A couple of months ago, I attended two local antique shows that happened to be going on during the same weekend. Shopping for vintage jewelry is one of my most favorite things to do on the planet, so that definitely made the weekend for me.
One of these shows had several antique dealers who had flown in from all over the country. They brought with them some of the most beautiful vintage jewelry I had ever seen all in one place! Much to my delight, many pieces were signed with the maker’s mark stamped on the back.
Every so often I come across a designer’s name I do not know much about or perhaps have never even heard the name. If it is attractive, I usually end up buying the piece so I can remember to do my research to find out as much as I can about who they are and how they became successful. I just love good stories!
There was one particular piece at this show that I thought should fall into the category of Incredibly Talented Designers. It was an Original by Robert. At first glance, I thought it was a Miriam Haskell piece because the style was so similar with its tiny seed beads handwired into the design.
Not surprisingly, I found out that this company was often compared to both Miriam Haskell and Stanley Hagler who used filigree and intricate beadwork in their handcrafted designs.
Since I could not take my eyes off of it, I decided this piece was definitely coming home with me. I had a new vision for it and it wasn’t long before I had repurposed this beautifully detailed piece into a gold plated beaded stretch bracelet:
I then set out to know all I could about this talented guy named Robert…
The designer’s full name was Robert Levy. He, along with David Jaffe and Irving Landsman, created the Fashioncraft Jewelry Company in New York City in 1942. Landsman left the company in 1951. Fashioncraft’s name was changed to Robert Originals, Inc. in 1960, but the company often went by the name of Robert or Original by Robert.
Levy often included nature and floral images in his designs that were indicative of the Art Nouveau movement. Faux pearls, crystal beads, colored glass, and high quality imported Austrian rhinestones were set onto ornate gilded filigree with openwork mountings. Robert Originals also produced collectible Christmas tree pins.
Robert’s jewelry was usually marked, but there were a variety of marks used from 1942 to 1979 including, FASHIONCRAFT, FASHIONCRAFT ROBERT, PINLESS PIN, ROBERT, and ORIGINAL BY ROBERT. After 1955, they all had a copyright symbol.
Based on the company’s advertisement in the 1940s, expert jewelers could mistake the stones Levy used for genuine precious jewels. Because of its exceptional design, workmanship, and materials used, the jewelry had a high price tag. For example, in the mid-1940s, a Robert Originals pin and earring set would sell for approximately $50.
Robert jewelry was used in the television networks and even in a few Hollywood films including the Oscar-nominated Elia Kazan movie Viva Zapata starring Marlon Brando and Jean Peters.
In 1975, Robert Levy retired and David Jaffe’s daughter Ellen began to work for the company. Jaffe retired in 1979 and Robert Originals closed its operations. Today, Original by Robert jewelry is highly collectible.
Ellen continued creating jewelry under the name Ellen Designs for Robert Originals. In 1984, the name was changed to Ellen Designs, run by Ellen Jaffe Wagman and her husband, John Wagman.
When I see Original by Robert stamped on the back of a beautiful piece of vintage jewelry, I now know that this amazing jewelry designer named Robert made a name for himself…one I will be adding to my vintage jewelry collection whenever I get the chance!
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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