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Feature Article

The Story of  Coro

Dateline: 01/5/02

Coro, Inc., one of the largest and most prolific costume jewelry manufacturing and wholesale companies in the United States and the world, would have been 100 years old in 2001, had it only lasted that long.

The Beginnings:
Coro was begun in 1901 by Emanuel Cohn and Carl Rosenberger who opened a small accessories store on Broadway in New York City. Not until 1943, did the company name Coro, a contraction of the first two letters of each partner's last name, change to Coro, Inc.

But Cohn and Rosenberger were not designers of jewelry. They may have had their own ideas of what they envisioned and how they wanted to sell their jewelry but they did not individually or together design any of it; they found professional jewelry designers for this work. Cohn & Rosenberger was first a sales organization, later to acquire its own manufacturing facilities.

The Designers:
Adolph Katz, a name well known to Coro collectors because of the many design and mechanism patents he filed, and certainly well known to all who did business with Coro, was, however, not a jewelry designer.

In several reference works, Adoph Katz has been listed as a Coro designer but Liz has it on good authority that he did not do any design work. It was assumed by the writers of these books that he was the designer because he signed his name on the patent applications. However, from 1924 on, he was the man in charge of selecting the designs Coro would manufacture, commission to be manufactured, and sell.

Adolph Katz choose the designs from a large pool of designers, many of whom went on to become known by their own names in their own or other companies. Other designs were picked from portfolio drawings sold by unknown artists.

Francois was one such designer who joined Coro with his floral brooch designs in 1938. A special introductory advertisement featured his first line for Coro. Francois later marketed his jewelry under his own name, Francois.

Other notable Coro designers included Gene Verecchio, probably most famous for his design of the Quivering Camellia Duette *. His story was featured in the Vintage Fashion Costume Jewelry Club Newsletter in 2001. Several other designers are mentioned in the design patent applications by Coro, notably, Oscar Placco, Robert Geissmann, Massa Raimond. It was, however, not a custom at Coro to mark individual jewelry with a designer's name except in rare instances.

Adolph Katz, as the design director for Coro, was probably the single largest influence in creating the look for which Coro became known and popular with the jewelry buying public.

The Styles:
Well known designs for Coro, and much in demand by collectors today, are the double clips which could be combined into one brooch, trademarked as Coro Duette. The mechanism for the Duette was patented in 1931. This mechanism varied in styling for each individual design but how the interlocking components functioned remained essentially unchanged. The Duette brooch and clips styles stayed popular throughout the 1940s. However, on the new lighter synthetic fabrics arriving after World War II, especially knits, the heavy clips proved impractical. By the early 1950s the fashion had faded considerably although clips were still being marketed in smaller and lighter versions.

Coro Duette Campanules, 1939
Private collection.

It's hard to define a complete Coro look as Coro produced such a varity of jewelry. Coro collectors who like the classic designs can usually recognize Coro jewelry among its many imitations. Coro workmanship and finish were outstanding even on its less expensive lines. Always striving for the pretty, feminine and romantic in expression, Coro jewelry was known for its delicate yet sturdy construction, its florals and figurals.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, to compete with Monet and Trifari, especially, Coro launched several quite high-priced (even more so for that time) lines of jewelry to be sold in fine specialty stores.

Trifari may have pioneered the socalled jellybelly jewelry with carved Lucite centers, but Coro soon followed with its own figurals, also with Lucite centers, and later also with colored glass centers. Coro figurals from this era are today highly treasured by collectors.

Trifari had copied the multi-color precious stone jewelry by Cartier, it became known as fruit salad among collectors. Coro followed with its own versions, some very similar to Trifari's, others quite innovative using socalled carved glass stones.

During World War II Coro contributed many patriotic jewelry styles, notably the Emblem Of The Americas brooch, one example of which was seen at the Vintage Fashion & Costume Jewelry Convention in Rhode Island, in October, 2001, which Convention is covered in a reportage on this site.

Click to enlarge

This brooch was especially designed by Lester Gaba to commemorate the 1938 friendship conference of North and South American nations held in Lima, Peru. Each participating South American nation's flag is included. Ladies Home Journal promoted the choice of designer and Coro was selected to produce it. The inscription reads Amigos Siempre [Friends Forever]. Sold for $3.95, the royalty proceeds benefitted the Interamerican Scholarship Fund of which Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the chief sponsors. The actual year of issue of this brooch is listed as 1942.**

Romantic styles, inspired by Victorian classic motifs, first took popular hold in the late 1930s, a counterpoint to the straight lines of Deco-styled jewelry which had been popular since the 1920s. After World War II, florals and romantic, even whimsical motifs, still reigned and florished until well into the late 1950s. Coro established itself as the main producer of this popular style jewelry.

The Manufacturing and Marketing:
Selecting designs for Coro was one thing, selling them was another. An able sales director, Royal Marcher, saw to the distribution of Coro mark jewelry. He did it so well that in 1929, Cohn & Rosenberger felt confident to invest in a brand-new factory. They selected Providence, Rhode Island, which since the 18th century had held prominence as one of the main hubs for jewelry manufacturing in the United States.

