By Linda Dorland
I will never forget my first glimpse of an Eisenberg brooch. When I was a young child my aunt had a jewelry box full of sparkly rhinestones. In it, she had the most magnificent piece I had ever seen; it was an Eisenberg. All I knew about it then was that neither my mom nor I owned one and I had not a clue from where one could procure one. But the seed was planted for the future. Many years later I found myself collecting old costume jewelry — and never forgetting that childhood glimpse in the jewelry box, I sought the elusive Eisenberg.
Eisenberg jewelry came about by accident. Originally the company designed and produced ladies dresses; it made the fabulous brooches and clips to put on the dresses for display purposes only. Much to the dressmakers' surprise, their customers wanted the jewelry (which was not for sale). Suddenly, the brooches began disappearing! It did not take long for executives at Eisenberg to realize their gold mine. The firm began the production of the fabulous jewelry, and in an ironic twist, the line of dresses was later discontinued.
When people talk about Eisenberg, the name is virtually used as a synonym for quality. The early pieces that went to ornament the dress line were unmarked, so it is exceedingly rare to find one.
The oldest pieces that were created for sale were mostly marked “Eisenberg Original." These were heavy and sturdy, and were encrusted with huge rhinestones and colored stones. Eisenberg also made fur clips with long prongs that would not break, and clip earrings to match all of the above. Slightly later, Eisenberg produced pieces in sterling silver.
Most Eisenberg pieces were made with clear rhinestones; hence, the colored rhinestone pieces are harder to find. In addition to the massive elegant pieces, the firm also produced some whimsical pieces, as well, including figurals. The line included fur clips, dress clips, brooches, pins, bracelets, necklaces and earrings.
When collecting Eisenberg, the most valuable (and costly) pieces will be marked in a handful of ways. “Eisenberg Original” or “Eisenberg Original Sterling” markings are usually in a script letter. Then there is “Eisenberg” in block letters, or sometimes only “E.” The early dress ornament pieces are quite rare but harder to identify since, as previously mentioned, they are unmarked and many are undocumented.
Later pieces may be marked “Eisenberg Ice." These pieces keep the same look and quality are lighter. There were also two time periods in recent history when Eisenberg did not mark the jewelry at all; once you start collecting you will learn to recognize those pieces.
Eisenberg never sacrificed quality; the later pieces are equally as fine in materials and workmanship as the oldest ones. Furthermore, the “Ice” pieces less prone to discoloration of the rhinestones, which is a problem in some of the early pieces. Moisture was always the big enemy of these old stones, as was improper storage. There are two schools of thought on the stones. Some collectors want their pieces “all original," while others want to replace discolored stones. For those in the latter camp, there are very good replacement stones available on the internet.
To protect valuable pieces, it's best to keep them in individual boxes with cotton or soft lining. One should never immerse pieces in any liquid for cleaning. Personally, I use a Q-tip with a little windex to clean the top of the stones when necessary, and a soft silver polishing cloth for the sterling pieces when they tarnish. Less is better when it comes to vintage jewelry.
Wearing an Eisenberg piece is a real treat! I especially love the clips and brooches; the old ones are large enough to also be worn on a belt, coat, cape, hat, or even a handbag. I know many collectors that never wear their jewelry. What a waste. Love it, wear it, I say.
All of the pieces shown are available for sale in GasLamp's showcase room in S-510.