The early darkness of the winter months conspires with the natural magic of the holidays and we find ourselves drawn to the flickering light of fires and stars. This instinctive search for light and warmth can find satisfaction in the localised lustre of jeweled trees, a vintage craft as satisfying to make as they are to observe. My grandmother’s first jewelry tree, a glittering isosceles triangle of brooches, earrings, and pearls appeared in her living room before one Christmas in the 70s. It never failed to attract us in semi-circles of quiet admiration as though we were standing before a masterpiece in a museum. She was most likely inspired by crafter-extraordinaire Bobi Hall who popularised this art form in a 1973 booklet published by Hazel Pearson Handicrafts—but having her own flair didn’t hurt. My grandmother’s creations (a bejeweled wreath came later) glowed from her walls each year they were displayed and they have inspired my mother, a brother, and a sister to bejewel their own trees.
As you might expect, this craft requires a good stock of vintage sparklers. It’s not unusual to see the surface of my mother’s dining room table divided into territorial piles of single earrings, necklaces with broken clasps, and shoe buckles that don’t buckle; it’s like the gathering of thieves in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as they barter over Scrooge’s belongings. Fortunately, my brother, John, has a Lovejoy-worthy ability to suss out vintage jewelry at the auctions and sales he attends. Many of the costume pieces thrown into these lots are incomplete or broken, making them perfect candidates for this particular holiday craft. Using desirable vintage brands like Trifari, Weiss, Coro, Haskell, and Eisenberg among others less well known, my mother has sorted, arranged, and assembled some stunning trees with layers of carefully chosen costume jewelry. One now hangs in her dining room year round and she has given a few others to my brother to sell in his eBay shop.
The process of sorting through such a wide variety of vintage pieces yields passive lessons in mid-century jewelry design and construction. My brother has inherited the family flair and has branched out with some of his own jewelry designs. For many families, as in my own, these sparkling and unique confections become heirlooms; as centerpieces of the Christmas preparations, they are treasured from one generation to the next.