The Eisenberg Company was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1914 by Jonas Eisenberg. It originally produced high-quality ladies clothing and maintained its exclusivity by limiting sales to only the finest stores in the United States. To distinguish its designs, Eisenberg commissioned special rhinestone clips, buckles, and pins, which were sewn onto the clothes. These paste sparklers were not available to buy separately, so frustrated customers began to steal them and leave the dresses behind. This led to Eisenberg producing its own costume jewelry by 1930.
Early "Eisenberg Originals" have a large, aristocratic look. Settings are heavy and crudely rendered in a pewter-tone base metal. Designs are free-flowing, with asymmetrical swirls and bows in the ornate "antique" style popularized by 1930s and '40s Hollywood movies.
In the early 1940s, base metals came under wartime restrictions, so Eisenberg began to use sterling silver. These pieces are chunky by costume jewelry standards, but they are lighter and more detailed than earlier pieces.
In 1940, designer Ruth M. Kamke joined the firm and made some of the best, most collectable Eisenberg pieces. In today's market she finely wrought vermeil silver figural pins sell for thousands of pounds. Look for Kamke's faces, mermaids, butterflies, and flowers, but beware early Eisenbergs, especially figurals, were faked in the late 1930s. These were the first forgeries of costume jewelry, and many experienced dealers were fooled. The market for these pieces cooled in a climate of uncertainty. You can determine a piece's authority by weight: a real Eisenberg seems heavy for its size, while a fake feels light. Early Eisenberg pieces are stamped with a variety of marks; later pieces are signed "Eisenberg Ice".
Dior's "New Look" fashions of the 1950s called for delicate feminine jewelry, so Eisenberg responded with richly coloured rhinestone pieces in the style of Kramer and Weiss. Highly faceted Swarovski crystals now glittered as "Eisenberg Ice", and pretty necklace and earring sets took over from the monumental pins and clips that had been popular a decade earlier.
Eisenberg Original Pin, late 1920s
The large size of this pin (approximately 9cm/31/2 in) and its chunky base-metal setting are typical of 1930s and early '40s Eisenberg, although the symmetrical Art Deco design is unusual and suggests an earlier date. Most "Eisenberg Originals" take the form of free-flowing organic shapes. In the 1940s, an "Eisenberg Original" could cost as much as double a woman's weekly salary.
Eisenberg Original Dress Clip, c.1935
Eisenberg always used the highest-quality Swarovski crystals. These were produced in Eisenberg's native Austria, and they give Eisenberg pieces the distinctive glittering appearance that collectors prize. While clear rhinestone pieces are usually less valuable than coloured examples, this one is worth more, because of its monumental size of approximately 10cm across. It is signed "Eisenberg Originator the back.
The "Eisenberg Ice" signature appears on jewelry produced in the late 1940s late 1950s. Sadly, pieces were rarely signed after that, but you may be lucky enough to find an unworn example with its original paper tag intact. Eisenberg Ice, such as this earring (valued at 05-45/$45-75 the pair), comes in lightweight rhodium settings or, more rarely, in gold-plated metal. Highly faceted, deeply coloured pastes are securely held by prongs and accented with clear rhinestones. Post-war Eisenberg pieces have always been collectable, but, as vintage dressing has gained in popularity, collectors are increasingly drawn to Eisenberg Ice, which is more wearable than the heavy early pieces. A full parure would be a valuable find.