It was in that first small New York goldsmith shop in 1908 that Pasquale first used the Pennino signature on jewelry, beginning the family legacy in beautiful works of jewelry art. However, the brothers formally founded Pennino Brothers in 1926. Their factory was located on East 49th St. and sales office on 47th Street. Otto was the jewelry designer, with Frank the jeweler and master craftsman. Jack was the salesman and handled all relationships with their major accounts, including Spaulding’s of Chicago and Saks 5th Ave. Their jewelry was sold through many other high end department and jewelry stores.
Pennino Bracelet – Photo courtesy of Robin Deutsch
The Pennino brothers’ reputation and pride-in-work was evident in their jewelry and their approach to life. Pennino jewelry was crafted with high grade rhinestones set in gold plate, sterling, vermeil or rhodium plated base metal. Although much of their jewelry is classic in design, they also tried to stay current with fashion and events.
When gold and base metals were no longer available during WWII, they used Sterling to create bold, flowing designs with florals and bows. On these they combined small, sparkling clear rhinestones with larger stones of intense color for a distinctive look. Many of their designs echoed those of fine jewelry, and were often hard to distinguish from karat gold set with real gems.
Pennino Necklace and Earrings – Photo courtesy of Lilly Vittetow
The Pennino’s excelled during the cocktail style jewelry movement of the late 1930’s into the 1940’s. The glitz and glamour of that time was perfect for the “real” look that much of their jewelry exhibited. As with other well known costume jewelry designers of that time, their jewelry was used in Hollywood productions and worn by many leading ladies.
Expert craftsmanship using top quality materials was very important to the brothers, who were active in seeing that only jewelry they approved left their factory. Frank was less concerned with selling jewelry than he was with someone stealing their designs and “cheeping” their “look.” Pennino became well known for that “look.” Because of their high standards, Pennino jewelry was always in demand, and is somewhat rare and very collectible today. When found, it is often in very good condition even after being worn for years.
Pennino Sterling Brooch – Photo by Jay B. Siegel
Although almost all Pennino jewelry was marked, a very few pieces were not. These included special commemorative items like the moonstone “Crown Pin” and the “Golden Leave Suites” which Pennino Brothers created in honor of the visit to the United States by King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. Unmarked items were always very limited in production, so will be seldom found. Thus, many items attributed to Pennino today were not made by them. They would occasionally cast one of their molds in 14K or 18K gold as special gifts to friends and relatives.
*NOTE: Since this article was published in 2006, more pieces of unsigned Pennino have been identified. It appears that not all pieces in sets or parures were marked.*
Their jewelry was marked in block print: “Pennino”, “Pennino Sterling” or “Pennino Pat. Pend.” A script Pennino signature previously believed to be used only in ads and other print items has also been found on metal hang tags along with a tall letter P on its own (see RCJ Marks Guide for examples). Items marked “ORESTO” are currently being attributed to Pennino, but the company never used that mark. Pennino never made jewelry for other companies.
The brothers worked as a team until illness and Frank’s failing eyesight caused them to close the business in 1966. At that time almost all the Pennino molds were broken. A few, which are in poor condition, were retained as keepsakes by the family. Otto and Frank agonized over what to do with the molds for some time. They decided to destroy them because at the time there was no one from the family whom they had personally trained to continue the business and protect the purity of their workmanship.
This article was originally published in Vol. 16, No.1, 2006, of the Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry Magazine and it has been updated online to incorporate updated information.
Learn more about Pennino jewelry:
Three Neopolitan Princes and the Legacy of Pennino
Pennino Jewelry History: The Legacy
Pennino Jewelry Gallery
Researching Costume Jewelry — Home
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