Whiting & Davis
Whiting & Davis Company (Est. 1876 -) While still a youth, Charles W, Whiting had his earliest work experiences at the chain manufacturing company established in 1876 by William Wade and Edward P. Davis.
Beginning with his employment in 1880, Whiting learned the trade and, after working at the company for nearly three decades serving as artisan, salesman foreman, and in 1890, the company’s representative in the New York office, in 1907, he became a partner and owner of the Wade & Davis Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts. With Davis as his partner, the company name changed to the Whiting and Davis Company.
When Whiting joined the company, it was already heavily invested in manufacturing and distributing sterling silver jewelry and popular designs of the Late Victorian era including stickpins, bracelets, earrings, and bar pins. The company was especially known for silver and gold plated mesh chains and purses.
The company soon started making fashion accessories to complement their product lines. They introduced a jewelry line in sterling silver or silver or gold plated metalwork that became the foundation of their mesh works.
In 1892, Charles Whiting wove by hand the first Whiting & Davis handbag transforming the ancient art of chainmail into exquisite fabric. This small purse was crafted in plated ring mesh, roughly three inches square and featured a delicate twist closure and a simple leaf motif on the frame.
The bags that followed over the next two decades were made completely by hand. In fact, many local women – in sewing-circle fashion – did the tedious work of linking about 1,000 rings a day, a slow and laborious process and one that Whiting realized was unreliable in the long-term.
Working with a young inventor, A.C. Pratt, Whiting developed an automated mesh machine in 1912. Mesh for the handbags could now be produced at 400,000 links a day in varying sizes. This significantly increased the company’s production capacity.
Whiting & Davis’ iconic snake image may have made its first appearance in the late 1890s in a delicate bracelet created in sterling silver. Throughout the years, Whiting & Davis continued to interpolate the snake motif into its fine and fashion jewelry earrings, bracelets and necklaces. One of Whiting & Davis’ rarest designs is a circa, 1910, double-headed, hand –enameled snake bracelet.
Throughout its history, Whiting & Davis became known, too, as a leader in innovation by developing and reinventing technology for the finest mesh, handbag, and jewelry designs. For example, in 1903, Edward Davis patented new technology to improve the hinged bracelet, Davis’ new method used two hinges on each side so a woman could now easily open and close a bracelet with seamless hinges and a spring, rather than a clasp, the preferred method at the time.
In addition to the hinged bangle bracelet, Whiting and Davis is also known for creating a number of distinctive jewelry pieces, including charm bracelets, cameos and hinged cuffs.
By 1914, Whiting & Davis had an office in Quebec and a presence in New York City and Chicago. In the 20s, the company began to employ Art Deco and geometric designs. They began stenciling applied patterns that created colorful designs on the mesh handbags. Some of the most popular handbags, still sought-after today, include the Princess Mary, El-Sah, Picadilly, Delysia, and Sunset to name just a few. The designs were adored by Hollywood starlets as well as everyday women.
Whiting & Davis gained additional publicity when Irving Berlin’s production of the “1923 New Music Box Revue” draped shimmering mesh in the set design for the entire show. It was called ‘the famous “Whiting” soldered mesh’ for the chorines who danced in silver and golden mesh dresses and an enormous mesh handbag that hung in the background. Two numbers celebrated the beauty of mesh in the “Maid of Mesh” and the “Fifty Thousand Dollar” scene.
The 20s ushered in Art Deco and geometric designs. Whiting & Davis then began stenciling applied patterns on the mesh handbags to create colorful patterns. The designs were adored by women across the country. Silent film actress Catherine Calvert was quoted in a Whiting & Davis advertisement in 1922 confessing, “I adore mesh bags… Even were they not the accepted thing among modish women, I confess to the fear that I would possess one simply to revel secretly in the fascination of its gleaming silken-textured mesh.”
In 1926, Whiting & Davis celebrated their Golden Anniversary at the height of the 20s’ mesh popularity. The factory was now running 500 machines and Whiting & Davis had become the world’s largest specialty manufacturing jewelry house of its kind.
At the end of the decade, Whiting & Davis joined forces with Paul Poiret, a French couturier well-known throughout the Twenties and Thirties, to create a Parisian-style collection of handbags. The collection was introduced in a full-page ad in The Jewelers Circular. The ad displayed colorful, painted handbags that featured Dresden, flat and Beadlite mesh. The handbags also employed Art Deco frames and were lined with a structured silk fabric that gave them a more pouch-like shape and became known as the ‘Poiret Pouch’.
Whiting & Davis’ first Ready-To-Wear designs appeared in the early 1930s. Mesh scarves and collars became popular especially when worn around the neck, head, shoulders or waist. Art Deco influences also remained popular with bright reds, oranges, blues, black, and white often in geometric and zigzag patterns.
