Brands Jewelry

20 jewelry masterpieces of American Art Nouveau Marcus & Co

After emigrating to the United States, Herman Markus worked for some time in the diamond department of the Tiffany firm and even created several designs of jewelry for Paris exhibitions himself. Thanks to this, he was able to study in great detail from the inside the entire system of work of the American jewelry business.

Therefore, he soon left Tiffany and founded his own company Marcus Co, which in a strange way was accompanied by success, throughout almost its entire small history (the company existed for exactly 70 years, and in 1962 was absorbed by another large American jewelry giant the company Black, Starr Frost).

What were the reasons for this success, and why are Marcus Co jewelry now valued at auctions many times more expensive than their contemporary counterparts of the famous Tiffany?
Probably the best way to answer this question will be the jewelry itself: below we will consider 20 of the most unusual, most beautiful and most expensive of them, and at the same time we will try to isolate the key features of the precious heritage of Marcus Co.

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

1. Brooch-pendant in the shape of a pear, Marcus & Co

Probably the first and most important feature of Marcus Co jewelry was their unusual design. In fact, it was the work of George Marcus (he was one of the main designers of the firm), and not the famous L.K. Tiffany is often considered the foremost example of American Art Nouveau in jewelry.

Largely due to the fact that the younger Tiffany preferred glass more, engaging in jewelry and jewelry only occasionally and obviously not with such passion as with his glass masterpieces. And in many respects due to the fact that the work of Marcus was based on the traditions of European Art Nouveau, very bold and unusual for Americans.

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

2. Brooch, gold, diamonds and rubies 1900.

It is therefore no coincidence that even such an outstanding designer as L.K. Tiffany in the field of jewelry did not take great liberties, limiting himself to experiments with colors and textures, but avoiding provocative designs.

But Marcus Co, on the contrary, actively used the developments of European artists of the Art Nouveau era (although the American company still will not grow to the level of the French).

Pendant brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Pendant brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

3. Brooch-pendant, gold, opals, diamonds, enamel, 1900

For example, a very unusual for Americans (but extremely successful at the Paris exhibition of 1900) was a collection of brooches created by the firm in strict accordance with the main features of the dominant style: floral ornaments, unusual mythological plots and strange smoothly curving shapes.

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1895
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1895

4. Brooch 1895.

All these features are perfectly demonstrated by the very rare Marcus Co brooch with opal, diamond and garnet, depicting a fragile figure of a nymph against the background of the rising of a diamond sun. Elegant precious fish and an openwork floral garland of demantoid garnet and gold give additional charm to the design unusual for American pragmatism.

Necklace, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Necklace, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

5. Necklace in turquoise and enamel gold, approx. 1900

However, the firm was by no means limited to the vegetal and somewhat pretentious aesthetics of Art Nouveau. Whether trying to fulfill the aspirations of all possible customers and buyers, or trying to find something of his own, special, the chief designer of the company, George Marcus, actively borrowed motives and ornaments from past historical eras.

With equal enthusiasm, he embodied both the colorful figurines of ancient Egyptian patterns and the slightly excessive decorativeness of the French Baroque era of the famous sun king Louis XIV.

Necklace, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Necklace, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

6. Necklace, gold, diamonds, peridots. Pearls, approx. 1900 in the baroque style.

Suspension, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Suspension, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900

7. Pendant, pearls, diamonds and emeralds, approx. 1900

Sometimes this led to very bold and completely unusual not only for American, but also for European decorative arts, results. For example, this pendant is a kind of symbol of admiration for the aesthetics of the heritage of the Indian Mughal empire.

So, an intriguing ornament expressing the sensuality of the mysterious Mughal India, shimmering with brilliant natural pearls, precious stones that the great Indian empire once imported in large quantities from the Persian Gulf, with a slight accent on the green sheen of an emerald drop, complemented by miniature, incredibly graceful plant curls and flowing floral lines of Art Nouveau.

Bracelet, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900-1901
Bracelet, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900-1901
8. Bracelet, rubies gold, enamel 1900-1901.

But nevertheless, the main thing in the work of Marcus Co remained adherence to European traditions perhaps the European origin of the company’s leaders made itself felt, and perhaps the passion of Americans for everything European (like us, they, in every possible way extolling their values ​​and culture, nevertheless it is the achievements of European civilization that use the landmarks).

And of course, in many ways it was a tribute to fashion and the need to popularize the company among European buyers: by the beginning of the 20th century, Marcus Co had already established branches in London and Paris.

Hence such interesting subjects as the ornament on this bracelet, subtly conveying the aesthetics of the so-called Celtic Renaissance and the English movement “Arts and Crafts”.

