CASTLECLIFF: A Storied History

Welcome to the opulent world of CASTLECLIFF Jewelry!  

Once an  iconic NYC jewelry house in the 20th century, CASTLECLIFF’s history began over 100 years ago at the very dawn of American made costume jewelry. 

     Established  in 1918 by jewelry designers Clifford First and Joseph Bobley, CASTLECLIFF began producing their colorful and playful jewels in the early 1940s right here in the heart of NYC.  Costume jewelry had become widely accepted and popular during the Great Depression, and quality and craftmanship excelled as many fine jewelers shifted to this more affordable form of accessory.  Wartime in the 1940’s brought on a surge of creativity and scale, as designers embraced wood, plastics and unusual materials when rations came into play and there was no longer access to the more traditional European crystals.  Many CASTLECLIFF pieces from this era are marked sterling silver, as rations on copper, brass and lead during the war effort limited the traditional base metals costume jewelry was known for.  Markings of CASTLECLIFF, Castlemark, and Cassandra have all been attributed to the brand at this time.

     In the 1950’s William Markle became lead designer at CASTLECLIFF, and his architecturally trained eye set a fanciful tone for the brand, drawing inspiration from a plethora of eras, most notably his Gothic, Art Deco and Renaissnce Designs.   The end of the war brought unlimited access to materials,and his bold, sculptural and colorful jewelry was often adorned with multicolored rhinestones, glass gemstones and faux pearls, earning CASTLECLIFF's signature tag line, “The Talked About Jewelry”.  

     In the early 1970's Lawrence Vrba, arguably one of the greatest jewelry designers of the 20th century,  took the helm at CASTLECLIFF and created some of the most  iconic and sought after collections today.  Inspired by Pre-Columbian artifacts and the vast archives of the American Museum of Natural History, his highly collectable pieces translated ancient jewelry into sculptural and colorful works of art in dramatic 1970’s silhouettes, complete with enormous glass cabochons and intricate details.  


" The mood is Mayan.  The pendant is the thing.   It’s that primitive stuff, just great for costuming up your very civilized, soft-shaped looks.  Totems, sun-and-moon images, masks and idols and mythological Gods.  Really true repeats of ancient Mayan designs, updated into pendants of all weights and sizes, sometimes jewelled, sometimes not. " -Saks Fifth Ave Ad c. 1970

     In spite of this well received collection, CASTLECLIFF quietly closed its doors in the mid 1970’s, due to a changing economic climate and increased globalization and outsourcing in the industry.  The iconic NYC brand lay dormant for almost half a century until our relaunch in 2017.

     Our designs of CASTLECLIFF today pick up from where its last collection left off, with bold 1970’s silhouettes, inspired by everything from  Pre-Columbian adornments,  to artifacts of the Pacific Northwest, to botanicals of the Sonoran desert, all exuding CASTLECLIFF's signature style radiating color and scale.  As a nod to our heritage and part of our mission of sustainability,  we fancifully collage relics of the past into our new designs, incorporating the glass stones and vintage elements from CASTLECLIFF’s past into every new adornment. Every one of our castings is made of 100% recycled brass, and our vintage chains, our poured glass stones from the 1950s and 60s and our mix of quirky components are all found, vintage and upcycled.  Remnants of a wasteful industry have become the building blocks of our modern accessories.  In a world of throw away accessories, we hope to restore this NYC institution to it former glory and grow CASTLECLIFF into a sustainable and responsible costume jewelry brand for the 21st century.