The new Coro factory was the largest and most state-of-the-art costume jewelry manufacturing plant in the world. At the height of its operation, more than 3,500 employees produced Coro jewelry there.

In 1929, the infamous New York stock market crash reduced many companies to ashes. Not Coro. Boldly, Cohn & Rosenberger instead issued a public stock offering. They repeated it with another public stock offering in 1945, an end-of-war year. Both moves would have appeared to go against anyone's better judgment but these actions resulted in Coro staying in business, even expanding, whereas many other companies did not.

Coro branched out as well. Corocraft was one branch opened in England in 1933. In spite of war and hardships, the success of Coro marched on. By 1952, Coro maintained showrooms in all the top U.S. and Canadian cities. The heyday for Coro production lasted through the mid-1950s.

The Jewelry Lines and Marks:
Coro's mainstay products consisted of cast jewelry although stampings were also used. Coro marketed many so called lines of jewelry. Unique names were invented for the different lines depending on which type store would be selling them. Some stores would sell, or carry one or several lines but not certain others, and vice versa.

The name and/or mark of each line was only important at that time for this reason:

A store that sold, say, Coro-marked jewelry, was not allowed to carry Vendome mark jewelry. Vendome was Coro's better line, more costly. A better store would carry Vendome but would not want Coro [mark] because by the early 1950s it had come to represent a cheaper line.

The later Coro lines, from 1950s and on, with the Coro mark on them, were only sold in general department stores. Better specialty stores such Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Dillard's, Bloomingdale's, Gum's, and other fine stores, would carry Vendome, Corocraft, Coro Sterling Craft but not plain Coro. These lines were pricier to appeal to the specialty store customer.

But not necessarily all lines were produced at the Coro plant, some were made by other manufacturing contractors, such as the Hedison Co. in Providence. Some lines were even imported, including lower-priced items with a Coro hangtag which also had the country of origin printed on the reverse.

Some of the names Coro used, courtesy The Enchanted Learning Center:
Coro Jewelry Line Names
Some of the most popular marks seen on Coro jewelry, courtesy Fabulous Facets catalog site:
Coro Trademark Evolution

The Decline:
By the end of the 1950s Coro's well was running dry, however. In 1957,  Richton International Corp. of New York bought the American assests of Coro, Inc., and continued producing jewelry in Providence.

New fashion trends in jewelry, to bloom in the 1960s, included beads. Although Coro jewelry was still well represented in stores and purchased by many women who liked it, the company was heavily invested in stampings, castings, rhinestones and accompanying components, thus not ready for a switch to beads.

Coro imported bead jewelry from other countries to compete but the U.S. casting manufacturing production suffered as a result. By the early 1970s Coro had lost its market dominance to bead fashions and to other competition such as Monet, a company that had the world market cornered on socalled tailored jewelry, i.e. plain gold [look] styles without stones, suitable for every day and business wear. In the 1970s, competition from the Asian countries Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, also cut deeply into Coro market share.

Coro, still by owned by Richton International, tried everything to recoup its market share but finally called it quits in 1979, after 78 years in business. The Canadian branches of Coro, Inc. continued manufacturing operations well into the 1990s. It is not known exactly which year Coro ceased operations in Canada although 1998 has been mentioned by some sources. At one time it was rumoured that Coro, Inc. would continue to produce jewelry in Mexico but this has not been confirmed to this writer. Updated information from informed readers is welcomed.

Coro Around The Web:
Coro Ads
A fabulous display of Coro jewelry in many ads through the 20th century is shown here, courtesy Morning Glory's jewelry e-zine Jewelry Talk

BCD Antiques offers its brief version of Corocraft history and lots of Corocraft jewelry eye candy.

Coro Ad 1955
More charming summer styles from Coro, from Liz's ad collection.

*There are at least three well known versions of the Quivering Camellias designs. A 1938 version includes a complete parure [set] of a necklace, bracelet, earrings, and duette clip, and listed as designed by Gene Verecchio in American Costume Jewelry, Brunialti & Brunialti, p. 51. Two 1939 design versions, the first comprising a bracelet and a brooch which is not a Duette and neither "quivers" either, is marked CoroCraft Sterling, and the second version is a Duette clip brooch only. Both 1939 designs are recorded with the name of Adolph Katz, who filed the design patent applications for both. The mechanism on this Duette is also by a different designer than Gaston Candas, a Elisha A. Phinney, of South Attleboro, Massachusetts, the patent application filed by Geo. H. Fuller & Son Company, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Preceding information information courtesy American Costume Jewelry, Brunialti & Brunialti, publ. 1997, Italy.

**Emblem of The Americas brooch information courtesy American Costume Jewelry, Brunialti & Brunialti, publ. 1997, Italy.

Photos by Liz Bryman or as credited.

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