Ring, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Ring, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
9. Ring gold peridots enamel, 1900

Or is this a unique ring a kind of interpretation of the jewelry forms of the Renaissance, again smoothly merging with the aesthetics of Art Nouveau. The luxurious shine of gold here is very softly set off by the deep green light of the enamel.

As for the unusual shape, such rings (Twinstone) were very popular a hundred years earlier at the end of the 18th century, when young Napoleon presented Josephine with the so-called engagement ring “toi et moi”, the first of many historical jewelry gifts from the future emperor to the capricious the woman he loved so passionately.

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1895-1905
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1895-1905
10. Brooch-pendant 1895-1905gg., Gold, enamel.

In terms of technology, the key feature of Marcus Co was the active use of enamel (as can already be seen from the descriptions of the above masterpieces).

Enamel was very much appreciated by jewelers of the Art Nouveau era: thanks to the work of Rene Lalique, Georges Fouquet, Wolfers and many others, this largely forgotten jewelry technique has actually experienced a rebirth.

Plique-à-jour enamel was especially popular. For the effect of transparent glass, L.K. Tiffany, and Marcus Co actively used them to give their products a special shine and natural effect.

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
11. Brooch, gold and enamel, 1900

Featuring a craftsmanship equal to that of French artists, the Marcus Co masters, thanks to Plique-à-jour enamel, created incredibly lively, graceful jewelry in the form of naturalistic compositions of flowers and leaves

12. Brooch, gold, emeralds, diamonds, enamel, 1900

Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
Ring, approx. 1900-1905
Ring, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900-1905

13. Ring of gold, diamond, sapphire and enamel, 1900-1905

As for the materials, here the Americans did not limit themselves in anything. William Marcus traveled extensively in search of the most unusual stones and precious materials, sometimes supplying very unusual specimens for the needs of companies, such as the little-known black opal Lightning Ridge Australia in 1908.

Pendant, approx. 1900
Pendant, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
14. Pendant in gold, opal and enamel, approx. 1900 g.

But the firm still gave a clear preference to opals and amethysts bright and unusual semi-precious stones, which were so passionately loved by almost all modern jewelers.

Sautoir, Co, approx. 1905-1910
Sautoir, Marcus & Co, approx. 1905-1910
15. Sautoir of gold, opal and enamel, 1905-1910.

Perhaps the artists were attracted by the unusual play of color shades, which made it possible to very simply and at the same time fully convey the symbolism and aesthetics of artsy modern. Or perhaps the strange color of the stone made it possible to embody almost any ideas and ornaments. With regard to the work of Marcus, opals were most often used in a cut with a vegetable plot.

Clock, approx. 1900
Clock, Marcus & Co, approx. 1900
16. Watch, gold, pearls, amethyst, approx. 1900
Brooch, approx. 1905
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1905

17. Brooch, aquamarine, platinum, pearls, 1905

Of course, like all representatives of Art Nouveau, the Markus have established themselves as supporters of the use, first of all, of multi-colored semi-precious stones: zircons, chrysoberyl, tourmolines, opals, beryls, peridots. But, unlike European jewelers, this is how their adherence to the traditions of Art Nouveau in terms of materials ended.

Suspension, approx. 1905
Suspension, Marcus & Co, approx. 1905
18. Pendant, chrysoprase, pearl, opal, 1905.

It should not be forgotten that the birthplace of Marcus Co was still rich America, where the cult of money at all times was elevated to the absolute. That is why superfluous, conspicuous luxury has always been an attribute of personal success the famous American dream.

In such conditions, absolute adherence to the traditions of European Art Nouveau in the field of jewelry could put the company on the brink of extinction: ivory, horn, turtle shell and mother-of-pearl, actively used by Rene Lalique, and allowing him to create masterpieces of incredible beauty and grace, could hardly look expensive in the eyes of practical Americans.

Even the almighty Tiffany never deviated from the classical canons, preferring gold, silver and diamonds, including in the modern era.

Pendant, approx. 1905
Pendant, Marcus & Co, approx. 1905
19. Pendant made of platinum, gold, pearls and diamonds, 1905.

What can we say about such a modest and little-known company like Marcus Co despite all its love for unusual and fanciful forms and ornaments, traditions and preferences of European Art Nouveau, it was forced to maintain the sympathy of the American buyer, actively using along with semiprecious stones and classic pearls, diamonds, platinum and gold.

Brooch, approx. 1905
Brooch, Marcus & Co, approx. 1905
20. Natural pearl pin in the shape of a goose with ruby, diamonds and gold, 1905

Largely because of this duality the desire to keep up with two so contradictory tendencies at once, the products of the company turned out to be so different from each other, so special and unusual.

And many art critics are still arguing to which particular direction of Art Nouveau they can be attributed. American Art Nouveau “Tiffany Style”, is too conservative for them, and the European one, on the contrary, is too bold and pretentious.