Sarah Coventry - A short history of a large jewellery company
Sarah Coventry was a real person but not a jewellery designer. The company was founded in 1949 by Charles William "Bill" Stuart, who named his costume jewellery company after his niece, Sarah Coventry Beale.
Sarah Coventry did not follow the Coro, Trifari, or Miriam Haskell practice of producing the work of a strong in-house designer. Instead, Stuart purchased designs from freelancers, then hired firms such as DeLizza and Elster, whose house brand was Juliana, to create its chokers, necklaces, brooches, earrings, and bracelets.
But this company and its many success began long before 1949. Generations before had been farmers but became nursery owners providing all manner of seeds, seedlings and plants to farmers and gardeners in New York. Employees sold the products door to door and a direct selling model was born.
Eventually, the depression, poor weather and the post war boom led the company to focus on an entirely new business - costume jewellery.
Unlike its competitors, Sarah Coventry did not focus on getting prime counter space in department stores, or selling its wares to Hollywood movie stars in order to move its inventory.
Using the most modern research methods as well as sophisticated sales scripts, the first jewellery company, Emmons Jewelry rolled out a collection of 75 pieces. Sold at home where women could actually try on the necklaces, earrings and brooches, this was a novel approach.
Additionally, it also allowed for post-war women to continue earning money as sales consultants or Fashion Show Directors as they were called. The quality was fantastic and the designs unique. It also provided a lifetime guarantee. All jewellery could be sent back for repair or replacement.
Stuart’s approach was incredibly successful. Direct sales at house parties (á la Tupperware and Avon) got women talking about his affordable jewellery and also recruited more salespeople. Sales incentives included exclusive jewellery sets as well as holidays and other luxurious treats.
He also gave his costume jewellery away to contestants on game shows and at beauty pageants including the Miss Universe 1975 crown. Actors wore the jewellery on soap operas and television dramas. In 1964, the company became international and began manufacturing in Canada and the UK as well as France, Belgium and Australia.
Catalogues were distributed three times a year and many items were limited in their availability thus driving desire through a scarcity strategy much like the celebrity make up products we see on social media today. The collections were designed to be "worn in multiples, mixed and matched, layered, and the company took every advantage to market it".
These incredibly modern and innovative sales and marketing strategies made Sarah Coventry one of the most popular jewellery brands of the mid-20th century. At its height Sarah Coventry was selling "35,000 pieces every week day".
Today, their pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are especially prized by collectors.
Thank you to Wendy Hewson for much of this information.
See also Sandra Sturdivant and Shirley Crabtree's informative book "Identifying Sarah Coventry Jewelry 1949-2009"
All errors and omissions are author’s own.
Copyright Audra Daws-Knowles 2023