Marchak (Est. 1878 – ) In the history of Russian jewelry creation and design from the late 19th Century to the Russian Revolution of 1917, the most well-known jeweler, Fabergé, had only one serious rival: the House of Marchak. Established in 1878 in Kiev, Ukraine (then part of Russia), its founder, Joseph Marchak (1854 – 1918) began his apprenticeship in a jeweler’s workshop at age 14.
Ten years after starting this apprenticeship, Marchak launched his own business in a poor Kiev neighborhood where he made gold chains and other items. He later settled into a five-room flat at 4 Kreschatyk, Kiev’s main street, and not long after moved production to Russia. In his work, Joseph strove for perfection using only the best materials: gold from Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris, silver from Moscow and platinum from St. Petersburg.
In 1889, Joseph made his first trip to Paris where he attended the Universal Exhibition. What he saw and experienced would greatly influence his work. At the 1891 Franco-Russian exhibition in Moscow, he exhibited his creations which led to another display of his works at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. He later received a gold medal at the ‘International Exhibition’ in Antwerp.
In 1897, an extraordinary catalog of Joseph Marchak creations was published. It clearly demonstrated the quality and variety of his work. Marchak evolved into a rival of Fabergé but they remained friends despite the highly competitive nature of their work. Both were appointed jewelers to the Imperial Court of Russia.
Within twenty years after establishing his business, Marchak had gained an international reputation as one of the most important jewelers in the Russian Empire. By 1900, Marchak had won a silver medal at the Paris Universal and International Exhibition. In 1902, Marchak received another gold medal at the Saint Petersburg International Artistic Exhibition. When in 1903, the firm celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its opening, the company was renowned for the importance placed on the quality of all its work not just for the large commissions.
By 1913, Joseph Marchak was supplying 38 jewelry stores and workshops as well as managing production for his own boutique. He had also opened a Kiev school for underprivileged children where they were taught ironwork, steel-engraving, and wood carving.
During 1913, Joseph’s son, Alexander Marchak (1892 – 1975) – who had been studying law and attending classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris – returned to Kiev to assist with the family business. In 1916, amidst the chaos leading up to the Russian Revolution, Alexander fled Kiev and returned to Paris where he established his own shop on the Rue de la Paix, near Place Vendôme.
By the time the Russian Revolution swept the nation in 1917, Joseph Marchak was known as the “Cartier of Kiev” and was employing a staff of 150 artisans specializing in enameling and making extraordinary jewels. The cost of some of the ornaments made in the Marchak workshops reached astronomical prices. For example, a necklace of 5 threads (415 pearls with faceted emeralds surrounded with diamonds) was worth 8000 rubles, an immense amount at the time.
The 1917 Revolution forced the Marchak family to go abroad. Their thriving factory in Kiev was nationalized. Consequently, the history of the company now centered in Paris.
Products created in Russia under the name Marchak could now only be seen at international exhibitions and World Fairs. With the virtually simultaneous outbreak of World War I and the Russian Revolution, many pieces were lost forever in the turmoil of the times.
When Alexander moved to Paris, it is said that he carried a credit note for 50 Million gold Francs with him. That money and his contacts made it easier for the Marchak family to establish themselves in Paris and continue their jewelry business. However, in 1919, only a year after the war ended, Joseph died of cancer. It was the same year Alexander opened the business on the Rue Cambon in Paris under the name, Joseph Marchak.
In 1920, Alexander Marchak moved the firm to the Rue de la Paix, the heart of the Parisian jewelry trade. Two years later, Alexander entered into a collaboration with Robert Linzeler (1872 – 1941). Their names soon became linked with some of the greatest jewels of the Art Deco period. Marchak and Linzeler were among only 30 exhibitors who were invited to the 1922 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs where they won the Grand Prize; a groundbreaking achievement.
Inheriting many skills from his father, Alexander created unique works that blended classic ideas with clean, modern, geometric shapes. In his brooches shaped like birds, flowers, colorful fans, and long hanging earrings, Marchak produced motifs inspired by the music of famous Stravinsky and Diaghilev ballets.
The Marchak-Linzeler partnership broke up shortly after the 1922 exhibition and the Vever family (relatives of Robert Linzeler) bought the company. Determined to remain faithful to the skills and high quality of his father’s output, Alexander earned a special place in the world of high-end Parisian jewelry. Continuing under the Vever family’s direction, the firm’s popularity grew and it won numerous awards at the Art Deco show of 1925.
From the 1920’s through the outbreak of World War II, the firm prospered. In the 1940s, Alexander Marchak hired Alexander Diringer as head designer and Jacques Verger (1911 – 2000) as a salesman. Diringer had previously trained and worked at Cartier as well as Pierre Sterlé.
