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The Little-known Story of Marcus & Company Jewelry

Art Nouveau 18kt Rose Gold and Alexandrite Pendant Brooch, Marcus & Co. (Lot 586, Estimate $60,000-$80,000)

Have you ever heard of the jewelry firm Marcus & Co.? If not, you’re not alone. While Cartier and Tiffany are household names synonymous with luxury jewelry, Marcus & Co. is not. Yet this designer of fine jewelry deserves its place among the elite.

Herman Marcus came to New York from Germany in 1850 and started working as a designer at Tiffany & Co. He represented Tiffany at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Marcus left Tiffany around 1884 to establish his own firm, Marcus & Co., with his two sons. Herman died in 1899 but his sons continued to run the company well into the 20th century.

During the early 20th century the firm produced fine Renaissance and Egyptian revival jewelry, and became known for designs inspired by the French Art Nouveau period as well as their use of enameling. Marcus & Co. jewelers learned the craft of enameling at the Lalique workshop in Paris.

The firm’s bold use of brightly colored enamel mixed with precious and semi-precious gemstones is unmistakable, and represents a confidence in design not usually seen from this period. This Art Nouveau 18kt rose gold and alexandrite pendant brooch is a beautiful example. The brooch is set with a rare, cushioned-shaped alexandrite weighing over 7.00 cts. —  an unexpected choice of material at a time when most designers were still using large diamonds to instill a sense of richness to their work.

Throughout the early 20th century, Marcus & Co. was responsible for some of the most interesting jewelry created by an American jewelry house.

Skinner is pleased to be offering a fine collection of Marcus & Co. jewelry in our upcoming June 11th Fine Jewelry Auction. We hope you will join us for a chance to see these rare pieces.

7 thoughts on “The Little-known Story of Marcus & Company Jewelry

  1. This is very special to me as I married a great grandson of Herman Marcus, John Elder Marcus. John was interviewed & his statement was posted in an Antique jewelry magazine. The biggest regret is that the family does not have one piece of Marcus & Co.’s jewelry and it appears that a lot of his jewelry is in museums and unattainable. I did manage to bid on a small pendant but my bid was not accepted (a difference of about $300 to $500.) I have learned to be content with the magazine & showing of many pieces Marcus & Company created. On our wall hangs an ad placed in Fifth Avenue Section of Scribner’s titled “Out of the East” regarding pearls…owners are listed as “WM Marcus & Chapin Marcus”, John’s uncle. Of interest, John’s dad advised him not to go into the jewelry business, so he went to West Point instead where one of his fellow classmates was Buzz Aldren. Buzz & John are from the same town (Montclair, NJ) and as youngsters played together. Buzz, as you may well know, was the second man to step on the moon. I read your article & wanted to share this history with you. Thank you.

    • Dear Ms. Marcus,
      How lovely to hear of your story about your husband’s family. My grandfather, Andrew J. Lawlor worked for them in the early 1900 to the 1930’s, or 40’s I believe. I have some of the jewelry he made for our family. Sadly some of my grandmother’s pieces and some of our other family members was stolen. I still have a few pieces left that my grandfather designed and some of the old boxes with the name of Marcus & Co. on the lining of a ring box and a small necklace box. My grandfather even made our baby rings (5) and my sister’s & I have had them all these years. It’s so nice to see some of the pieces from Marcus & Co. that show up on the Antique Roadshow. He spoke very highly of the company and was very proud to work for these gentlemen. Thank you for sharing your family’s history.
      Una Lawrence

    • My prize possession is a picture by artist, Peter Marcus. My grandfather was a chauffeur for the Marcus family in the 1920s. He and my grandmother spoke so fondly of the family. In their living room was picture of trees, and he said it was given to him by Mrs. Marcus’ son. When our family was closing up their home, all I wanted was that picture. It hangs right next to my bed so I see it just before I go to sleep. I may never have a Marcus diamond, but I have a Marcus picture, and I had the most wonderful grandfather.

  2. It’s so nice to read the comments by all three of you ladies…Ann, Una, and Laura. My mother, Jane Elder Marcus Lee, was the daughter of William Elder Marcus Jr. and was John’s older sister. Having been born in 1911, she might have known Una’s and Laura’s grandfathers. She mentioned with fondness the chauffeur who drove when she was young. She lived on Upper Mountain Avenue in Montclair close to her grandparents William and Mary Chapin Marcus.

    I don’t have any Marcus & Company jewelry either, but I’ve collected photos from online sources for years and I’m in the process of putting together a scrapbook of history and photos. I had provided family photos and information to Janet Zapata, the jewelry historian who wrote the articles that include my uncle John’s interview, so she was kind enough to take my husband and me on a tour of Marcus jewelry in vaults in jewelry stores in NYC some years ago. We also got to see a display in the basement of the Met. It’s wonderful to know that what I like to call “the family jewels” are so appreciated.

  3. I just acquired a hard-stone cameo set in 18K Yellow Golds with 4 old European-cut diamonds on both sides and 3 diamonds on top and bottom and smaller diamonds on each four corners with “Jaques and Marcus” signature on the back. Cameo is exquisitely curved, depicting a man and a women in Renaissance attire. The design seems to have some Greek influence. It is made s=circa 1882 to 1892, before the company became Marcus & Co. I have been trying to find more information on this beautiful cameo jewelry. Appreciate if you can help me.

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