the common theme of every shop window. Perhaps no other costume jewelry brand reflected the exuberance of this period like Sarah Coventry. Active from 1949 through the 1984, the brand was so prolific you’ll still find Coventry pieces in jewelry cases nationwide. Get ready to live it up as we learn a bit more about the glitz of Sarah Coventry!
Firstly, the namesake for the brand was just a little girl in 1949. Her grandpa, Bill Stuart, named this new business division after his beloved granddaughter (and his ancestral home). Bill was the second generation leader of a business empire that had evolved from a plant nursery, to spices and to dinnerware. The only thing these disparate businesses had in common was the selling methodology: door-to-door. But following WWII the economic landscape was experiencing seismic changes. Men were returning home and women en masse were navigating home and work life. This is where Bill Stuart saw an opportunity. Already well-versed in a diversified salesforce, he pivoted the business model to party mode. Most of us are familiar with the legend of the Tupperware party and Sarah Coventry parties followed the same concept. Inspired by a brilliant marketing campaign (and some top-notch product placement on daytime television programs), armies of fashionable women were trained as Sarah Coventry reps. Eager to showcase their baubles to friends, these gals honed their sales skills while socializing. This combination proved to be a natural winner, earning the brand special recognition in a packed industry.
Coventry’s mission was to make beauty accessible to the average housewife and the party model supported this ideal. But there is one other differentiator that supported this goal of affordability. You see, unlike its competitors, Sarah Coventry did not try to woo heavy-hitting designers into their employ. Instead, the company purchased designs from freelance designers. Some of their favorite collaborations were with the duo William DeLizza and Harold Elster (who interestingly led just a fledgling studio at the time Coventry discovered them). DeLizza & Elster’s aesthetic vision was focused on glamour and color. Here’s a slideshow of some of their signature pieces, which give you a feel for their style.
You may be wondering if a brand with an array of designers lacks a clear creative vision – well, wonder no more! The good news for collectors is that there are some distinguishing features for a Coventry creation. When it comes to the stones you’ll find cabochons and rhinestones that are cut in a marquise shape. Often, they are also big and bold. Symmetry and filigree backgrounds also played a big role in many of its pieces, however some of Coventry’s most well-known collections were enamel. Coventry pieces were made for the woman who wasn’t afraid of standing out in a crowd. And much like Bakelite, there’s a good first-glance test to keep in mind during your next thrifting adventure. When a piece catches your eye, ask yourself: does it make me smile? If the answer is yes, then chances are it’s Coventry. Everything about their designs embodied the party lifestyle – pieces were whimsical and flashy. Their rings and necklaces didn’t take themselves too seriously. Nothing was fussy or pretentious. As the Coventry tagline states, their wares were “for the woman who dares to be different.”
If you’re thinking about collecting Coventry, here are a few tips. Firstly, the most highly coveted pieces fall into one of two categories: super colorful or part of an exclusive hostess collection. The hostess pieces are definitely more rare, but not impossible to locate. Up next are the marks / labels. The earliest pieces were either labeled “Coventry” or “Sarah Coventry.” From 1950 onward, things got decidedly more casual with markings like “SC” or “Sarah” – even “Sarah Cov” was popular. For additional context, check out this great buying guide.
Now that party invitations are taking flight once again, it’s time to embrace some glitz and glamour. Donning a Sarah Coventry original provides an instant mood boost and a fantastic conversation starter. Dear reader, what party pieces are you excited to wear this year? Share with us in the comments…