Marcus & Co.
Herman Marcus immigrated to New York City from Germany in 1850 and found employment with Tiffany & Co. Years later after partnering and establishing multiple firms, Marcus’ partner George Jaques retired, and the firm of Marcus & co. was established by Herman Marcus, and his sons William and George Elder. Each piece of Marcus and Company jewelry was meticulously conceived with subtleties that are often not perceived at first, but become apparent on closer inspection. The firm achieved great success creating superb jewelry and innovative techniques and displays, unique to the American market.
After leaving Tiffany & Co., Herman Marcus went into a partnership with Theodore B. Starr in 1864, forming Starr and Marcus. In addition to jewelry the firm sold bronzes, clocks, household ornaments, medals, and silverware, which later became the company’s most popular product. The firm of Starr and Marcus dissolved in 1877 for unknown reasons, and Herman Marcus returned to Tiffany & Co. before again leaving in 1884 to join the firm of Jaques and Marcus, of which his son William elder Marcus was already a partner. Jaques and Marcus opened a shop at 857 Broadway and began a publicity campaign to draw in customers. In 1882 Jaques and William Marcus published a book entitled “something About Neglected Gems” which highlighted colored gemstones they believed had been previously overlooked in the jewelry industry. Setting themselves apart from the all white diamond look that was popular at the time, the firm created colorful pieces using zircons, chrysoberyls, tourmalines, opals, garnets, beryls, spinels, and peridots.
In 1892, George Jaques retired from the firm and it was renamed Marcus and Company, though it remained at the Broadway location and continued to make jewelry in the same style. In 1897 Marcus & Co. participated in the First Exhibition of the Arts and Crafts held at Copley Hall in Boston, where they exhibited forty-four pieces designed by George Marcus. Herman Marcus continued to work with his sons until his death in 1899. At this time his two sons William and George, moved Marcus & Co. to 544 Fifth Avenue and opened a Department for Silversmithing along with the usual jewelry wares. Each piece was generally stamped “MARCUS & CO.” and “STERLING” and were sometimes stamped with numbers “925” or “1000” to denote sterling standard.
During the first decade of the twentieth century the firm offered a variety of Revivalist style jewelry. Egyptian inspired pieces along with Renaissance Revival and Mughal style were created. Marcus & Co. was also one of the few firms in the United States to create jewelry featuring plique-a-jour enameling, a trend very popular in French Art Nouveau jewelry of the time. They also offered the standard diamond and platinum jewelry popular at the time. Each piece was meticulously crafted, and though there are no official documents crediting George Marcus with the design of the pieces, his credits at the Boston Arts and Crafts Exhibition and later Exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design attest to his design standing.
William Marcus retired in 1920, but remained President of the board until his death in 1925, at which point his sons William elder Marcus Jr. and Chapin Marcus became President-treasurer, and Vice-President Secretary. William Marcus Jr. was an expert in marketing, placing timely advertisements in fashion magazines, publishing books on gemstones to educate his customers, and mounting special exhibitions of important historic gemstones. The imaginative window displays designed by William Bayard Okie Jr. for the firm also helped draw in business and set the firm apart.
After surviving the Depression, the firm was sold in 1941 to Gimbel Brother’s department store due to increasing monetary problems brought on by a new tax levied on luxury items and the impending war. In 1943 Marcus & Co. moved to the fifth floor of the department store, where Chapin Marcus continued to work for new owners. However, the jewelry produced at the new location was not on par with the previous production. In 1962 the firm of Marcus & Co. merged with black, Starr, and Frost.