KIM craftsmen vintage costume jewelry
KIM craftsmen vintage costume jewelry
The history of Kim Craftsmen, the Largest Custom Jewelry Manufacturer in NYC during the 1950’s to the early 1980, lasted for nearly 50 years, before it ceased to exist in 1997.
Carl and Marty Shimel were still teenagers, when in 1950 they decided to opened their first business in New York. First, they began from wholesale jewelry, as the brothers did not have any money or experience to make jewelry. Opening their own store also turned out to be costly and troublesome. Therefore, the Shimels became intermediaries. After registering a company with the simple name “C & M”, Carl and Marty began to travel to Biju factories, buy costume jewelry decorations, and then resell these riches to retail chains.
Whether intuitively feeling what the demand will be, or simply not fully trusting their own taste, at first the brothers specialized exclusively on charms and monogrammed bracelets. The choice was right. C & M got regular customers, and the Shimels had an impressive bank account and a desire to expand their business.
But the further the Shimels plunged into the jewelry business, the more they became frustrated: wholesale prices rose, competition among intermediaries increased. And the day came when the brothers realized that it was time to move from resale to their own production.
Working with factories, the Shimels became interested not only in the cost of jewelry, but also in the process of their creation. So, they took up the new business with enthusiasm and confidence in success. The main material for them was copper, which was just gaining popularity in the 1950s. The brothers made the highest quality copper rings, abstract brooches and twisted bracelets for forearms.
The Shimels took inspiration from the work of their colleague, the modernist jeweler Arthur Smith of Brooklyn, fascinated by surrealism, biomorphism and primitivism. In addition, we can see the influence of the New York jeweler Paul Lobel in the works of the brothers. This particularly applies to KIM’s figure brooches and animal-shaped brooches. By the way, the series of “animalistic” brooches was not only one of the first, but also the most popular jewelry line of brothers.
Noteworthy, in 1952, the Shimels changed their company name from C & M Jewelry to KIM Copper (here, you see an indication of the brothers’ favorite metal). KIM, according to Carl and Marty, sounded simple and at the same time very feminine. In 1958, the brothers registered another brand. Expanding the range of metals used to make jewelry, non-copper jewelry, the Shimels began to label their decorations as “KIM Craftsmen”.
Generally, over the 40 years – from 1952 to the early 1990s, the Shimel brothers set up a lot of experiments. First of all, experimented with forms of jewelry. A little later, they began a search among metals, and in the early 1970s they became seriously interested in enamels. And, of course, with plastic. In particular, KIM decorated their products with inserts of lucite, art glass and ornamental stones. Considering that none of the brothers studied design, the great variety of shapes and colors, as well as the storm of fantasy, is truly admirable.
By the way, Сarl was sure that their “ignorance” was not a minus, but a fat plus. The lack of special education, according to him, allowed them to find their own way in design and turn to innovation in production. For example, the Shimeli brothers were the first to try the phenomenal technology for the 1950s: they used radio waves, not traditional solder, to connect individual parts of the jewelry.
Although third-party artists were occasionally attracted to design KIM jewelry, ready-made jewelery came out of the hands of jewelers, tinkers, blacksmiths, and welders who worked exclusively for this company. The Shimeli brothers took much effort and time teaching KIM employees all the details of the production process. Each product was carefully checked before getting to the counter. And all the jewelry had unconditional guarantee. That is, the buyer could at any time return the KIM jewelry without giving a reason.
Of course, customers were happy with this policy of KIM, and sales of KIM jewelery were constantly growing. As a result, KIM jewelry began to appear in jewelry boutiques and big stores, as well as in huge supermarkets. Moreover, here the Shimel brothers also showed their innovative and creative spirit. One of the first in the Biju-industry, they began to use the technology “shop in the shop.” That is, in huge supermarkets, they placed KIM’s well-lit branded kiosks, decorated with KIM jewelery advertising with product prices. The Shimels even began to produce kiosks of their own design, so that customers, when they went to such a shop, would feel at home in it.