Rame (1950s) Among the creators, designers, and purveyors of handcrafted copper jewelry are names that include Renoir/Matisse, Rebajes, Copper Craft Guild, Morley Crimi, Martha Kluz, Inga, Virgil Cantini, Bell Copper and more. One name not as familiar as these but that still remains almost as highly sought after by collectors is Rame.
Rame created high quality copper jewelry that was all too similar in design to Renoir/Matisse. Rame’s designs and techniques were so much alike that Renoir/Matisse sued them in court for patent infringement and won. Consequently, after being in business in Providence, Rhode lsland during the 1950’s, Rame went out of business.
Jewelry made of copper has almost always been held in less esteem than pieces made of gold and sterling silver. Many people simply associate copper with speaker wire, plumbing supplies, or its alloys, which are brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper and tin).
Copper, to the contrary, is a handsome metal whose malleability makes it easy to form into bracelets, bangles, earrings, necklaces, and brooches. Whether polished to a high sheen, enameled, or chosen as the backdrop for one or more signature stones, copper often boasts pride of place even in the most gold-and-silver laden jewelry box.
Renoir/Matisse pieces have a copper finish and clarity unmatched by any other company. The companies used an ample thickness to the copper and applied patented lacquer that was both durable and beautiful. If an unsigned piece displays this distinctive finish, it probably is Renoir although Rame pieces are very, very similar in finish.
Collectors of copper costume jewelry usually credit Jerry Fels, who founded Renoir of California in 1946 and Matisse Ltd. in 1952 with copper’s popularity. However, it is important to note that Native American artisans worked with copper to create highly desirable pieces long before this.
Renoir pieces took their inspiration from the Arts and Crafts era when copper was a favorite choice of crafts people producing hammered hollowware. Renoir was known for solid copper cuffs as well as hinged bangles. Decorations on these pieces ranged from twisted strands of copper wire that resembled rope to spring-like wire coils that were gently flattened, then polished to produce rows of what looks like semi-circular loops.
Squares, rectangles, chunky arrows, angle-shapes, and balls of various sizes were also incorporated in Renoir pieces, as were leaf shapes and other floral motifs. One of Renoir’s signature designs is a brooch-and-earrings set based on an artist’s palette, complete with brushes in the thumb hole. This same design was updated by Matisse, with enameling on the surface of the palette to differentiate it from the copper brushes. Matisse palettes came in shades of red, orange, green, and blue.
Examples of creations marketed and sold by Rame include a copper link necklace in an all copper version of Matisse’s enamel and copper design called, Nefertiti and featuring a modernist design of elongated oblong link sections of two alternating lengths. The heavy dark anodized accents beneath the connecting links adds depth and dimension.
Another example of a Rame piece is a copper hinged bangle bracelet twisted into two circles that is heavier than most copper pieces. Copper bracelets like these (while hard to find) were also crafted as a copper hinged bracelet with a two ball design with different sized balls at the front and back.
Other Rame creations include a copper hinged bangle bracelet with a swirling leaves design, a copper half hemisphere links necklace and a necklace with matching earrings made of copper with anodized accents. This necklace is adjustable from about 14 1/2″ to 18″ and is about an inch wide. The earrings are clips a little over an inch across. Many of these pieces are signed with the maker’s mark, ‘Rame’.
Today, copper jewelry is not produced extensively because it has become too expensive to be considered profitable. In addition, the copper that is produced today does not compare in quality to that of old copper.
It is worth noting that the value of old copper plumbing in houses built prior to the 1960’s is staggering. There are recyclers that pay premium prices for any type of old copper parts from cars, refrigerators, heaters and more. Moreover, it is difficult to acquire solid copper with the quality of old copper.
New copper has a high aluminum content and is different in color and density. It is almost impossible to go anywhere and buy copper items like those made prior to the mid 1960’s. For this reason, old solid copper jewelry has proved to be a fine investment as copper prices are almost constantly increasing and signed designer pieces are very collectible.
It is important, however, to be aware that fake signatures have been applied to newly-made copper jewelry pieces especially those made by Renoir/Matisse. For example, if a piece is mint and pristine, it may be a clue that the piece is not as old as advertised.
Jewelry that is more than thirty years old always shows some kind of age or wear even if it is miniscule and hard to detect. It is possible, however, that rare pieces of Rame jewelry that have been in storage for many years would have such minimal patination that determining the age would be difficult.