Treasure: Jewelry longtime go-to gift

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to the Detroit News

Perennially popular for romantic holidays such as Valentine’s and Sweetest Days, as well as for birthdays and anniversaries, jewelry has long been a “go-to” gift. It’s also one that “comes with a lot of emotions,” appraiser Lori Verderame, also known as Dr. Lori, told the group of lucky winners assembled recently for a breakfast at the Novi Home Show. One of the winners, Maria Sterlini, brought in some family heirloom pieces of costume jewelry that she was curious about, hoping to find out a little more about their value and their history.

Verderame took a look at a pretty pearl set still stored in its original “French ivory” heart-shaped case. While it sounds impressive, French ivory is really just a fancy name for a type of plastic invented in the mid-19th century that was designed to mimic real ivory. Sometimes stamped “Ivory Pyralin,” it’s also known more commonly as “celluloid.” “It was a very common material used in the early 20th century and often found with jewelry in the 1920s,” she added. She also cautioned Sterlini to be careful with it — “It’s highly flammable.” Online research recommends keeping it away from heat sources to avoid combustion, one of the possible reasons it lost favor. Curious whether your piece is celluloid or the real thing? Try running under hot tap water — if it smells like camphor, it’s probably plastic.

Sterlini’s set included a strand of pearls and a pair of teardrop earrings made by Richelieu. “Teardrop earrings were very popular at the time for weddings because they were symbolic of the happy tears,” the appraiser told Sterlini while she took a closer look. Sterlini said the set belonged to her grandmother, Maria Pappas, who was married in the 1920s and gave her the set – “something old, something new,” she said. Sterlini also wore them at her own 1960s wedding.

According to the collecting website Ruby Lane (, Richelieu was founded by Joseph H. Meyer and brothers in the early 1900s and the Richelieu mark was first used in 1911. “From the beginning the company made their imitation pearls in a variety of qualities for every budget,” it explains. “Older ads, dating from 1914-1920 showed that the company actually had seven ‘grades’ of necklaces. Using real pearls from around the world as their standard, their top grade was XXX which they compared to Ceylon Oriental pearls. These high quality imitations could be purchased for $50 with plated clasps and simulated gems or for $500 with platinum clasp and genuine diamonds! Grade A compared to Red Sea pearls and was also available with gold and gemstone clap and grade B compared to Persian Gulf pearls with the same options. The grades C, PO, M and XL were lower grades with sterling filigree clasps or gold-filled clasps. Other grades were added in later years with no precious metal content.”

Sterlini’s set is of higher, but not the highest, quality, Verderame said. “These are high-end costume jewelry, but in the end, still costume,” Verderame told her. That’s not to say they don’t have value, though. Despite not being “real” pearls, Verderame gave her a value of $400 for the set and the original box. “They’re still very pretty and have a nice vintage look.”

In the end, however, their monetary value isn’t important, Sterlini said. “I have a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter and they will get them someday,” she said. “They could be worth a million and I still wouldn’t sell. They mean that much.”

You can contact Verderame at

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.


About this item

Item: Costume pearl earrings/necklace

Owned by: Maria Sterlini, Canton

Appraised by: Lori Verderame, “Dr. Lori”

Estimated value: $400 for the set