In 1937, Whiting & Davis teamed with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli to create a collection of daytime and evening handbags. The styles were pouch-shaped and finely crafted in flat and Beadlite mesh, featuring rhinestone clasps with finishes in gold, studded silver and iridescent pearl white.
World War II depleted the availability of brass and aluminum so the company shifted its focus from making metal mesh jewelry and accessories to assist in the war effort. Whiting & Davis produced mesh for Navy seamen to throw overboard and divert enemy sonar systems.
After the war, the company’s focus again became fashion. With metals still scarce, jewelry and handbags were now often designed with alternative materials like Bakelite.
In the 50s, Whiting & Davis’ jewelry became more well-known. Popular styles included cameo pendants, earrings, and charm bracelets. The company gained additional recognition when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was seen sporting a handbag with gold mesh and exquisite diamonds made by Whiting & Davis. This began a Charles Whiting tradition of gifting a handbag with gold mesh and exquisite diamonds to every president’s wife.
As the 20th century progressed, Whiting & Davis moved with the times. In 1963, Whiting & Davis collaborated with Vogue, Twentieth Century Fox and other high-end designers to promote “Cleopatra,” the epic film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The company launched the Cleopatra Collection creating jewelry for the woman who dared to “dress in an exciting mood, to be a femme fatale, provocative but discreet.” The styles were inspired by Cleopatra’s dramatic accessories, in serpent bracelets, earrings, necklaces and a stunning collection of jeweled pins with real stones representatives of the Egyptian period.
In the 70s, the company cashed in on the ‘disco era’ with brightly polished gold and sterling silver mesh accessories and jewelry. Cameos also returned as did statement rings. Mother of pearl and colored mesh scarves were again big sellers. During this time, Whiting & Davis began intensifying their export business and, in 1976, was one of the few U.S. companies to receive the U.S. Department of Commerce “E” for export excellence.
When, in 1976, Whiting & Davis celebrated its 100th Anniversary of continuous business, it launched its Heritage Collection, a limited series of handbags called Stars. These featured painted designs with likenesses of popular actors including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Marion Davies. When the bags were first produced, they sold wholesale for $10 each. By 1992, a Charlie Chaplin bag sold at auction for $1,000.
In the late 70s, the Whiting & Davis’ safety division caught the attention of the media when it created the first mesh shark suit. The idea, conceived by shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor in 1967, wasn’t created until 1979. To promote it, Valerie Taylor donned the suit, jumped into the ocean surrounded by blue sharks and successfully demonstrated how stainless steel mesh could protect a swimmer from shark bites. The suit was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1981 and was again prominently featured in “OceansQuest,” an underwater expedition series with then-Miss Universe Shawn Weatherly that aired in 1985.
It should then come as no surprise that in his 1983 music video, “Beat It,” Michael Jackson wore his famous red leather jacket that was inlaid with Whiting & Davis ring mesh on the shoulders.
As the company entered the 90s, Whiting & Davis received acknowledgement for architectural and specialty designs that recognized the division that had been fashioning mesh into Broadway and theatre curtains since the late 20s. The company continued to thrive by creating metal mesh drapery for interior designs. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the division had become popular for its luxurious and dramatic materials.
After being run by Charles Whiting’s family members through 1966 and by several other owners thereafter, handbags and purse accessories were licensed to Indolink Corp. in 1999. In 2010 the original company, which still produced metal mesh “fabric,” was acquired by Darrin Cutler and he revived the company’s jewelry business.
To celebrate its 135th Anniversary in 2011, Whiting & Davis announced they were returning to their roots in fine jewelry. Their “intimate collection” drew on their heritage as silversmiths and each piece was created in sterling silver or 18-karat gold exquisite fine mesh.
Throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st, Whiting & Davis produces costume jewelry with the most popular styles, besides the mesh creations, being the huge bangles and fabulous cameos, reproduced from antique styles.
Early marks for chains include W.C. Co, for Whiting Chain Company; also W. & D. On most of their costume jewelry one finds Whiting & Davis Mesh Bags or Whiting & Davis in a cartouche.
Current offerings include the Linked Collection and Anniversary Collection. The various pieces in the Linked Collection are patterned with mesh impressions, crafted with oxidized sterling silver and gold accents and set with either precious or semi-precious stones. Examples of stones used in this collection include blue topaz, purple amethyst, whiskey quartz and citrine.
The Anniversary Collection features sterling silver mesh and gold mesh designs that commemorate Whiting and Davis` 135th anniversary. Examples include flexible mesh rings, bezel wrap necklaces and snake bracelets accented with citrine, pink topaz or blue topaz gemstones.
Long known for beautiful and unusual metal jewelry designs, Whiting and Davis continues to produce quality items today. It is grace and elegance that never goes out of style.