If you’ve ever watched an old Hollywood epic, you’ve probably seen Joseff of Hollywood jewelry. Eugene Joseff made a name for himself in the 1920s by designing and manufacturing costume jewelry for movie studios and actresses, and the company he founded continues to thrive today. Current president Tina Joseff and her daughter-in-law and managing director, Kristin Joseff, joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to talk about the history and the future of Joseff of Hollywood. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Tina Joseff, president of Joseff of Hollywood, and her daughter-in-law and key member of the executive team, Kristin Joseff, who, along with Jeff Joseff, Jr., run the firm, which was founded in the 1920s and is still operating. For those who may not be familiar with the company name, Eugene Joseff, the founder, became the premier costume jeweler in Hollywood, designing, manufacturing and renting jewelry to movie studios under the brand name Joseff of Hollywood, which, based on demand, he then extended into a retail line. Joseff of Hollywood is associated with the glamour of yesteryear, a tradition which the company continues to create. We’ll hear more about today’s Joseff of Hollywood in this podcast. Tina and Kristin, welcome to the podcast.
Tina: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Sharon: So glad to talk to you. Joseff of Hollywood has had a long jewelry journey. Can each of you tell us about your own journey and how you came to the company?
Tina: Well, I guess I’ll start.
Sharon: Tina, O.K.
Tina: I’m Tina, and I joined in 1972 in the jewelry department, learning to make the jewelry that was in the retail line and also the studio line. I also worked in the studio rental department when I first started and then continued on to bigger and better things, going through all the transactions involving aerospace as well as the jewelry and coming out where I am today, after a very big learning experience from Joan, who was a great woman.
Sharon: Joan was Eugene’s wife, yes?
Tina: Yes, that’s correct.
Sharon: That must have been some experience and you must have great stories to tell. Kristin, what’s your journey?
Kristin: My journey’s a lot shorter. On a personal level, my experience with jewelry was very small, growing up as part of a younger generation from the 80s. Jewelry was either something worn on a very fancy occasion out, or it was small jewelry that was worn all the time, so I didn’t grow up putting much time and thought and effort into accessorizing on a day-to-day basis. I came to Joseff, actually, to help out with the business side about five years ago, after I married my husband, Jeff Joseff, who is Tina’s son. I’ve really learned a lot since being here, and I’ve had my own evolution of day-to-day wear. I’ve gotten to the point where I accessorize a lot more, and now I have the world’s biggest jewelry box.
Sharon: Yes, I bet. You’ve both alluded to the aerospace aspect, and I’m sure people are surprised to know that you were involved in this. Can you tell us about that?
Tina: We started in aerospace in 1939 with McDonnell Douglas. The government came in at that point because we were a foundry, and we started casting military and aerospace parts for the war effort. Because we were working with the war effort, Joseff was still able to continue with the costume jewelry retail line and studio line, but he did have to get approval from the government to purchase metal for that purpose. We continue to do aerospace to this day, although we are phasing it out and starting to concentrate more on the jewelry, which was the original concept.
Sharon: I know you have a long and storied history, and you do a great job on the website of describing it, of giving the whole chronology and how one thing morphed into another. What can you tell us about the founding and how the company got into the studio business? If you can fill in the gaps there, besides aerospace.
Tina: Joseff came to Hollywood along with his brother, Jimmy, in 1928 from Chicago. He was an ad man and his hobby was making jewelry. He wedged his way into the studios being a big movie fan, and he showed his hobby pieces to someone at the studio. They immediately showed interest and purchased those few pieces he had. Then they said if you can give us more, we’ll take them, so he started furiously making jewelry, and the rest is history. He made a name for himself by being on time and precise and authentic in his creations, and he worked easily with the costume designers, as he was a great socializer.
Kristin: One of the really clever things he did was to amass a research library that he made available to the costume designers. Because of that, he became a resource for them, and he would allow free access to this archive library full of books that had fashion and jewelry and costuming that goes back to the 1500s. These costume designers would come in and reference the manuals, and while they were here, he could make suggestions for period pieces. That’s where he got it in the beginning, and I think how he developed such strong relationships with them.
Sharon: Who were some of the stars he made jewelry for and some of the movies? Movie fans probably know this, but Greta Garbo, if I’m correct, and who else?
Tina: Myrna Loy, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers. It was basically anyone who was anyone in the 30s and 40s who wore his jewelry, because he was almost exclusively doing jewelry for the studios.
Sharon: Did they ask him to make stuff for them to wear when they weren’t on set? How did that come about?
Tina: He was such an innovator and he created such beautiful pieces that after they’d worn them on the screen, they would like to have them for their personal wardrobe. He started with the retail line at that point, when he figured out it was so popular with the ladies on the screen. Of course, everyone across the country, all the ladies, wanted to be just like the actresses, so it became key to that section of the business, the retail line and selling to the department stores.
Kristin: Joan Crawford, in particular, was a real fan of Joseff jewelry and she developed a very strong friendship with Joan Castle Joseff.
Tina: There’s a funny story that we have within the family, where she wore a necklace for a publicity stunt that had 125 bells, and she liked it so much that she wanted her own piece. When she came to pick it up, she was so excited to try it on that she ended up leaving her fur coat behind and had to send a courier back to collect it.
Sharon: Did you say 125 bells?
Sharon: Oh my gosh, wow!
Tina: And they each jingled.
Sharon: That would be something. What would you say you’re most known for?
Tina: I would say we’re probably most known for creating interesting pieces, not your ordinary, plain old chain necklace, but pieces that have a lot of detail. Some are whimsical, some blend well from day wear to evening wear. And authenticity, when it came to the period pieces. That was probably the most memorable thing we’re known for.
Kristin: Back in his actual heyday, Joseff was mostly known for those period pieces and being able to have very accurate additions to the costuming that way. Nowadays, with the Hollywood retrospective, we’re probably most well-known for creating the jewelry in Gone with the Wind and for a lot of the big Hollywood epics, like Cleopatra—
Tina: The Ten Commandments.
Sharon: Next time I see Gone with the Wind, I’ll have to pay more attention to the jewelry. I’m sure that when you bump into collectors, they’re surprised to learn that you’re still manufacturing today. Is that true, and what do you want them to know about the company today?
Kristin: It is true actually, and it’s probably the number one surprise element that we find from people. Even serious collectors oftentimes don’t know that we’re still here. I think the important thing to know is that we still make each piece by hand from vintage components. Joseff never fully mass-produced a product. He had a factory line, but everything was done by hand with women running down the line, running jewelry and aerospace at the same time.
These days, our line is a lot smaller and it includes my husband, Jeff Joseff, Jr., as our primary designer, but the process is still the same. We have vintage components that are hand-pieced together, hand-plated, handset with stones. When we run out of those vintage components to make a piece, we end up retiring that design because we have found that an attempt at reproduction just does not produce the same product.
Sharon: That’s quite a hallmark, then. We’ll talk more about that, but do you have some of those on your website right now for sale?
Kristin: We do and we have a rotating stock. We do reserve some of the older pieces from the 30s and 40s that are typically what our long-time collectors are looking for off the website. Those we can be contacted about. We also still do the rental side of the business. Rentals have changed over the years. They no longer shoot a film in three or four weeks, so our weekly rental rate is a little bit less manageable for a studio production that takes two years, but—
Sharon: That’s a different timetable, too.
Kristin: Yeah, exactly, it’s a different timetable, but we still do rentals for various things. We still do some TV. In fact, we rented the jewelry that Thandie Newton’s character wore on Westworld for the first two seasons. We do a lot of photo shoot rentals, so we work with photographers and artists alike. We also have been working a lot with stylists who come out and rent a piece for an occasion. For example, we rented out jewelry for a couple of different performance events for Camila Cabello, who is a pop star in the current music scene these days.
Sharon: Did the stylists learn about you from other stylists, or are you going out to approach them? How does that work?
Kristin: Some of them have been through word of mouth. Some of them have been people who just found our social media page and ended up contacting us through there. The timeline, of course, working with these kinds of things is much different than it is for a studio. The studios typically know they’re going to do a product well in advance. With stylists, we’re lucky to hope that we have three days ahead notice.
Sharon: There’s so much content, between Netflix and Amazon and everything, it seems like there’d be so much demand. I know everybody wants a Cartier, but it seems like there’d be a lot of demand in terms of the big, glamorous pieces you have.
Kristin: Yes, although we do have a section that is not available for rent anymore, just because of the age. We consider those to be archival pieces. We have over 100,000 pieces available within the rental collection, and that is separate from the retail line itself.
Sharon: Wow! You mentioned an archive project that you’re working on. Can you tell us about that?
