Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I met with Carl and Elyse Schimel, co-owners of CJS Sales in New York City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.
(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)
The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.
“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”
(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969)
As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.
I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.
Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”
I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!
As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”
Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.
Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”
(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)
I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!
CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400
Photos from inside CJS Sales many rooms: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc