In his time, Joseph Marchak was considered by the people to be in the same league as the famous Russian goldsmiths Sazikov and Khlebnikov. One could come across his name as frequently as the famous brands Faberge and Bolin in the reports about the Nizhny Novgorod Fair of Art and Industry of 1896. Today, jewelry historians state that the works by Marchak embodied the best features of the art of jewelry in the borderline period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The items created by the master were distinguished by their professionalism, artistic taste, humor, originality, and superb workmanship. While the House of Marchak created an array of masterpieces, most of them did not survive the storm of revolutions, wars and historical cataclysms and were lost forever.
Iosif (Joseph) Abramovich Marchak was born in 1854. From childhood he demonstrated artistic talent and while apprenticing at a jeweler’s atelier, at the age of 14, he dreamed about starting his own business. In 1878, ten years after starting his apprenticeship, he launched his own business in a poor Kiev neighborhood making gold chains and other items. He later settled in a five-room flat at 4 Kreschatyk, Kiev’s main street, and later moved production to Russia. In his work, he strove for perfection, using only the best materials: gold from Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris, silver from Moscow and platinum from St.Petersburg. He started close business relationships with foreign goldsmiths and hired the best artists from St.Petersburg and Paris to work on the design of his items.
In 1885, he employed a score of people in his workshop. At the end of the century, Russia was prosperous and orders were flowing. Joseph traveled regularly and took part in many exhibitions in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In1890, Joseph Marchak set out on a journey to France. Sumptuous parties enlightened the most romantic of all capital cities, and Russia began to have as great an impact on France as France had traditionally exerted on Russia.
In 1893, Joseph's reputation crossed the Atlantic. By this time Joseph Marchak was supplying 38 jewelry stores and up-market workshops as well as managing production for his own boutique. He also opened a school for underprivileged children in Kiev where they were taught ironwork, steel-engraving and wood carving. It was not long until he was called “The Cartier of Kiev” and became the outright rival of the famed Fabergé.
He was awarded a medal at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and another at Antwerp in 1894. Within a little more than twenty years, Joseph Marchak had become one the most important jewelers of the Russian Empire and the House of Marchak was a household name. Every time he returned from abroad, he developed and improved the techniques he had witnessed. After a devastating fire in 1899, he re-built the workshops, modernizing production facilities to match the level of European jewelry production requirements and employed one hundred and fifty people.
The year 1913 marked the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. To commemorate it the State commissioned special pieces by Marchak to be given to Tsar Nicolas II as gifts. These were the great days for the jeweler's reputation.
During the Russian Revolution many Russian citizens fled to Europe. The Marchak family relocated to Paris, concealing the last remnants of their jewelry creations under their clothes. The youngest son of Marchak, Alexander, born in 1892, had been studying law and attending classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris before returning to Kiev to assist with the family business. At the outbreak of WWI, he was obligated to fulfill mandatory service requirement in the Russian Army and was sent to the Austrian front where he performed airborne reconnaissance photography which later proved to be of significant importance to the war. Joseph Marchak died prematurely of cancer in 1918 before the conclusion of the war. Alexander left the army and joined the family in Paris, rumors state that he carried a credit note for 50 Million Francs with him. His money and his contacts made it very easy for the Marchak family to establish themselves in Paris and continue with their jewelry business.
After the War, 1920’s Paris was alive again. Designers, craftsmen and jewelers came back from the front. As soon as he arrived in Paris, Alexander Marchak sensed the approach of a new incredible era and rapidly opened a shop on the famous Rue de la Paix, at number 4, right next to Place Vendôme and the Hotel Ritz Paris. A multitude of wealthy foreigners had ceaselessly flocked to the area. The epicenter of the luxury industry, the Place Vendôme and Rue de la Paix neighborhood already hosted numerous renowned designers, a perfumer, many jewelers, goldsmiths, glove makers, shirt designers as well as hat makers. True to its origins, Marchak’s originality and the quality of its creations set him apart from the others in the Parisian jewelry sphere. The firm rose to prominence during the Art Deco period, creating highly romanticized pieces featuring the favorite themes of birds and sprays of flowers.
In 1922 Alexander Marchak launched a collaboration with Robert Linzeler. Their names have become linked with some of the greatest jewels of the Art Deco period. Marchak and Linzeler were one team of only 30 exhibitors who were invited to the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, where they won the Grand Prix. This was a groundbreaking achievement for the House. However, the partnership broke up shortly after the exhibition. Marchak went on to another Gran Prix, at the Colonial Exhibition in 1931 and exhibited at the International Arts and Techniques in Modern Life fair. In the 1940’s, despite the war, the firm prospered, during which their pieces evolved to reflect changing tastes, shifting from platinum to gold.
The Marchak’s spent the war in Savoy while the Paris shop was looked after by a manager. After WWII ended, Alexander Marchak hired designer Alexander Diringer, long-known by the jewelry community of the Rue de la Paix and a former employee of Cartier. He remained designer of the House of Marchak until the end of the sixties. The post-war period was particularly artistically rich for Marchak. In 1946 Jacques Verger, the son of a prominent jewelry family and exceptionally passionate salesman, was hired. Verger was very well connected and experienced, having previously worked at Ostertag’s and Sterlé. He became head of the company and, with his financial partner, André Delanglade, bought out Marchak’s shares. Alexander retired in 1957. A year later the Marchak firm, lead by Verger, started expanding, taking its jewelry overseas to the United States. Despite the passing of family ownership, the Marchak spirit lived on thanks to the hearty collaboration of Jacques Verger and his employees.
In 2000, one of the only heirs of Alexander Marchak to bear the Marchak name decided to revive the brand of his great-grandfather by creating a new collection. The collection has traveled around the world, in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, the United States, Japan and Australia.