Tina: We’ve been working on the archive, which includes articles, photographs and pieces that have been stored for 70+ years. We’re fortunate that both Joan and Jeff and Joseff never threw anything away, so it’s been quite a task getting through all of the, in some cases, clutter, but we’ve been discovering some real treasures, including sketches by costume designers that we never knew existed, pieces of jewelry that had been put aside because they needed repair and no one had repaired them, photographs and rental sheets from the studios from the 30s and 40s showing who wore what and what the production was. We’re now putting together an actual piece, say a brooch, with the rental sheet from the studio and how much they rented that piece for, what the production was and who wore it. We’re really starting to knit together a provenance for the pieces.
Sharon: Will the archives be open to people who want to come do research? Is it just so you’ll have everything organized? What do you want to do with it?
Kristin: These archives are internal. We do have the research library still, which we have allowed to be open to a very select few people to come out for artistic projects. These are the internal archives and they’ve been helping us put together a story. Tina’s been spearheading this and working on it for about two years now. The goal is that, within the next two or three years, we’ll be able to publish the first ever official book about Joseff of Hollywood as an illustrated history. Some of these archives include personal correspondence between Eugene Joseff and his wife, Joan, before and after they were married, personal correspondence between each of them and their family members, and even plans that we had never seen before to build a filming location in Prescott, Arizona.
Tina: That’s really a shocker. They had bought the ranch, and I had no idea they had this plan to turn it into a location for the studios. Joseff was corresponding back and forth with a gentleman from one of the studios, Paramount, and trying to arrange to get an 1836 locomotive to transport up to the ranch that they had purchased. That was a project that was in the works. Unfortunately, Joseff passed away before that came to fruition, but there’s just so much here that it’s fascinating and hard to keep concentrating on one thing when you come across another. You head off in that direction and I’m loving it. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years because I love the company and I loved Joan. Unfortunately, I never met Joseff, but Joan was like a mother to me. We spent so many years together that she was my best friend. I’m doing this to honor her and the legacy that she and Joseff left behind for the family.
Sharon: That’s so nice and it sounds like it’s going to be the most interesting book. I know there’s a book out there about some of the jewels, but to have the whole history and to see everything tied together is going to be fascinating.
Kristin: We expect it to be an exciting book because the last book about Joseff was published in 1991, and we have found so much new information since then.
Sharon: I’m sure everybody, especially collectors, will be very interested to see the book, and I’m sure it will bring a lot more new collectors. I found a piece of Joseff at a vintage store. This was several years ago and I really had no idea that the company was still operating. I just knew Joseff of Hollywood from the movies and from the retail line, but I had no idea that it was still operating, so I was glad to hear that.
What are you seeing in the market in terms of interest in the kinds of pieces you create and sell—the big, glitzy statement pieces? Are you seeing resurgence and if so, why do you think that is?
Kristin: We’ve been seeing resurgence in the vintage revival in general over the past 15 years. It’s interesting because you have sort of a split market there. You have people who are interested in true vintage, which is what we are, and you have the vintage reproduction market, which is huge. A lot of those customers overlap; however, the sources for those and the price points are not consistent with each other, so it’s been interesting that we have found, in a sense, an education project to show people what the history is and what the difference between a vintage reproduction piece and a true vintage is. You can really watch the market grow in the area of authenticity and the interest from a younger generation, who is relearning all of this stuff over again.
Sharon: So, the differences between vintage and a reproduction are what you explained, but you’re using vintage components and stones are set by hand. How do you describe it to them?
Kristin: We do go into the explanation about that, but there is also a price difference between a piece that’s going to be—even if it has the original vintage components, there is going to be a price difference between a piece that was made in the 90s or more recently, versus a piece that has an older stamp that dates back to the late 30s. Walking people through the evolution of the timeline and all of that has been a project in and of itself, and we found that people are really interested. People want that information and they are really eager to learn.
Sharon: Yes, it’s so interesting. People don’t know it, so I’m sure they are hungry for that information. Tina and Kristin, thank you so much for being here today and for letting the world know that you’re still operating. You have a great story to tell and this is the moment, in terms of vintage being so popular, and with your archive project. Thank you so much for describing everything. We’re so glad to have you, and to everybody listening, we’ll have Joseff of Hollywood’s contact information in the show notes at TheJewelryJourney.com.
That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.
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