Since the 1920s, Trifari has been one of the most respected and admired producers of costume jewelry in the United States. Founded in the 1910s by Gustavo Trifari, the Italian-immigrant son of a Napoli goldsmith, the company has designed jewelry that’s been worn by countless high-profile clients, from Mamie Eisenhower to Madonna. The success of Trifari, and the reason for its collectibility today, is most often credited to French designer Alfred Philippe, the company’s chief designer from 1930 until 1968. His use of invisible settings for stones, which he originally developed for Van Cleef and Arpels, added a level of craftsmanship and technique that had not been previously seen in costume jewelry.
Like all manufacturers during World War II, Trifari was unable to use metal in its products due to rationing. This forced Trifari to switch to sterling silver during the war, which tripled prices for Trifari products (although that didn’t seem to hurt sales). Post-war, Trifari wanted to go back to less costly, maintenance-free metal, but its audience was now used to silver. To hype the return to a cheaper base metal, the company began advertising a “revolutionary” new metal called Trifanium, which was a made-up name for their basic metal — unlike silver, it could be given a no-polish rhodium finish.
The campaign worked so well that by 1953, Mamie Eisenhower felt perfectly comfortable to break with tradition and wearcostume jewelry to the inaugural ball. To match the First Lady’s pink satin gown (studded with 2,000 rhinestones), Alfred Philippe designed an “orientique” pearl choker withmatching three-stranded bracelet and earrings, each laden with eight pearls. Three sets were made: one for the First Lady, a second for the Smithsonian, and a third for the Trifari archives. Mrs. Eisenhower was so pleased with the ensemble that she had Trifari make jewelry for her second inaugural ball in 1957.