Want Vintage Robert Lee Morris Jewelry? Learn about history, jewelry marks, materials used, collectible pieces, and where to buy in this buying guide.
Robert Lee Morris: “I’m not a fine jeweler in my heart. I’m a designer and metalsmith. I’m definitely a fashion-oriented producer of bold, large-scale things . . . . I realized that if I continued to make big, bold things out of precious metals, very few people would be able to afford it. Costume jewelry is really where I feel most comfortable.”
Brief History of Robert Lee Morris Jewelry
Robert Lee Morris was born in 1947 to American parents stationed in Nuremberg, Germany, with the US Air Force. When Robert was nine, they were stationed in Japan for four years and later in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1969 and and then, in true 60s style, founded a craft commune, Big Ted’s Farm. Everyone on the farm made something different. He decided to make jewelry and learned by means of an easy-to-follow book, How to Make Jewelry. He got a hammer and wire, built himself a workshop in a shed and learned metalworking to the sounds of Led Zeppelin.
When fire destroyed the farm, Robert moved to Vermont and sold his jewelry at craft fairs. In that unlikely setting, he was discovered by an art dealer who displayed his work in her shop, Sculpture to Wear, in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. There, his bold silver jewelry was sold alongside of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Man Ray. When Sculpture to Wear closed, Robert open the Artwear Gallery in SoHo, gained a celebrity clientele and his jewelry, described as “modern urban warrior pieces,” became the power jewelry of the 1980s.
The concept of Artwear was a natural evolution for the designer’s hippie past. There was a mix of costume jewelry and fine jewelry and a mix of up-and-coming jewelry designers. Robert held open calls for new designers to exhibit their work every Sunday to fresh talent and to help support the struggling jewelry community.
In 1985, Robert worked with fashion designer Donna Karan and paired her sleek, luxurious fashions with his organic, oversize, sculptural gold jewelry: silver and gold vermeil bead necklaces, Maasai-style collars, big round earrings and mega cuffs perfectly complemented DK’s wide shoulders, elongated torsos and cinched waists.
In 1995, Robert closed Artwear and opened RLM Robert Lee Morris Gallery on Broadway carrying only his own work. He also formed a partnership with QVC to sell his fine jewelry line, the “RLM Collection.”
In 2011, he partnered with Miriam Haskell Jewels and expanded his business. His “SoHo Collection” was sold in national department stores and a higher-end collection was launched in 2012 at higher-end retailers.
Robert is still passionate about designing jewelry and about teaching metalworking. For one example, he has taught Haitian artisans more elaborate techniques (wax process, carving, soldering) and arranges for them to get electric tools. He also provides inspiration to jewelry designers around the world.
Robert now feels he is where he belongs: . . . “in the world of big, bold fashion, not worrying about gold and diamond pricing. I’m all about knuckle rings; that’s really my brand driver. I think diamonds would screw it up.”
- "RLM STUDIO"
- “925 RLM Thailand”
- “925 China RLM Studio”
- “Robert Lee Morris” in script all letters joined, somewhat like RobertLeeMorris
- Gold plating
- Glass beads
- Tiger’s eye
- Lapis lazuli
- Mother of Pearl
Favorite Collectibles: Vintage Robert Lee Morris Jewelry
1980s. This very rare serpent pin is gold-plated brass with a matte finish. The back has a C-clasp pin. Measurements: 1.75 inches long, 2.5 inches wide.
Estate. The gold-plated choker has a 3-dimensional look with connected triangles connected with pins. Purchased at Artwear in NYC. Receipt is included.
1980s. From Robert’s first collection for Donna Karan. The iconic gold-plated pewter dog tag earrings measure 2 ½ inches long.
1980s. Black leather belt with brushed artisan matte gold plaques, articulated pieces, and detachable gold chain. The chain has concealed loops so you can wear it across or at one side. Adjusts for size in the back—measures 22 inches to 34 inches.
Tips for Buying Vintage Robert Lee Morris Jewelry
Investigate the Seller
Not only check out the customer reviews, but check the seller’s inventory. If there are multiple pieces of the same ring, it likely is not authentic. Also check how long the seller has been in business.
Ask the Right Questions
Contact the seller. It’s good to establish a personal relationship to get a better “feel” for the seller. Ask how the seller came across a piece and decide if the explanation is viable, such as bought at an estate sale, is a family heirloom or the seller regular goes antique hunting. An honest seller will be happy to answer your questions. In fact, they often talk too much. Take advantage of that. Learn to pay attention to details so you can pick up on discrepancies.
Consider the Price
If a price is too good to be true, do not buy. No one is in business to give away merchandise. Compare the quality and materials to other pieces.
Use Outside Resources
Use the Internet to learn as much as you can about RLM’s jewelry. Check out Antique Jewelry University. Also, a friendly local jeweler should be happy to help you determine authenticity (because you will go back when you want to buy a new piece of jewelry).
Do Not Buy on Impulse
It is better to pass up a questionable piece of jewelry than feel the need to grab it up then find out you were bamboozled. There will be other pieces you’ll love. Also, do not be lured into buying by the “threat” of someone else being interested in the piece. That’s an old trick. Or that it’s only on sale that day. A deal that is good today will be good tomorrow.
Anyone seriously interested in collecting Robert Lee Morris may benefit from his book, The Power of Jewelry, a memoir with many illustrations of his work and techniques and how his methods evolved throughout the years.