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Best known for his whimsical sculptural jewels created using interesting baroque shaped Mississippi pearls, William Ruser (1908-1994) was one of the quintessential American jewellers of the 1950’s and 60’s and was beloved by Hollywood.
He was born in Philadelphia in 1908 and began his jewellery career at 17 working for Howard Hoeffer in the Atlantic City branch of Trabert & Hoeffer – Mauboussin. He rose steadily to become the manager of the Los Angeles branch in the 1930’s during which time he acquired a large collection (several shoeboxes worth) of freshwater pearls from a button manufacturer in Mississippi. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II he returned to jewellery and decided the time was right to set up his own business, which he did with his wife Pauline in 1947. Ruser Jewels opened at 300 Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills and very quickly built a loyal clientele including some of the biggest stars of the day who wore his jewellery both on and off screen.
Just a year after opening, Ruser jewellery featured heavily in the 1948 movie ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ starring the actress Barbara Stanwyck who wears Ruser jewellery throughout and for which the firm received a screen credit. Some of the jewels were provided especially for the film, such as the iris brooch and diamond ribbon earrings, but the actress also wore some of her own personal Ruser jewels, in particular a stunning diamond gardenia flower brooch suspended from a neck chain, along with the matching earrings. Joan Crawford owned many Ruser jewels including a spectacular suite of bold amethyst jewels that bears a striking resemblance to some of the Reflection jewels created by Trabert & Hoeffer – Mauboussin as well as a simple, elegant baguette-cut diamond rivière necklace and a wonderfully realistic ruffled feather brooch set with round diamonds along a stem of calibre cut baguette diamonds. Other clients included Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner and Loretta Young who was particularly fond of her swan brooch set with baroque pearls.
After purchasing the numerous Mississippi pearls, Ruser did very little with them until over a decade later when he started to create what would become a huge collection of pearl set jewels including a menagerie of animals as well as flowers and cherubs, some of which were more angelic looking than others! It is these whimsical characters including hummingbirds, penguins, squirrels and butterflies for which Ruser is best remembered. These irregularly shaped and unevenly textured pearls were not very popular at the time, but Ruser realised their potential and used them to design jewels that were hugely creative and often very clever, seeing in their strange shapes a beauty that could be enhanced with just the right additions of gold and gems. One particularly recognisable group of figurative pearl jewels were the small gold sculpted children depicted sat on or walking across a cluster of pearls and all inspired by the famous rhyme ‘Monday’s Child’. So whilst Monday’s child holds a mirror, and Thursday’s child carries a little hanky of possessions tied to a stick, Friday’s child cares for a puppy and Wednesday’s child sits with head in hands looking decidedly downcast.
Alongside his pearly creations and glamorous diamond and gem set jewels he also made a variety of accessories that were popular during the period such as compacts and lighters. Ruser enjoyed much success for over twenty years employing up to forty staff during the 1950’s. He retired in 1969 and closed the business, selling the shop to Van Cleef & Arpels but his personality filled jewels are still highly regarded and collectable today.