Have you ever happened upon vintage Matisse Renoir copper jewelry at an estate sale? If so, you likely remember each piece’s handcrafted look and classic style. Whether you saw a striking copper necklace, enameled copper brooch, or beautiful earrings set, vintage Renoir costume jewelry is highly collectible.
In this post, we cover everything about this copper art jewelry. You’ll learn about this copper art jewelry’s intriguing history and discover what led Matisse Renoir founder Jerry Fels to create three memorable jewelry brands under one umbrella.
You’ll also obtain useful identification tips and find out the value of this vintage copper jewelry in today’s market. And, if you’d like to add Matisse Renoir jewelry to your own collection, we cover where you might find some.
History of Matisse Renoir Vintage Jewelry
Matisse jewelry and Renoir jewelry are two separate lines housed under the same umbrella. They first came into the market during the mid-20th century. Both vintage jewelry lines used solid copper, which was once again available during the post-World War II years.
Arts and Crafts Movement Influences
From the 1890s, and extending through several decades, the Arts and Crafts Movement influenced several United States decorative art styles, including jewelry making. The movement’s enthusiasts believed in a strong connection between the artist and their handcrafted work.
First and foremost, Arts and Crafts artisans emphasized the use of top-tier materials and functional designs.
For example, jewelry makers, like Matisse Renoir, insisted on using solid copper rather than a copper-coated base metal. The artisans didn’t compromise on this basic tenet. This was true whether they made a copper bracelet and matching earrings or a striking copper brooch and clip-on earrings.
Due to metal purification advances, jewelry makers were able to access higher-quality raw copper materials.
And, improved knowledge of copper’s properties enabled artisans to manipulate the copper better, producing intricate designs.
In particular, Arts and Crafts-inspired jewelry often features nature images, such as leaves and berries. A Matisse green enamel leaf brooch is a good example of this nature-themed motif.
American Mid Century Designers’ Creative Inspirations
The Arts and Crafts Movement certainly influenced 1940s and 1950s jewelry designers. Many mid-century modern designers incorporated abstraction and surrealism into their pieces. And, numerous items display biomorphism, or shapes that bear a resemblance to organic forms.
The bold copper motifs appealed to forward-thinking women who no longer wanted to wear their mother’s or grandmother’s understated jewelry. For these ladies, a copper choker, cuff bracelet, or Nefertiti necklace made the perfect accessory for a night on the town.
Renowned Mid-Century Costume Jewelry Houses
During the post-World War II years, copper was a striking base material for different jewelry genres. Deco, Native American, and modernist designs prominently showcased this versatile metal.
Numerous costume jewelry manufacturers jumped on the copper jewelry bandwagon, each introducing its own line of jewelry accessories. Copper is an extremely adaptable metal. Not surprisingly, specialized copper jewelry makers understood its properties best.
As a result, several renowned manufacturers produced most of the highest-quality vintage jewelry available today. Matisse Renoir copper pieces carry a notable pedigree. In addition, copper jewelry by Bell Trading Co., Francisco Rebajes, and Gret Barkin remains very collectible.
Matisse Renoir Copper Jewelry Origins
In 1945, Jerry Fels, a Brooklyn, New York native, moved to California. Previously a fighter pilot in World War II, Fels had cultivated his design, painting, and sculpture talents at New York’s National Academy of Design. In 1946, a new jewelry style began to take the United States by storm, and Fels was at the forefront of it.
Upon his arrival in the Los Angeles area, Fels and his brother-in-law Kurt Freiler teamed up to create “Renoir of Hollywood.” The two later changed the name to “Renoir of California,” then to “Hand Made Renoir of California,” before finally settling on “Renoir.” Renoir specialized in creating copper jewelry that incorporated bold geometric forms.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Fels launched “Matisse Ltd.” in 1952. Matisse (which later became part of the Renoir jewelry business) also produced finely crafted copper jewelry. Matisse’s decorative enameled embellishments set it apart from Renoir.
From the mid-1950s until 1960, Renoir also marketed a third jewelry line called “Sauteur Sterling Silver Jewelry.” The Sauteur pieces are much less common than the companies’ copper jewelry items.
Renoir: A Jewelry Industry Innovator
Renoir was an innovator in the jewelry industry. Besides being at the forefront of a jewelry style revolution, Renoir jewelry displayed three distinctive product finishes that set it apart from its competitors. The first finish is the “Copron” coating, which minimizes tarnishes from fingerprint oils.
Some Renoir jewelry also contains a corrosion-inhibiting shiny lacquer finish that Fels obtained from an Air Force chemist friend. Unfortunately, Fels didn’t note the formula, and the company’s chemists couldn’t successfully re-create it.
