The renowned Beverly Hills jeweler, William Ruser, got his start in the jewelry industry by working for Trabert and Hoeffer-Mauboussin in Atlantic City. While he was working at that company, he bought up several boxes of American freshwater pearls, also known as Mississippi freshwater pearls, from a button maker in Mississippi. These boxes of interestingly textured and baroque style pearls went unused for quite some time. In the late 1930s, Ruser was transferred by the company to Los Angeles, where he would manage their California location for several more years.
From the Beladora Archives: A dream-like quality is achieved by the use of Mississippi freshwater pearls in this brooch and earrings set
With the involvement of the United States in World War II, Ruser, like so many Americans, went and served a tour of duty. Upon his return, he and his wife, Pauline, opened up their own jewelry store on the famed Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills in 1947. Though he quickly became sought after for his wonderful sculptural pieces featuring pave-set diamonds and gemstones, he was also crafting incredible pieces using those American freshwater pearls.
Because of the exceptional and unique shape of these pearls, as well as their brilliant spectrum of colors which ranges from pinks and purples to blues and greens and also the more common creams and whites, Ruser was able to design and craft wonderfully whimsical pieces. Much of his work featuring these pearls was inspired by nature and takes the form of various animals, most notably birds. He often used the creamy elongated pearls as wings, or various other body parts which not only highlighted the unique shapes of these pearls but gave a delightfully realistic and three-dimensional feel to these pieces. Hollywood star Loretta Young, who had won an Oscar for her performance in 1947’s “The Farmer’s Daughter” quickly became enamored with this particular style of Ruser’s work and was known to favor a large swan of gold and pearls.
A classic Ruser design of cherubs with pearl wings seated upon a cloud of pearls
From this unique design perspective, several collections emerged. A distinctive style involved skillfully sculpted children and pearl winged angels, often seated on clouds of freshwater pearls and crowned with halos of tiny seed pearls. These collections include the “Monday’s Child” grouping which was favored by the inimitable Joan Crawford. Joan Crawford was also fond of the “Angel Poodle” grouping which were in a similar style but replaced the cherubic children with haloed and winged poodles. Crawford was known to wear both an 18K white gold “Angel Poodle” brooch and an 18K yellow gold “Angel Poodle” brooch at the same time.
He was a much sought after jeweler with the Hollywood set and his pieces were worn by numerous starlets on and off-screen. One famed jewelry collector and cinema star who was fond of Ruser’s work was Ava Gardner. She was given one piece, a custom item, which was made jointly by William Ruser and Van Cleef and Arpels. The item bears a personalized inscription from both design teams and further highlights the level of design stardom Ruser had achieved in his short tenure on Rodeo Drive.
From the Beladora Archives: A Mid-Century domed cocktail ring set with stunning diamonds shows Ruser’s ability to create classic styles as well as his famed freshwater pearl pieces
Some of the most spectacular of Ruser’s work is his flawless floral motifs. He would handpick colored, elongated freshwater pearls and layer them to form luscious, blossoming flowers of delicate hue and opalescent sheen.
Ruser, like many jewelers of the time, also made a variety of lesser items. Still, all his cufflinks, compacts, lighters and watches bear his signature style, a style which is still prized today by collectors of vintage and retro jewelry. He closed the doors to his shop in 1969, whereupon the property was bought by Van Cleef & Arpels which remains in the self-same location on Rodeo Drive to this day. Though the heyday of Ruser jewelry has long since passed, these masterpieces of American jewelry, featuring American freshwater pearls stand as a testament to the ingenuity, talent, and superior craftsmanship of an American master jeweler.