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When thinking of vintage jewelry manufacturers, one can pretty easily drop names like Coro, Trifari and Barclay, three of many well-known manufacturers that were active in the Retro era. The Retro era is generally defined as the years between 1935 and 1950 or so, the World War II era, when platinum, gold and base metals for such frivolous uses as jewelry manufacturing were scarce. Gold-filled and sterling, using both semi-precious and synthetic gemstones, became more prevalent and the lines between fine and costume pieces blurred a bit due to the scarcity of manufacturing materials in general.
The earmarks of the Retro period include the use of larger rhinestones and cleaner, less fussy designs than that of the Art Deco period preceding it. Among the manufacturers of the Retro period was Harry Iskin, who was a wholesale manufacturer from 1930 or so until the early 1950s. Harry Iskin’s business apparently ended in bankruptcy in 1953.
The majority of Iskin’s designs feature a stylized floral or bow motif with good sized, well-placed rhinestone accents. Iskin designs can be found both in gold fill and sterling silver and it doesn’t appear that Iskin produced pieces using lower-quality metals (i.e., pot metal) during this time.
Iskin’s designs are easily recognizable after viewing even just a piece or two. Graceful bows and curlicues abound, oftentimes in shades of both yellow gold and rose gold. Iskin pieces can be found with a variety of colorful prong-set rhinestones–deep wine reds, vibrant blues, emerald greens–although Iskin generally did not mix colors on the same piece unless it was to incorporate clear rhinestones as accents.
Run a quick internet search for “Harry Iskin” and you will come up with a bunch of fine examples of his work. If you might have an interest in acquiring a piece or two of Iskin jewelry, be sure to acquaint yourself with the distinctive “I inside an H” manufacturer’s mark used by the Iskin Company–photos of the mark are also easily found with a quick internet search.
Oddly, though Iskin designs are clean and stylish, using quality materials and feature prong-set, rather than glued, rhinestones, Iskin isn’t regarded as a top-end manufacturer. Consequently, Harry Iskin pieces can still be had for a relative song, whether you purchase from an online vintage costume jewelry site or try your hand at eBay bidding.
A beginning collector of vintage costume jewelry would do well to start by adding an Iskin piece or two to their acquisitions. Iskin’s well-made products, still looking good after 65-plus years, indeed withstands the test of time.