Creators of the Unusual, As Usual, was the motto of Walter Lampl, a jeweler who produced both fine quality and costume jewelry during an all-too-brief career.
Born into poverty in New York City in 1895, Walter Lampl was determined to rise above his station in life. At a young age, he sold newspapers on the streets. When he reached his teens, he bought lengths of chain and added findings to create watch chains, which he then sold at a profit.
A Store of His Own
In 1921, at the age of 26, Walter was able to open his eponymous wholesale jewelry company. The business included offices and a showroom and was located on 47th Street in New York.
Lampl hired many women to draft his jewelry designs. His creations were fashioned in sterling silver or gold-filled settings and often included semi-precious gemstones such as garnet, pearl, amethyst, blue topaz, aquamarine, and citrine.
The style could best be described as eclectic. Not wanting to be tied to any particular genre, Lampl mastered Art Deco themes, embraced Asian motifs, employed enamelists, offered classic pieces that incorporated large gemstones, and created jeweled Swiss timepieces for the wrist or lapel. The firm also produced several vanity items, including cigarette cases and mirrored make-up compacts, for which he held patents.
One of the reasons Lampl was beloved is he gave the same level of attention to all of the products he created, whether they were fashioned with platinum and diamonds or sterling silver and rhinestones. He respected his clientele, no matter what their financial means.
Charmed, I'm Sure
Walter Lampl's charms are legendary. These whimsical miniature works of art were imaginative, artfully crafted -- and achieved some amazing technical feats.
For the 1939 World's Fair, Lampl created a tiny movie camera with a glass lens through which one could see "25 views of Mr. Whalen's extravaganza-on-the-Flushing Meadows." Lampl received a patent for this charm. Additionally, he was given exclusive rights to create the World's Fair souvenir charms, a very lucrative move, and helped him fund the move uptown to his prestigious 5th Avenue location.
Many of Lampl's designs began as gifts for his wife, Sylvia, whom he nicknamed "Toots." Sylvia wore bracelets that displayed Lampl's finest charms, which had often been engraved with personal sentiments. One of the most famous of these was a wind-up music box charm that played the song, I Love You Truly.
Less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lampl designed The Patriot Pin, an enameled brooch that depicted the earth with Hawaii as a cultured pearl at the center of the Pacific Ocean. An airplane appeared on the stem above the heart, followed by a red, white, and blue banner with the phrase "Remember Pearl Harbor." The pins sold for $1.00, with 10% of the price donated to the Pearl Harbor Relief Fund.
In 1944, Lampl introduced Tottle-Tot, an assortment of baby jewelry in rings, necklaces, bracelets, barrettes, lockets and charms, set in 10K or 14K gold, sterling silver or gold-filled. Also hitting the mark was a collection called Walburt, named for Lampl's two sons, Walter, Jr., and Burton. The collection was tagged with the line, style Interpreted in Jewels.
The company Christmas Party at the Hotel Shelton on Christmas Eve of 1945 should have been a joyous occasion. World War II had ended a few months earlier. Business was excellent, and everyone was in a festive mood. To the horror of all those present, Walter Lampl suffered a massive heart attack, passing away before medical help arrived. He was only 50 years old.
The ownership of the company fell to Walter's wife, Sylvia. As soon as Walter, Jr. returned from the Army, his mother put him in charge of the business. The younger Lampl reorganized the firm to keep up with the changing market. He brought his brother, Burt, onboard in 1954.
In the 1950s, Lampl was commissioned to provide charm bracelets for the television program "This is Your Life." At the end of each show, the guest of honor received, among other things, a 14K gold bracelet with charms that represented essential milestones in that person's life.
By 1959, Sylvia Lampl was ready to call it quits. Although she received offers from other jewelers, she had no wish to see outsiders managing her beloved husband's company.
The Jeweler with the Big Heart
Charismatic, enthusiastic, and generous in all things, Walter Lampl disproved the theory that "good guys finish last." During the Great Depression, Lampl hired the spouses of his female employees who were out of work. Later, Lampl took on his son-in-law as a salesman for the business and gave him his own sales route. Before Nazi occupation in the 1930s, he helped members of his wife's family escape to the United States. And he never forgot his own impoverished roots -- Lampl was known to buy all the papers from young newsboys on frigid New York days so they could go home to warm up.