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Notes on Brier Manufacturing
as taken from an interview with Milton Brier
By Susan Corwin
Brier Mfg. was located in Providence, Rhode Island.
It was started by Benjamin Brier and his brother-in-law, Sam Magid in 1913. Benjamin’s younger brother, Charles, was also involved with the company.
Their first location was the Doran-Speidel Building on Ship Street.
In 1928, a new office building was built at 222 Richmond St.
The Little Nemo jewelry line was named after the comic strip character, which was a favorite of the owners. Much of the jewelry was unmarked. It would have been sold on cards that were marked. The line included pins, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
The company sold a lot of religious themed jewelry which it imported from France, including rosaries.
They sold rhinestone tiaras.
Hair ornaments were a big part of the business. They produced barrettes in metal and plastic, and with rhinestones.
Brier was the first manufacturer of plastic jewelry, beads, and hair ornaments. They had their own injection molding department. At times the factory ran 24 hours a day. Early on, they did incorporate Bakelite into their jewelry, but because it was purchased as rods that had to be cut to size, shaped, and polished, it was more costly to use than other plastics like polystyrene and lucite, which replaced Bakelite.
They invented “pearls by the yard” and automated the prong setting of rhinestones.
They were the second largest jewelry manufacturer in the world, with Coro being the largest. While Coro sold primarily to large department stores, Brier sold to chains like Woolworth’s and Kresge’s.
At one time they were the largest parcel post shipper in Providence, and had as many as 1000 employees during the Christmas season.
When Woolworth’s dictated that no item would sell for more than 10 cents, Brier decided to sell single earrings for 10 cents (20 cents per pair) to comply!
They manufactured ornamentation for Helena Rubinstein, Avon, and the Revlon Futurama line, which included decorated lipstick holders.
They also manufactured for Sarah Coventry.
They produced licensed items for Disney (Snow White, etc.) and Howdy Doody items.
During World War II, Brier produced military insignias and parts for Raytheon.
In the 1970’s they did work for the automotive industry, including Ford and Chrysler, manufacturing decorative hubcaps and rims.
They did little, or no, advertising.
They employed 3 or 4 designers.
Nemo manufacturing also had a factory in Hull (Quebec) Canada called Nemo Brier.
Imported finished jewelry was not up to the company’s standards, which is why they only imported parts, and did the manufacturing themselves.
Glossy lacquer enamel finish was sprayed on, and dried quickly.
Rhinestones were imported from Swarovski.
Cloisonne items were imported from the Orient, but they were expensive.
Brier manufactured double clips/pins similar to Coro duettes, but these were not a big seller.
At the height of jewelry manufacturing in Providence there were 30,000 to 40,000 people employed in the industry. Today, that number has been reduced to 4,000 to 5,000.
Sam Magidd opened a small hotel in Miami and named it the Nemo.
Brier filed for bankruptcy in 1978.
What today’s collectors refer to as “fur clips” (hinged, needle-like fasteners) were called “clutch fasteners” by the manufacturers.
Milton Brier is the son of founder Benjamin Brier. Milton joined the company in 1950 at the age of 22. He started at the bottom, as an office boy, but eventually went into sales and marketing.
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