Henkel and Grosse
Henkel and Grosse (Est. 1907-2006) Known today as Grossé, Henkel and Grosse (without the accent over the final ‘e’) was founded by brothers-in-law, Heinrich Henkel (1876-1941) and Florentin Grosse (1878-1953) as a factory in 1907. It was originally located in the famous German goldsmith town of Pforzheim.
Now a city of nearly 120,000 inhabitants, it is in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. The city has always been known for its jewelry and watch-making industries that earned the nickname “Goldstadt” (“Golden City”). It is situated between the cities of Stuttgart and Karlsruhe and marks the frontier between Baden and Württemberg.
At its founding, the factory specialized in creating woven hair jewelry and watch chains which brought recognition until the First World War. Demand for rolled-gold keepsake jewelry insured the company’s survival during the war. After the war ended, alpaca (‘German silver’) mesh purses and cigarette cases were added along with other lines.
The company did not suffer as much as others during and after the 1929 economic downturn as it focused on high-end costume jewelry that used, among other materials, casein- based galalite. Among its first successes with costume jewelry were pieces that were made of bronze, aluminum, wood, and Bakelite. During the Depression, the firm sought out new European markets targeting jewelers and shop owners rather than wholesalers or jobbers.
In the mid-1920s the firm had made its first business contacts in the United States. Ten years later, the firm was working with the fashion labels Lanvin and Schiaparelli in Paris as well as with Harrods in London and Saks in New York.
In 1936, the company opened a Paris sales office. In 1937, the company received the Diplôme d’Honneur for its designs at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris.
The company’s unique designs and craftsmanship attracted major Paris designers, but the advent of the Nazis and National Socialism that led to the Second World War devastated the jewelry industry with the loss of international markets and the reduced availability of materials.
During World War II, Pforzheim was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating bombardments of the war was carried out by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) on the evening of February 23, 1945. Nearly a third of the town’s population, 17,600 people, were killed in the air raid, and about 83% of the town’s buildings were destroyed.
The Allies thought the city was producing precision instruments for the German war effort and believed it to be a transport center for movement of German troops. The bombing completely destroyed the Henkel & Grosse company headquarters. After the war, new premises as well as a new business strategy for the company was required for a radically changed world.
A New York sales office materialized with collections created specifically for the American market; commissions were acquired, and the fanciful range of the company’s jewelry designs was recognized and sought after by the fashion world. Beginning in 1955, Henkel & Grosse began work for Christian Dior and for fifty years held a license to produce and distribute Dior jewelry worldwide.
At the outset of its work for Dior, Henkel and Grosse produced four collections a year for the Paris-based house. The accent over the ‘e’ was added for the benefit of the French who were not thrilled to be dealing with a German company in the years immediately after the war.
The company’s Christian Dior collections were praised for quality. From 1956, Grossé signed and dated each piece. They signed and dated pieces of their own line too which was equal to the quality of their Christian Dior collections. The early pieces of both brands highly sought after and valuable.
In connection with its own designs, however, the company always maintained its independence. In the 1960s they expanded their portfolio to include Grosse Bijoux, Grosse Sterling, and Grosse Gold with fashion always dictating the design. Brooches, necklaces and ear clips in colorful, fanciful blossom forms to match petticoat dresses of the time were produced in sets at various price points for a wide customer base.
The company, led by four generations of the Grosse family, had, at its zenith, over 600 employees and worldwide distribution. Their products were designed and produced in Pforzheim and in the US, later also in Asia. The Dior and Grosse trademarks, which every piece carries, conveys modern design and technical innovation.
Unlike Dior’s contemporaries who designed more unassuming pieces so as not to detract from the clothing, Dior’s costume jewelry was an essential part of his fashion lines. It was of high quality and was designed to complement the clothes.
Notable Grosse pieces include a Grosse Faux Pearl & Glass Necklace signed ‘GROSSE’ that consists of double strand faux pearl beads, a clear rhinestone-studded clasp and gold tone stations, and translucent jewel tone glass beads.
Also collectible is a Grosse Enamel & Gold tone Bracelet which is a link bracelet in a basket weave design, marked ‘Grosse/Germany 1967’. It is geometric with textured gold tone plating, luminous green, dark green, and blue enameling. It has a slide-in clasp on the inside so it’s hidden and a tab safety mechanism.
Another excellent example of Grosse jewelry is a set of square faced cufflinks that boast a simple design of a square within a square along with diagonal lines to create a dimensional look. The recessed sections have the appearance of shadows. They are signed with the Henkel and Grosse hallmark that places them made prior to 1979.
Collectors will also prize the vintage Etruscan Style Earrings signed ‘GROSSE for CHRISTIAN DIOR.’ These earrings are gold- tone metal with black enamel. A stripe of clear rhinestones separates two sections that are set with a turquoise colored bead. These are clip- on earrings and the hallmark appears on the clips.
A truly unusual piece is a Rose Brooch with Faux Pearls and Glass signed ‘GROSSE GERMANY 1968.’ The rose is of antiqued gold- tone metal with delicate detailing. The petals curl and undulate much like the real thing. Set in between the first row of petals and the large petal cup at the center are small, prong set faux pearls in cream and elongated ruby red glass stones that are also prong set.
One of the imitation pearls is attached via a wire incorporated into the design from the reverse. The curling stem is elegantly detailed and two green, matte open back navettes are set on either side to represent leaves. The piece was designed in an asymmetrical style so the top of the piece looks almost flattened. It is very dimensional and the hallmark and date appear on the reverse.
Another excellent piece is a Sculptural Leaf Brooch created in a brushed gold- tone foliate. Five curving leaves complete with veining are arranged along an arching stem. This piece is dated 1959 and is stamped “Made in Germany.”
In 1983, the company launched the Grossé Diffusion Collection to expand the variety of Grossé products that now included leather goods, scarves, ties, mufflers, and more. In 2006 the Grosse family withdrew from the business and the firm became part of the Dior group.
In 2007, to celebrate its 100th Anniversary, Grossé held a jewelry exhibition and gala dinner at The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel and in 2010, the Grosse families looked back on the glorious past of their family business through an exhibition held in Pforzheim, Germany at the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim.
Grosse jewelry is usually gold or rhodium-plated base metal set with high-quality rhinestones. After 1958, all Grosse and Dior pieces were signed with the company name and dated. The company is still in operation with stores in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan.