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Eisenberg & Sons a/k/a Eisenberg Jewelry (1880/1914 – ) When owner/designer Jonas Eisenberg founded the company that bears his name and opened his first emporium in Chicago in 1880, it was promoted as the first American designer clothing company. Eisenberg clothing was usually solid colors, in black, grey, and navy in well-made, conservative daywear that included suits and dresses, aimed at fashionable housewives.
After thirty-five years in business, the Eisenberg company began to use jewelry to decorate their clothing and also convey a more complete look that made the clothing more desirable. The jewelry was so appealing that retailers had a difficult time preventing it from being stolen from the clothing.
In an example of turning lemons into lemonade, the company soon decided to sell jewelry separately from its clothing lines. For almost 20 years this jewelry was unmarked, but around 1935, Eisenberg jewelry began to display the mark, “Eisenberg Originals” (sometimes the word, “original” does not appear.)
They used this mark until the late 1940’s when a script “E” and eventually Eisenberg in block letters replaced the original mark. The block E was used circa 1960. From 1960 to the present Eisenberg Ice has been used. Pieces from the 1970’s and 1980’s were mostly unmarked or identified only by hang-tags. In 1994 Eisenberg introduced Eisenberg Ice Classics that remains in production. The clothing line was discontinued in the 1950’s.
At first the company tended to feature Swarovski rhinestones because the Eisenbergs, as Eastern European immigrants felt it was important to support former countrymen who produced the finest quality glass stones in the world. The output of this collaboration was clear and colored stones pieces with the colored stone pieces priced highest.
These pieces were mostly produced on the East Coast by the company, Fallon & Kappel whose young designer, Ruth Kamke, was often assigned to design pieces exclusively for the Eisenberg Company. At first dress clips and a little later fur clips formed the bulk of production. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, rings, belts, and other types of dress ornaments were produced later to include accessory items such as compacts and even perfume. Most, but not all, pieces marked Eisenberg Original have a stone setter’s mark in the form of a letter or a number in a circle.
As fashion changed with the times, so did the Eisenberg offerings. In the 1950’s, rhinestone jewelry also changed. Both clear and colored stones remained popular, but the look now used small stones set in lines or as part of the overall design. Eisenberg styles incorporated “curlicues” and “wings” making them distinctive especially when set with fancy cut colored stones of various shapes and sizes. The Weiss Company copied the Eisenberg look and sometimes even duplicated pieces. This is why some Weiss signed pieces are attributed to Eisenberg.
In the early1970’s, Eisenberg produced a line of hand-enameled pendant necklaces, earrings, hinged bangles, rings and brooches in “mod” color schemes that used designs loosely based on the works of contemporary artists. While these pieces are not as highly sought after as rhinestone pieces, they remain interesting and wearable. Ads from the time period say the pieces were baked 27 times so the finishes, by and large, have held up well.
When the Eisenberg Company returned to creating rhinestone jewelry they began with Christmas tree pins. The popularity of these pieces exceeded interest in non-Christmas pieces. Nevertheless, the company continues to produces social occasion jewelry.
In 1994 they issued a line of Eisenberg Ice “Classics” based on previous company designs. These came in a marked box with the pieces signed Eisenberg Ice with a tiny ’94. The line met with limited success because the high cost of production was reflected in the pricing. It was reintroduced around 2000 and remains in production with the pieces marked with the traditional Eisenberg Ice plaque.
Known for its use of Swarovski crystals and colored stones, as well as superior craftsmanship and attention to detail, Eisenberg & Sons became one of the most highly regarded costume jewelry manufacturers of the 1930s and ’40s. The company was also famous for replicas of 18th-century fine jewelry that looked authentic because of the use of pewter-colored metal. Eisenberg also produced stunning figurals often set in sterling silver.
Collectors recognize authentic, vintage Eisenberg jewelry by their mark. The words “Eisenberg Original” appear from roughly 1935 to 1945. Plain “Eisenberg” or “Eisenberg Ice” was used from about 1945 to 1950. To make matters more complicated, silver pieces made from 1943 to 1948 were called “Eisenberg Sterling” and some Eisenberg pieces created between 1952 and 1970 have no trademark stamp at all.
The pieces themselves are often recognized by medallion-like pins and clips festooned with aqua, ruby, and crystal stones. Many Eisenberg pieces are abstract and vaguely organic, but others resemble kings, queens, mermaids, and ballerinas.
Animals were also Eisenberg favorites. Some were relatively straightforward embellishments of horses, zebras, birds, and butterflies, but other Eisenberg brooches tell mini-stories, like the one depicting Puss in Boots or a clip from 1941 called, ‘Piggy Goes to Market’ that Eisenberg created for the Eaves Costume Company.
More generic, but equally impressive are vintage Eisenberg rhinestone-studded bows, rhinestone clips with an Art Deco look, and brooches made entirely of cabochons. Some clips were intended to be sewn into a garment and were sold in pairs joined by chains.
Other vintage Eisenberg pieces of note include sterling silver pieces set with a type of quartz called citrine and Eisenberg branded as “Topaz quartz.” In the mid-1940s, the company also made a few pieces in 14-carat gold, as well as a collection of turquoise pieces crafted by Mexican artisans. The enameled pieces from the 70s include hand-painted, 18-carat gold pins and earrings in the “Artists Series” plus simple, enameled brooches of yellow sunflowers, cream water lilies, and purple trees with matching earrings.
In the 1960s, Karl Eisenberg, president of Eisenberg Ice, took over the company from his father, Sam, who had taken it over from his father, Jonas. In the early 1990’s, Karl was still head of sales, though the company had been sold to a large jewelry conglomerate several years before.
In a 2010 interview, Karl Eisenberg expressed his amazement at the collectability of his company’s production. He also said that while he knew there were massive private collections of Eisenberg pieces, the company itself had not, for the most part, saved pieces for its own archive. In the interview, Karl also revealed the inspiration for the name, “Eisenberg Ice.”
“My father, Sam Eisenberg… thought up the name Eisenberg Ice. You know where the name came from? During the time of Al Capone and the mob … diamonds were called ‘ice.’ That was why, starting in 1935, we put that moniker on the costume jewelry, and it worked. When we did that, the jewelry took off. The name really became something. It amazes me that even today there are people that collect it.”Sell Eisenberg & Sons aka Eisenberg Jewelry All Artists
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