Over 20 years ago I bought a Maltese cross brooch at the (late, great) Filene’s Basement store in Boston. It became a favorite and I wore it constantly and then one of the cabochons fell out and I was so crushed. One day on a whim I googled “Maltese cross” to see if something similar was available much to my surprise saw several images of a virtually identical brooch listed that was signed “Benedikt NY”! After some additional sleuthing it seems that Howard Benedikt made high-end costume jewelry from 1955 to 1973. His store was located at 389 5th Avenue in New York City and that is all I can find out about him. His pieces are considered collectible and are certainly as well made as vintage Hattie Carnegie pieces but are much less pricey. The brooch I bought in the 80’s was clearly a Benedikt knock-off and from time to time I see his designs copied by today’s high end costume jewelery brands such as Kenneth Jay Lane. I have three of these brooches, a white/grey crystal, a blue crystal and a topaz cabachon.
Benedikt jewelry is always marked “Benedikt N.Y. (c)” and one of his most elaborate pieces is the Maltese cross. It was most commonly made in red, blue or green with both a faceted crystal center or round cabochon center. Blue and green with crystal centers are by far the most common. I’ve seen red and green cabochon centers but the blue only once in my research and it turned up on Ebay in 2007. The center cabochons are colored glass and the oval cabs on the arms on the red and blue examples are colored glass or occasionally opaque pink glass or blue faux lapis (that’s what my blue one has.) This heavy brooch is 2 inches square and weighs one ounce. It’s constructed from three pieces of cast metal held together with a pin under the center stone/cabochon.
Benedikt Maltese cross brooches within each colorway are by no means identical. Sometimes the stones on the arms of the cross match the rest of the colors as in the green crystal example below. My personal preference is for clear crystals but I did make an exception when I bought the white cab cross; I think the subtle grey of the stones is actually really nice. The color of the metal is most often bright gold, only the topaz version seems to have that bronze finish.
Other variations that are rare but do come up include these, see the photos below:
- White cabs with black stones on the arms and a black crystal center. There was a bidding war on Ebay for that one!
- Turquoise cabs with amethyst stones. This stunner has been on Ruby Lane for a while and is by far the most expensive and unusual I’ve seen.
- The red and green cab version was on Ebay in 2008 and I have not seen it again myself.
In addition to a pin back each piece has a hook at the top which allows the brooch to be worn as an enhancer to a necklace and this looks pretty fabulous! The opening is very small though so a bail is needed to attach it. In the photo I pinned the brooch to my dress form because the hook won’t fit over my 4mm Mikimoto pearl necklace. I’ve been looking for a 14k gold bail that works with the style of the brooch.
If you love this brooch and want one here is what lve learned in the two years I’ve been collecting Benedikt NY jewelry:
- Condition: generally very good to excellent. These must have been expensive pieces of costume jewelry when they were new. I also think they may have been available ready-made and made-to-order, the latter might explain why there are so many interesting variations.
- Most examples will not have stones in the tiny prongs circling the center cab/crystal. My white one has them but the other two don’t. I think they were made this way.
- Condition issues to look for:
The stones surrounding the arms are occasionally missing so carefully scrutinize photos.
The baguette stones on the points are fogged about 50% of the time (visible on my blue one but the baguettes on the white one are clearer)
Sometimes the pin holding the three parts together has some play in it. This can be fine if it’s minor but if there is a lot of looseness the cabs may fall out because the middle layer holds them down in their prong setting.
See the side view for info on how the components fit together.
The fleur-de-lis above the arm cabs should be straight. Notice on my blue brooch, on the left arm, one of them is bent. I also think that happened when it was made.
Prices: starting bids are $14.99 to $49.99 with the winning bid average in the $30 $60 range on Ebay auctions depending on the time of year. On sites like Rubylane the prices are higher, in the $60 $80 range. Rubylane is a antique dealer site and has the highest price I’ve seen so far which is for the $188 purple turquoise piece.