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Marcus & Co.

Marcus & Co. (Est. 1892 – 1962) After Herman Marcus (???? – 1899) arrived in New York in 1850 from his native Dresden, Germany, where he worked for Ellemeyer, the court jeweler for Dresden, he bounced around quite a bit. Marcus’ first employment in America was with Tiffany & Co. He then moved on to Ball, Black and Company before partnering with Theodore B. Starr in 1864 to create Starr & Marcus.

In addition to jewelry, Starr & Marcus sold bronzes, clocks, household ornaments, medals, and silverware. The latter pieces later became the company’s most popular product.

Starr & Marcus is known for creating jewels using stones as the start of the designs. Each completed piece was meticulously conceived with subtleties not often perceived at first but becoming apparent on closer inspection.

The firm Starr & Marcus dissolved in 1877 and Herman Marcus returned to Tiffany & Co. before leaving again in 1884 to join the firm of Jaques and Marcus, where Herman’s son William elder Marcus was already a partner.

Jaques and William Elder had opened a shop at 857 Broadway that began to draw attention through a concerted publicity campaign. In 1882, Jaques and William published a book which highlighted colored gemstones that they believed had been overlooked in the jewelry industry. Setting themselves apart from the all-white diamond look popular at the time, the firm created colorful pieces using zircons, chrysoberyls, tourmalines, opals, garnets, beryls, spinels, and peridots.

When William’s partner Jaques retired, Herman’s other son, George Elder joined the firm. In 1892, the firm was officially established and re-named, Marcus & Co. at the same Broadway location.

Gemstone quality mattered to both father and sons. When Herman worked with Starr, a journalist commented “Starr & Marcus have caught the soul of the sensitive diamond … and given it … form.”

In 1897 Marcus & Co. was included in the First Exhibition of the Arts and Crafts at Copley Hall in Boston where they exhibited forty-four pieces designed by George Marcus.

After Herman’s death in 1899, his sons moved Marcus & Co. to 544 Fifth Avenue where they opened a Silversmithing Department while continuing to create and sell jewelry. Each piece was generally stamped “MARCUS & CO.” and “STERLING.” Sometimes they were also stamped with the numbers “925” or “1000” to denote sterling standard.

In 1900, at Paris’ Exposition Universelle, the firm exhibited lovely orchid motif brooches that featured plique-à-jour enameling. Their designs were high quality and among the best examples of American Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts jewelry. They also offered a selection of revivalist style works with Egyptian inspired pieces and Renaissance revival and Mughal style jewels. Their work was further inspired by Japanese art, as well as the art work of Fabergé and Lalique.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the firm offered a variety of Revivalist style jewelry. Marcus & Co. was also one of the few American firms to create jewelry using the plique-a-jour enameling technique which was a very popular style in French Art Nouveau jewelry of the time.

They also offered the popular diamond and platinum jewelry. Each piece was meticulously crafted, and though there are no official documents crediting George Marcus with the design of the pieces, his pieces that were shown at the Boston Arts and Crafts Exhibition and the later exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design attest to his design skills and standing.

The firm’s bold use of brightly colored enamel mixed with precious and semi-precious gemstones is unmistakable and represents a boldness in design not usually seen during this period.

One example is an Art Nouveau 18kt rose gold and alexandrite pendant brooch. The brooch is set with a rare, cushioned-shaped alexandrite weighing over 7.00 carats. This was an unusual choice of material for a time when most designers were still using large diamonds to give a sense of richness to their work.

William Marcus retired in 1920 but remained President of the board until his death in 1925 when his sons, William elder Marcus Jr. and Chapin Marcus became President-treasurer and Vice-President Secretary, respectively.

William Marcus Jr. was an expert in marketing and placed suitable advertisements in fashion magazines. He published books on gemstones to educate his customers and mounted exhibitions of important historic gemstones. The imaginative Marcus & Co. window displays designed for the firm by William Bayard Okie Jr. also helped draw in business and set the firm apart.

Not only did Marcus & Co. create brilliant pieces of jewelry, it also produced one of the finest jewelers of the 20th Century, Raymond Yard. Yard worked his way through the ranks of Marcus & Co. before striking out on his own. It was from his work at the company that he learned all aspects of the industry and refined his expert jewelry making skills.

After surviving the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the firm was sold in 1941 to the Gimbel Brother’s department store. The sale was necessitated because of money issues that resulted from a new tax levied on luxury items during the Second World War.

In 1943, Marcus & Co. moved to the fifth floor of the department store where Chapin Marcus continued to work for the new owners. However, the jewelry produced at the new location was not of the same quality as previous efforts. Nevertheless, Marcus & Co. continued to attract a high profile clientele throughout the twentieth century that included John D. Rockefeller.

Famous for their spectacular flower brooches: pansies, morning glories, orchids, et al, Marcus & Co. flourished during the Art Nouveau era. Along with the New York office, they operated branches in Paris, Bombay, Palm Beach and London. The firm closed for a brief time during World War II and in 1962 merged with Black, Starr, and Frost.

As rivals of Tiffany and Co., an emphasis on craftsmanship and aesthetics elevated the fine jewelry creations of Marcus and Co. from typical styles of the day to some of the most breathtaking examples of Revivalist jewelry.

Though the company no longer exists independently, their fine jewelry pieces, especially the enamel ones are still highly collectible. Estate jewelry pieces by Marcus and Co. remain exquisite examples of the sensual styles of the Art Nouveau period.

Their high quality gemstones, superb designs, and great taste denotes Marcus & Co. as one of America’s top jewelers. Its creations are displayed in many famous museums including New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

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