Finally, the third finish is the shadow. Some modernist jewelry makers exaggerated their soldered copper marks by adding a black shadowing effect around the soldered area. Collectors who buy these pieces are advised not to polish the area to avoid eliminating the shadow.
The Renoir jewelry fabrication facility also pioneered three other innovations. First, skilled machinists handled all the pre-production prep work. This left the artisans free to finish, brush, and polish each piece by hand. As a result, the jewelry attained a handcrafted appearance.
The Renoir shop area benefited from a complicated ventilation system that prevented workers from breathing dangerous fumes. And, Fels and Freiler often hired disabled and minority workers, a very uncommon practice during the 1940s and 1950s. Matisse’s Curtis Tann was a highly respected African American enamel artist of the era.
Matisse Renoir Ceases Production
Three unfortunate events collectively led to the end of Matisse and Renoir jewelry production. During the early 1960s, jewelry sales were strong, and the companies expanded their production facilities.
Then, American jewelry tastes began to change, and the demand for bold geometric jewelry waned. At the same time, Matisse and Renoir were frequently mounting expensive legal defenses against cheap copycat manufacturers.
Finally, the companies faced constant problems with a popular (and troublesome) enamel design. High rejection levels led to massive losses, and finally, the two companies went bankrupt and closed in 1964.
Design Elements of Renoir, Matisse, and Sauteur Jewelry
During the height of its production era, Matisse Renoir was producing three separate jewelry brands in one facility: Matisse, Renoir, and Sauteur. The jewelry pieces feature modern art styling and abstract designs and are considered wearable art. At the same time, the jewelry has traditional-looking, hand-hammered construction and a hand finish.
To find authentic Matisse Renoir pieces, check for a signature. Most Renoir pieces display the artist’s signature somewhere on the item. However, it’s certainly possible that you’ll find an unsigned jewelry item.
Common Design Elements
The Renoir, Matisse, and Sauteur jewelry pieces feature several common design elements. Geometric shapes such as rectangles, squares, and other angles frequently make an appearance.
Balls of various sizes and chunky-looking arrows are other typical jewelry features. Unusual leaf shapes and assorted floral motifs have also found their way into all three jewelry lines.
Renoir Copper Jewelry
Renoir jewelry is crafted from solid copper, an extremely versatile metal. The company also took advantage of the following beneficial properties of copper:
- Very slow metal corrosion rate
- Adaptable to cold or hot fabrication
- Ability to stretch until it’s extremely thin
- Can be cast into different shapes and forms
To uphold Renoir’s high-quality standards, a master artist often produced an entire piece of copper jewelry, from start to finish. But sometimes, a master artist might design a piece and supervise another artisan to finish up the work.
Signature Renoir Copper Jewelry Designs
Several well-known Renoir jewelry designs are collector favorites. Copper cuffs make a bold style statement. Hinged or “Swiss cheese-style” bangle bracelets add texture to any outfit. Hinged clamper-style bracelets are also popular. Pendant necklaces and copper earrings (including screw back earrings) are other well-known Renoir jewelry offerings.
Last (but certainly not least) is Renoir’s notable artist palette brooch and matching earrings that form a demi-parure set. A complete parure (or coordinated set) includes a necklace, matching pin/brooch, and earrings.
Matisse Copper and Enamel Overlay Jewelry
The Matisse enamel copper jewelry line includes original pieces, such as maple leaf pins, other leaf-motif items, and Matisse earrings. Matisse pieces are often Renoir jewelry items with added enameling effects.
An especially desirable example of Matisse vintage jewelry is the enameled artist palette brooch and earrings set (including a red enamel or blue enamel palette). White enamel and teal enamel Matisse pieces are also popular with collectors. Finally, the maple leaf brooch and earrings demi-parure also features colorful enamel embellishments.
Sauteur Sterling Silver Jewelry
The Sauteur sterling silver jewelry was only produced from the mid-1950s until 1960. Therefore, these pieces are much more difficult to find than Renoir’s more abundant copper jewelry.
Speaking of limited production runs, it’s even more challenging to find a redesigned Sauteur piece with a brushed gold finish. These “Golden Glow” jewelry pieces were only made from 1961-1963. If you can find one of these beauties at an estate sale, know that you have stumbled upon a treasure.
How to Identify Authentic Matisse Renoir Jewelry
Identifying a Matisse Renoir vintage jewelry piece is fairly straightforward. First, all authentic items from the three related brands display a “Renoir” cursive copyright symbol on the item’s reverse side. Each branded piece may have an additional copyright motif along with the artist’s signature. A well-preserved pair of earrings may be accompanied by a printed cardboard earring box and card.