Jacques Verger was the son of a prominent jewelry family that, behind the scenes, ran a successful workshop creating pieces for Boucheron, Cartier, Gübelin, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, and others. Jacques’ sons, Georges and Henri, also in the business, supplied Lacloche, Janesich, Ostertag, Chaumet, Black, Starr & Frost, J.E. Caldwell and many others from the 1920’s through the 1930’s.
Henri’s son, also named Jacques, began his career working behind the counter for Ostertag and later, Sterlé. While there, he caught the attention of Alexander Marchak and went to work for him as salesman in 1946. Verger soon became the driving force behind the House.
The aftermath of World War II war was a very slow time for the jewelry business and Verger set out to win the American market. Along with his French charm, he took the Marchak collection to New York every fall, exhibiting privately in Fifth Avenue hotels.
Marchak’s bold compositions captured the hearts and wallets of American women. The flamboyant rings created during this period with cabochons perched high atop richly jeweled galleries were the firm’s biggest successes.
Verger was well known for bestowing precious objects on his clients: Jacqueline Kennedy received a black lacquer and gold desk set and President Eisenhower shot rifles with richly decorated rifle butts designed by Marchak. Verger also cultivated a relationship with the Sultan of Brunei.
Verger was close friends with Hassan II, king of Morocco as both men shared a taste for beautiful objects including unique and precious sets of jewels. The king assumed control of all aspects of the jewelry he commissioned which often became gifts he gave to other heads of state. In these creations, Eastern culture was combined with French elegance to great success.
The combination of Verger’s management style and the talents of Diringer and Bertrand Degommier assured ongoing success for Marchak. The 1950’s craze for floral designs that were combined with the birds and bugs associated with that theme further added to the House of Marchak’s enduring popularity.
Designer sketches were transformed into brightly colored gems and metals. Led by Diringer’s bold compositions, Marchak produced high quality design work equal to the larger design houses.
One such beauty is a nature-themed pin from this period. It is only an inch and a half in height, but with its vibrant color and sentimental theme, it makes a memorable statement. Two robin’s egg blue turquoise hearts are set closely in the beautifully hand-crafted nest of 18k gold wire. The highly detailed branch that supports the nest is accented with diamonds and enhanced with carved ruby flowers.
The use of vibrant color was very important in the whimsical pieces created in the 1950’s. Stones like turquoise were chosen for their bright hues rather than their gemological value.
Without a workshop of its own, Marchak pieces were produced by several other manufacturers. This also helped increase the firm’s bottom line: the House was not saddled with overhead like other jewelers in Place Vendôme.
This allowed Marchak artists to draw on multiple inspirations. In fact, their designers were instructed to “keep their eyes closed” when they passed the windows of other jewelers so they were not unduly influenced by their designs and Marchak could preserve its unique style.
Because of his connections and experience, Verger soon became head of the company and, with his financial partner, André Delanglade, bought out Alexander Marchak’s shares. In 1957, Alexander Marchak left the company.
In 1967, Diringer decided to retire, leaving Bertrand Degommier the only appointed designer. He faced a huge burden of work as the company had taken on large commissions, including several pieces for the Moroccan King. Delanglade ultimately also sold his shares in the business to Jacques Verger.
During the 1960s through the 1980s the talented Degommier oversaw the designs. In 1988, with no children who wanted to take over the business, Jacques Verger sold the Paris boutique to Baum and the Marchak identity was temporarily silenced.
In 2000, one of the only heirs of Alexander Marchak to still carry the Marchak name decided to revive the Marchak brand by creating a new collection. This collection has traveled around the world and attracted crowds in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the United States, Japan and Australia. In 2010 The House of Marchak held an inauguration ceremony at its new headquarters in Moscow’s Hotel Ukraina and displayed the unique beauty of Marchak creations.
Today, Marchak is owned by Marchak descendant Dr. Daniel Marchac, a renowned surgeon in France. As one of the final heirs to Joseph Marchak still in Paris, his intention is to preserve the respected heritage of this revered, an imperial Russian name as a high-end internationally acclaimed brand.
Although it is far from his profession as a plastic surgeon, Daniel has entered exhibitions with increasing success. Marchak creations were seen in Basel in 2000, followed by Japan in 2002, West Palm Beach in 2003, and in Moscow in 2004.
Currently, all products are drawn, processed and made entirely in Paris, where, once again, there is a Marchak salon. Basically, these are copies marked with a special sign. The jewelry pieces are not repeated for more than 5-10 items and the colors used are never duplicated.
The Marchak brand continues to thrive today through its salons in Paris, Sydney and Tokyo.