Napier Enameled Jewelry 1950-1990 by Melinda L. Lewis

Napier Butterfly Earring

Napier Butterfly Earrings c. late 1960s-early 1970s

Just as design and the nature of its execution methods (cast, die stamped or hand manipulated), add character to a piece of jewelry, surface colors can also dramatically change the design aesthetic.

Enameled jewelry at first glance was not a substantial part of The Napier Co.’s figural or fashion jewelry collections, but the company’s designers did not shy away from its use. Napier made the majority of its enameled jewelry from the 1960s through the closure of the plant in 1999.

Opaque enamel colors ranged from traditional spectator colors* of white used with black, red or blue to rich shades of turquoise, coral or emerald and translucent enamels in hues of blue, red, and amber. Not to be left out were also bright shades of yellow and pink to broaden the “spectator” colors of the 1980s—the colors most notably used in the “Spectator Brights” collection.

Napier Pendant With Transparent Enamels, c. early 1970s

Napier Pendant With Transparent Enamels, c. early 1970s

Spectator colors of white and black; red; or navy-colored enamels were used perpetually through the 1980s and 1990s for the spring and summer lines, with additional colored enamels used in bright hues of blue, pink, yellow, and green. Moreover, in the 1970s and 1980s an entire collection from the line would be featured in white enamel (and hard resins) for the spring-summer collection or cruise jewelry lines. This is why collectors often see the same design in silver or gold plate, or white enamel.

For deeper shades typically shown with fall fashions, the company also used rich-colored enamels in shades of turquoise, coral or emerald.

Enameling gave jewelry visual depth, created by the color, as well as texture from the carved surfaces it glazed. A three-dimensional effect was accomplished by using translucent enamels, which was especially effective on a relatively flat piece of jewelry. The translucent enamels were thicker—more resin-like than the opaque enamel finishes, and were designed with squared-edge borders similar in appearance to a U-shaped border “came” of a stained-glass window.

Napier Pendant - The Aztec Collection

Napier Pendant – The Aztec Collection, late 1960s to early 1970s

Translucent enamels begin to appear in designs from the late 1960s, with a pronounced use in the 1970s. The translucent enamels were often paired with more than one shade in a color family for a fluid blending of complementing colors, which gave “movement” to the piece; while the opaque enamels were used singularly or paired with silver or gold-plated metal.

Until the 1980s, all enameling was performed in-house by the Napier factory’s skilled craftsmen. Into the 1980s and beyond, many of the enameled pieces came to the plant with the enameling finished by suppliers or outsourced vendors from Asia. However, the final assembly such as an addition of a clasp, tagging, and packaging was still performed by plant employees.

Translating This Information to Other Parts of The Collection

The collections that used spectator-colored enamels often included other pieces of the same color theme made of hard resins. Consequently, the more “contemporary” designs (c. 1980s‒1990s) with color blocking, which often appear similar to many Deco-era designs, are frequently misrepresented as being from the 1920s. Napier did utilize some resins during the 1930s for jewelry making, but they were made of Prystal or white Catalin. Other plastics do not appear to have been used by Napier in the 1920s.

However, in the 1920s, Napier utilized enamel finishes for many of its Deco-styled sterling silver jewelry designs, and in the 1930s, it utilized enamels for color-blocking effects on many of its giftware or tobacciana pieces such as cigarette cases and lighters. Some of the most fabulous use of enamel application comes from this era using “eggshell” enameling techniques.

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*Spectator colors are two contrasting colors. The term is thought to come from the popularity of the “Spectator Shoe” of the 1920s–1930s.

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