Renoir Jewelry Markings
- 1952 – 1954: The “Hand Made Renoir of California” Mark
- 1954 – 1964: The “Renoir” Mark
Matisse Jewelry Markings
- 1952 – 1964: The “Matisse” Mark appears on the underside of Enameled Pieces
Sterling Sauteur Jewelry Markings
Matisse Renoir Jewelry Value and Price Guide
As the 21st century enters its third decade, the market for vintage costume jewelry remains very strong.
Renoir copper jewelry and Matisse copper and enamel jewelry pieces are highly collectible. Many items bring higher-than-average prices. Geometrically shaped jewelry, boomerang, and Sputnik 1950s-era styles are especially desirable.
Factors That Influence Value
Like other vintage collectibles, several factors determine a Matisse Renoir jewelry piece’s selling price. First, consider the item’s rarity. A piece of Renoir vintage jewelry with a small production run is likely to be worth more than a similar item with thousands of pieces available.
Next, some Matisse jewelry styles were simply more popular than others. Some enamel colors are highly coveted, while others don’t resonate as strongly with buyers.
Finally, the piece’s condition affects its value. For example, when comparing two identical Renoir copper leaf pins, the mint-condition piece will be worth more than one with signs of wear.
Matisse Renoir Jewelry eBay Auction Selling Prices
Some vintage collectibles sellers list their items with unrealistically high prices. To get a real-world picture of Matisse Renoir jewelry values, view these eBay selling prices from April 2021.
Vintage Renoir Jewelry Selling Prices
|Renoir Vintage Jewelry Piece
||eBay Selling Price
|Vintage Renoir Matisse Mid-Century Modernist Copper Enamel Leaf Brooch Pin
|Vintage Renoir Modernist Copper Cuff Bracelet
|Vintage 1950s Modernist Copper Bracelet by Renoir – California
|Vintage Renoir Copper Necklace and Earrings (All Signed)
|Vintage Renoir Shiny Oxidized Copper Clip-On Earrings (Signed)
Vintage Matisse Jewelry Selling Prices
|Matisse Vintage Jewelry Piece
||eBay Selling Price
|Vintage Matisse Black Enamel Copper Egyptian Style Necklace Earring Set
|Vintage Matisse Renoir 6” Copper Enamel Hinged Bracelet TT737
|Vintage Signed Matisse Brooch
|Vintage Matisse Renoir Enamel Artist Palette Brooch Pin (Signed)
|Matisse Renoir Modernist Robin Egg Blue Enamel Necklace and Bracelet Tulip Set
Vintage Sauteur Sterling Silver Jewelry Selling Prices
|Sauteur Sterling Vintage Jewelry Piece
||eBay Selling Price
|Sauteur Sterling Silver Modernist Mid- Century Brooch/Pendant
|Vintage Sauteur Modernist Sterling Silver 925 Leaf Clip Earrings (Signed)
|Sauteur Sterling Mid Century Bracelet Pendant
|Sauteur Open Design Sterling Silver 925 Bangle Bracelet
Where to Find Matisse Renoir Jewelry
Finding Matisse Renoir jewelry is like discovering the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When embarking on your quest, don’t leave any stone unturned, and remember that hunting for treasure is part of the fun.
Begin your search with professionally operated estate sales in your community. These exciting multi-day events offer a wide array of furnishings and personal items. Plus, quality vintage jewelry is often among the treasures. Because Matisse Renoir jewelry hails from the mid-20th century, you won’t have to wonder if the jewelry piece is vintage or antique.
Three types of specialty retail shops may offer Matisse Renoir jewelry for sale. Antique shops are always worth a visit, especially larger venues with individual dealer booths.
Vintage clothing stores are also a good bet, as they often carry classic jewelry from well-known companies.
Finally, check out consignment clothing stores. There, you might find striking Matisse Renoir jewelry among run-of-the-mill, newer items.
You may also find some Matisse Renoir jewelry items at an auction. These popular events showcase an assortment of previously owned items from various sellers. You can either go to an in-person auction house or search online auction platforms for specific items. If you go to the auction, be sure to peruse the auction’s listings beforehand. If you choose an online auction, eBay and Live Auctioneers are two well-known platforms.
Online Vintage Marketplaces
Online vintage marketplaces are very popular platforms. They offer many types of vintage merchandise, including Matisse Renoir jewelry. Well-known online vintage marketplaces include Collector’s Weekly (often with companion articles), Etsy, Poshmark, and Ruby Lane.
Enjoying Your Matisse Renoir Vintage Jewelry
Once you’ve begun your Matisse Renoir jewelry collection, take every opportunity to show off this stunning wearable art. Finding a Renoir piece gives the vintage jewelry a new lease on life. Plus, you might help other jewelry enthusiasts appreciate these timeless pieces as well.