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Holiday Jewelry and Universal Symbolism

An interesting trend in collecting circles has been noted: Christmas pins, all kinds, do not sell only at Christmas, or just before. They are popular all year around. To a Christmas pin collector, it is always Christmas when it comes to locating and acquiring another desirable pin.

The holidays present collectors with the perfect occasion to display their favorite pins, such as trees, deer, Santa Claus figures, angels, poinsettias, and wreaths.

Christmas tree pins, especially when issued by respected marks such as Eisenberg, Weiss, and Warner, are traditionally among the most sought after holiday jewelry motifs, and lead other figural jewelry by many price points.

Angel pins are probably next although they are harder to pinpoint for sought-after manufacturer marks. Angel pins were popularized in the Retro Victorian revival in the 1940s, and the sterling with gold wash angel pins of this era are quite attractive to collectors.

What makes the tree pins so special? For one, they are often larger and more impressive than other holiday jewelry. And, for two, Eisenberg, Weiss and Warner have also made it a tradition to issue a new tree pin each year, and many collectors like to own them all.

The Collectible Marks:

Weiss may be the oldest mark to have issued tree pins on a continuous basis, since the late 1940s. Weiss tree pins are pictured in several reference books on collectible jewelry, notably Maryann Dolan's first issue of Collecting Rhinestone Jewelry (1981). Easy to recognize, but not always easy to locate, the Weiss pins have a loyal collector following.

Less known are Warner tree pins. They resemble the Weiss trees, and are also beautifully executed. Regrettably, they are not always easy to locate either, at least not on the East Coast of the United States. As Weiss tree pins are the higher priced, it is foreseeable that Warner tree pins, which have not previously realized prices comparable to the Weiss pins, will also rise similarly in price as they become more well known, and the lack of availability of Weiss will turn interest to Warner.

Eisenberg has issued magnificent rhinestone tree pins for several years in recent history. To some die-hard Eisenberg tree pin collectors, however, the most recent issues have not appeared as well executed as some earlier issues. A certain lack of attention to setting has been noted in some examples of Eisenberg tree pins in recent issues. This is not a criticism of the Eisenberg tree pins per se but merely an observation reported by a few collectors of Eisenberg tree pins. Overall, the quality of the Eisenberg stones has been consistent over the years, making the tree pins very desirable.

Another contender for desirable holiday pins, including tree pins, is Hollycraft. Started as Hollywood Jewelry in the late 1940s, its jewelry was unmarked, but often can be found in original manufacturer's presentation boxes. The name was changed to Hollycraft in the 1950s. Hollycraft is known for imaginative designs, excellent finish, durable stones, and, especially for starting the year marking of its jewelry in the 1950s. Hollycraft Santa Claus pins are charming and much sought after by collectors today.

Stanley Hagler, the late contemporary designer of often outrageous but glorious jewelry in the 1960s through the 1980s, created some outstanding tree jewelry. These trees are also harder to find as there were not that many executed by the Stanley Hagler design studio, and they are rising fast in price.

Other contemporary holiday jewelry companies were ART, MyLu, and Lisner, none of them, regrettably, in business now. The MyLu company pioneered the charming crafted corsage-like pins, such as the candy cane that were sold in many department stores at reasonable prices.

Currently manufacturing is J.J. and also Beatrix. The J.J. production can currently be found on almost any department store's holiday jewelry counter, and a charming and well-priced collection it is.


Christmas Trees by Bettina von Walhof

In the past couple of years, tree pins have become extremely attractive to collectors, demand has risen enormously. Now there are even more styles of trees from which to select.

Noted designers and companies issuing holiday jewelry including tree pins are N.W. Jewels, specializing in genuine gemstone-set jewelry, Bettina von Walhof, noted for several successful rhinestone collections including holiday jewelry, Wendy Gell, always with fresh interpretations, and Beegee McBride, new on the scene in 2001, with a charming line of colorful rhinestone trees.

A new trend in holiday jewelry collecting includes symbols from other holidays, notably Easter, and Easter jewelry. Easter pins did not raise much interest only five-six years ago, but in the last few years, increased attention to Easter pins has been observed in the market.


Rabbit Pins with glass center belly, c:a 1960s.

Rabbits, hares, bunnies, chickens and roosters, baskets, and eggs, are receiving more attention from collectors.

It is interesting to examine the symbolism of holiday- related jewelry, and to ask ourselves why the appeal. Figural holiday jewelry appeals to many who may never have asked themselves why.

The language of symbols is deeply rooted in the human psyche. Symbols speak to us daily whether we are aware of them or not. So much stored memory of symbols and their meanings gives us our intuitive understanding of things and events around us.

The Symbols and What They Mean:

The Christmas tree is now an almost universal symbol and can no longer be regarded as exclusively a Christian symbol as the name in English implies.

In the Scandinavian (Norse) tradition, the Yule tree was an evergreen fir, brought into the home to remind of the life force that survives even during barren winter months, and to commemorate the end of one life cycle and the beginning of a new.

