This unusual beetle brooch is by one of the doyens of costume jewellery design – Hattie Carnegie.  I have a number of Hattie Carnegie brooches in my collection, their quirkiness and originality appeal to me.  This beetle is from the 1940s and I bought it from my friend Jacqueline Rehmann author of ‘Classic American Costume Jewelry’ who lives America.  The brooch is made of gilt metal  and has been enamelled, and there are three glass turquoise bead accents.

Hattie Carnegie was born in Vienna, Austria on 15th March 1886, the second of seven children and christened Henrietta Kanengeiser. Her family emigrated to America settling in Manhattan when she was a little girl. Her story is one of rags to riches. At the age of 13 after the death of her father she took a job at the famous department store Macy’s in New York, as a messenger girl, she owned three blouses and one skirt. She went on to own and manage a 10 million dollar business with five companies manufacturing and selling clothes, hats, perfume and jewellery.  Early on in her career she changed her name to Hattie Carnegie, a tribute to the then richest man in America Andrew Carnegie.  Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland in 1835, emigrated to Pittsburgh in 1848 and went on to be an industrialist and philanthropist and in 1889 he published ‘The Gospel of Wealth’. But back to Hattie, at 15 she was modelling for a milliner’s and in the evening supplementing her wages by designing hats for the ladies in the neighbourhood.  In 1909 Hattie opened her first business in partnership was Rose Roth, by 1913 the business was doing well and they moved to a more prestigious part of town on the corner of Broadway between a delicatessen and a Chinese restaurant. By 1929 the business had sales of $3.5 million and premises on Park Avenue.  Hattie could not sew but she had an extraordinary flair for design and style and made frequent trips to Paris to see the latest designs, bringing back trunks of clothes and fabric for the workroom to copy and adapt.  Hattie’s clothes and accessories were aimed at the wealthy and well-off ladies of America, she was known as one of the most stylish women of her time.  Over the years she employed many models, including Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Sophia Loren and Aline Griffith who resigned to become a spy when WWII broke out. In 1943 Hattie designed a dress which was published in Life magazine, a competent home sewer could make the ‘Hattie Carnegie’ dress which was available to buy ready-made at $175 for as little as $5.  At the time of her death in 1956 the Hattie Carnegie empire was estimated to be valued at $8million.

Hattie Carnegie in 1955 – photo by John Engstead, Beverly Hills

Early Hattie Carnegie jewellery has a simple ‘HC’ and dates to 1919, sadly I don’t have any going back that far.  When buying vintage jewellery, it is important to wherever possible buy pieces with makers/designers marks.  It gives pieces authenticity and helps to date and many marks change and develop over time.

Occasionally I see Stag Beetles, in the garden, their larvae are extremely good for my garden as they eat rotting wood, but don’t eat living plants or shrubs.  I have never seen one though in a frockcoat and top hat!  The Stag Beetle is Britain’s largest beetle, and according to  folklore, they can summon thunder and lightning storms.  In Germany they are associated with Thor, the God of Thunder and legend says if you placed one on your head, it will protect you from being struck by lightning.

A British Stag Beetle