Louis Kramer opened his firm in New York City in 1943 and made a range of variously priced costume jewelry for the following 30 years. Like Weiss, he was a believer in stone-rich designs, a look that found particular favour in the 1950s climate of dressed up glamour. Kramer used a wider variety of paste than either Weiss or post-war Eisenberg, designing pieces decorated with textured or “crackled" glass, crystal beads, coloured pearls, and even plastics. Rhinestones overlaid with black fishnet are another distinctive Kramer innovation, and this interesting fusion of clothing and jewelry elements has made these unusual net pieces highly desirable for today's collectors. Another collectable line is the series of jewels that Kramer manufactured in the United States for Christian Dior. While not as valuable as Dior's French-, English, or German produced pieces, “Dior by Kramer" is eagerly collected and prices continue to rise.
Most Kramer pieces are abstract in design, but a limited number of animals, insects, flowers, and crowns occasionally appear, and prices for these are still modest. Collectors prefer Kramer's wide bracelets, especially those with mixed colour palettes of subtly ranged shades. Large rhinestone bibs, bows, and waterfall necklaces are also favored in richer colours, while clear paste examples fetch slightly less. A full Kramer parure in mint condition is always worth buying and will make a better investment than a comparable unsigned example.
The mark "Kramer N.Y." and a grey pewter-tone setting both suggest that a piece dates from the 1940s or early '50s the era that collectors consider Kramer's best. Pieces marked simply "Kramer" are believed to be later. However, costume jewelry signatures are not always uniform and chronological, and dating often comes down to an educated guess based on stylistic characteristics.
In the early days of collectable costume jewelry, both Kramer and Weiss were relegated to the second or third divisions, but because collectors have recently come to value paste-rich jewelry styles, prices for both makers have risen sharply in the last few years.
• Both pieces are in perfect condition and would therefore fetch the best possible prices for these styles.
• Many similar unsigned pieces were made in the 1950s, but the "Kramer" name adds value.
• The fact that they are so quintessentially 1950s an era that is becoming increasingly popular means that these pieces have gained in value.
• When maker, condition, and style are comparable, a solo bracelet is usually worth more than a solo pin.
Many costume jewelry manufacturers used Swarovski stones (a type of top-quality paste) for their higher-priced lines. The Swarovski Company was founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, who invented a machine that cut paste jewelry stones with remarkable speed and precision, thereby improving their value. The company flourished in the Tyrolean Mountains of Austria, supplying rhinestones to costume jewelry manufacturers in Europe and the United States.
In the mid 1950s, Swarovski developed a new technique, whereby a thin layer of vaporized metal was applied to the surface of a stone to make it shimmer with an eye catching, bluish green iridescence. These stones were called “aurora borealis” after the Northern Lights.
While the Kramer bracelet above is semi-iridescent, the Vendome set on p.125 is a purer example. Aurora borealis jewels were popular in the later 1950s and ‘60s, and remain so.
Kramer Rhinestone Pin, late 1950s
Christian Dior favored jewelry that moved, and he probably inspired Kramer in the design of this 1950s rhinestone pin, where sapphire crystal beads dangle from tiny jump rings. This piece is marked “Kramer”, but similar designs bear the “Dior by Kramer “signature. This is an attractive and collectable pin, but a necklace and earrings set in this style would be worth far more. A lone pin must be striking and unique to command a top price.
Kramer Rhinestone Bracelet, early 1950S
This bracelet is typical of Kramer’s confident handling of the new pastes that became available in the 1950s. Here, three large and unusual textured stones, reminiscent of post-war Schiaparelli, are set off by many smaller marquises in a subtle range of iridescent blues. Unusual pastes are desirable, but be careful with just one of them lost the bracelet would be almost worthless. This piece is not flat but slightly three dimensional an unusual feature that adds value. Collectors rate this style highly and hope to find it in a complete parure.