Spotlight on New York jewelry house Marcus & Co.

We’re all familiar with Tiffany & Co. but Marcus & Co.? Not so much. Unless you collect antique jewelry – in which case, you should have this one in your sights.

Current evidence: this Marcus & Co. brooch sold for $66,000 at Skinner last year. Next month, it’s expected to bring $70,000 to $100,000 in Christie’s New York’s Rockefeller showroom – not far from where Marcus & Co. once had its own shop and competed with Tiffany & Co. to bejewel the city’s wealthiest women.

Brooch of enamel, cushion-cut alexandrite, old diamonds, and rose gold, c. 1900, by Marcus & Co. (estimate $70,000-$100,000 at Christie's New York, April 16, 2014)

Brooch of enamel, cushion-cut alexandrite, old diamonds, and rose gold, c. 1900, by Marcus & Co. (estimate $70,000-$100,000 at Christie’s New York, April 16, 2014)

Marcus & Co. plique a jour morning glories broochMarcus & Co. was founded by Herman Marcus who immigrated from Germany in 1850 to design for Tiffany and then struck out on his own, applying his own spin to styles popular at the time, including revival styles.

By the time Marcus died in 1899, leaving his shop to his sons, the house had moved on to Art Nouveau, applying the brand’s signature palette and skilled enameling to pieces like this plique à jour brooch (right) known as the Rehan Jewel (1895-1905). Have morning glories ever looked better?

You have to see this brooch to believe it. Luckily, you can do just that at Gilded New York, inaugural exhibition (through November 2014) of the plush new gallery (funded by Tiffany & Co.) at the Museum of the City of New York. You will marvel at the craftsmanship but also the fact that this brooch survived a century with all its tiny transparent panels of suspended glass intact.

Here’s another Marcus & Co. plique-à-jour treasure you’ll find at that MCNY exhibit, a necklace of cabochon demantoid garnets, natural pearls and enamel. Both these beauties are on loan from Siegelson, New York.

Necklace (detail) of demantoid garnet, natural pearls, plique à jour enamel, gold, c. 1900 (Siegelson New York)

Necklace (detail) of demantoid garnet, natural pearls, plique à jour enamel, gold, c. 1900 (Siegelson New York)

“I think Marcus & Co. has been overlooked but now more people in the know are paying attention to what they did,” says Jeannine Falino, who curated the jewelry in Gilded New York. “Herman Marcus did work for Tiffany for a time, so his skills were acknowledged in that respect, but the company always had a strong affinity for color matching and composition. You see more and more Marcus jewelry at the auctions and it’s always quite unusual.”

Marcus & Co. pearl necklace, c. 1905Gilded New York has many jewels worth ogling (and if you can’t make it to NYC, you can ogle the book Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, and Society), most of which are from Tiffany &  Co., particularly G. Paulding Farnham era, but a few from Tiffany’s now-vanished local competition – Theodore B. Starr, Dreicer & Co., and Marcus & Co. among them.

Right now, I’d say Marcus is the one to watch. If you get to NYC by April 16, you can check out that alexandrite brooch at Christie’s, along with this necklace (left) of natural pearls – 352 of ’em – displayed in its original silk-lined, heart-shaped box and estimated at $30,000-50,000.

Note that estimates on Marcus & Co. pieces are on the rise. This may have something to do with the fact that several pieces by the company sold for well above estimates recently – and by “above,” I mean as much as 10x more. This heart-shaped jewel, c. 1900, went for $179,000 on an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000 at Sotheby’s New York in February.

Marcus & Co. emerald pearl broochLess that a year before, Sotheby’s New York had enjoyed a pleasant surprise with another emerald beauty from Marcus & Co. This Deco necklace, c. 1925, with a 10.40ct emerald framed by diamonds and emeralds, went for $106,250 on an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. (Yet Sotheby’s put their estimate even lower on the brooch.)

Necklace of 10.40ct emerald-cut emerald, round diamonds and calibré-cut emeralds (sold for $106,250 at Sotheby's NY, April 2013)

Necklace of 10.40ct emerald-cut emerald, round diamonds and calibré-cut emeralds (sold for $106,250 at Sotheby’s NY, April 2013)

In the same sale, another Deco design by Marcus & Co., this 1930 double-clip of diamonds and carved ruby, sapphire and emerald sold for $78,125 on an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.

Marcus & Co. 1930 clipMarcus & Co. 1930 clip2

And then, in December 2013, Sotheby’s sold a Marcus & Co. opal and enamel sautoir, c. 1900, for $56,250 on an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. Here’s the front and back view:

Marcus & Co. opal sautoirMarcus & Co. opal sautoir backGranted, these are exceptional pieces with fine gems and, often, extraordinary enamel and gold work. But the center stone on the brooch up for grabs at Christie’s this month is alexandrite, not emerald, and look at the estimate. That one is more about the enameling and old European craftsmanship – treasures Herman Marcus brought over from Germany 164 years ago – and, just maybe, the name itself.

Could this brand, once coveted by New York society, be coveted again? Let’s just say, this might be a good time to pull out the loupe, check those jewels from Grandma, and see if you spot “Marcus & Co.” stamped somewhere. If you find it, get thee to an auction house. At the very least, have that thing reappraised and adjust the insurance before you wear it again.

Photos courtesy Christie’s Images, Sotheby’s Images, and Siegelson New York

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