In antiquity, the pine tree was dedicated to Attis and Cybele, shown in ancient Greece as decorated with glittering ornaments. In Japan, the pine tree is the symbol of longevity and enduring friendship.

Not until the 19th century did the evergreen fir enter into the Christian holiday Christmas, via Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, who brought the tradition with him from Germany to England.

Tree jewelry is therefore a symbol of the ever-present life force when personal circumstances seem dark and hopeless.

Angels, also considered a Christian symbol today, as they frequently are depicted in Christian art, were known in many cultures preceding Christianity.

The Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans believed in divine messengers and portrayed them also as human-like beings, with wings. Hinduism and Islam also recognize angels.

In Judaism, the archangels represent aspects of God, and protect against evil. The attributes of Michael is a sword, of Gabriel, a lily. Uriel holds a book, and Raphael, a staff. The attributes represent, respectively, courage and righteousness, innocence and faith, learning and wisdom, and the pilgrim's arduous journey to a higher plane.

In all cultures and beliefs, angels have been considered guardians of mortals, to guide and protect them on life's journey. Angel jewelry therefore symbolizes trust and belief that God, via his messengers, will protect from evil.

The rabbit and hare are considered symbolic of the Christian holiday Easter, where the hare's swiftness signifies the passing of life. But, the rabbit (or hare) is equally a symbol in many other religions and cultures, including the pagan ones.

The name of the Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre or Oestra, gave its name to Easter. This goddess had the head of a hare, thus the Easter bunny and the Easter egg symbols of life renewal.

In ancient Greece, the hare was sacred to Hermes (Mercury), the messenger, and in Rome to Venus and Cupid, as a symbol of love and fecundity.

Older than Christianity, the symbolism of the hare is thus a celebration of life's continuation with rebirth, as in each spring, and the rabbit jewelry expresses hope that life will be renewed, and better than before.

The Easter hen, rooster, and chicks, also have symbolic roots in early cultures. The hen symbolizes Mother Earth, as she faithfully lays her eggs to ensure continuation of life, the chicks representing young new life. In ancient Greece, the rooster, cock, or cockerel, was believed to salute the rising sun when crowing at dawn, and was looked upon as Apollo's sacred symbol. In China, the rooster is one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, where it stands for courage and honesty, but also arrogance and conceit.

In Christianity, the cock first symbolized Christ's passion as the cock crowed three times after He was denied by Peter. In later Christianity, the symbol of the cock came to mean repentance and resurrection. Its symbolism as vigilant against evil can be seen on weathervanes (also called weathercocks), often atop church steeples. Its meaning at Easter is clear: Resurrection.

The wreath symbolizes the eternal and never-ending circle of life, and also love.

The candle, the light of hope present in the darkest hour, is also a reminder that life is as fleeting as the flicker of its flame.

The poinsettia, a traditional Christmas plant in the English-speaking world, blooms in winter time, its leaves not changing to red (or white) until light is upon them, symbolizing change for the good in the face of adversity.

The holly promises faithfulness, constancy under change, the leaves not turning brown or falling off during the cold months.

Bells symbolize the announcement of the new following the old.

The candy cane, the staff of Joseph, symbolizes the promise of sweeter times if we but stay on the path, as well as a reward at journey's end.

Santa Claus, the jolly old elf, is depicted in many countries, not always in the same guise. In Holland, where Saint Nicholas was revered as the protector of children, Santa Claus is shown as a kind but stern grandfather figure, the rod in one hand, the reward in the other.

The American and English versions of Santa Claus first appeared in Punch Magazine in England, in Victorian times, and also on the cover of Saturday Evening Post, in the 1880s, in the United States. Saint Nicholas, the protector and disciplinarian of children is another representation of the paternal image.

In Scandinavia, the nisse, or tomte, is a wizened tiny elf (or gnome) who lives hidden on farms, can be mischievous, and must be appeased at Yule tide with a bowl of fresh porridge put out for him in the barn. Unless antagonized, the nisse looks out for the farmer's family and animals, and is said to quietly repair broken areas without so much as a noise. He symbolizes the silent and unassuming good forces in humans and in nature, to be treasured and rewarded, not ignored nor abused.

Holiday jewelry has traditionally only been worn in the United States, Canada, England and Australia, until recent years. In most other countries in Europe, holiday jewelry was not worn at all, but this is changing. Liz, born and raised in Scandinavia, was new to holiday jewelry before arriving in the United States. It is heartening to note that the custom of wearing and collecting beautiful and symbolic holiday jewelry now seems to be spreading all over the world.

The beautiful holiday jewelry shown in this article, under the text links, is linked courtesy of these online readers. Some of the jewelry is available to buy by contacting the owners directly by email at their websites.

Santa Claus Pin with Enamel
Beatrix Poinsettia [Private Collection: Not For Sale]
Tall Tree [Private Collection: Not For Sale]
Courtesy Dorothy Stringfield, Illusion Jewels

Poinsettia Brooch
From Liz.

Photos by Liz Bryman or as credited.



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