Dubbed ‘Cartier of Kiev’, Maison Marchak was founded in 1878. Marchak produced exceptional jewellery during the dusk of the Russian monarchy and into the dawn of the 20th century.
Jewellery Maker Profile: Marchak
Cartier of Kiev
Joseph Marchak (1854-1918) learnt his trade as an apprentice in Kiev. He began his apprenticeship at only 14 years old. Ten years later he established his own eponymous workshop producing high quality fine jewellery. In the same year that he opened his eponymous workshop and showroom he married Elizabeth Fedorevna with whom he had eight children. Her dowry was instrumental in the launch of his business and the creation of his first gold chain. Joseph recognised the importance of both high quality materials and craftsmen to create jewellery that would stand the test of time. He invested in a large team and trained them extensively, teaching them intricate techniques from chasing to enamelling.
The emphasis on skilled craftsmanship paid off with Marchak quickly establishing a glowing reputation that spread throughout Russia into Europe. Joseph travelled widely to spread the brand’s reach and to gain inspiration for designs. In 1891 Marchak entered the Franco-Russian exhibition in Moscow to much acclaim. He was awarded two consecutive medals for his display at the Chicago World Fair (1893) and the following year at the Antwerp World Fair (1894).
Jeweller to the Tsars
The awards continued to be given in acknowledgement of Marchak’s high quality creations. In 1900 Marchak received a silver medal for their display at the Paris Exposition Universelle and two years later Marchak won a gold medal at the International Artistic Exhibition in St Petersburg (1902). In 1905 the firm was awarded a Grand Prix at the Liège Universal and another at the International Exhibition. The notoriety attracted the attention of the Tsar, who commissioned Marchak to create a silver inkwell in the form of a miniature replica of Kiev Museum to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule.
Relocation to Paris
The youngest of Joseph’s eight children, Alexander (1892-1975), continued his father’s legacy after his death in 1918 and the family’s relocation to Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).
Alexander was a successful Francophile. He studied in Paris before the First World War and was fluent in French, becoming a citizen in 1928. He reopened his father’s business in 1920 at 43 Rue Cambon, Paris. By 1924 Marchakhad expanded, with a branch in the fashionable seaside town of Nice. He also attracted the patronage of Hassan II, King of Morocco. The King enjoyed taking an active role in the creation of his commissions which were infused with the richness of Morocco’s culture mixed with classical French style.
In 1922 Alexander established a brief partnership with Robert Linzeler. The pair entered the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, winning the Grand Prix. Legendarily Alexander instructed his designers to keep their eyes closed when passing the windows of other jewellers in the Place Vendome to preserve the freshness of their unique designs and avoid inadvertent imitation.
In 1957 Alexander retired, selling the business to his trusted head designer, Jacques Verger. Verger continued to run Marchak until 1988. during this time he expanded to the USA, opening boutiques in New York and Chicago. Jacqueline Kennedy embraced Marchak’s designs for their chic simplicity. She received a striking black lacquer and gold desk set by Verger for Marchak.
In 2005 descendants of Joseph and Alexander Marchak revived the family business, opening a new salon on Rue de Richelieu, Paris. They continue the family ethos of technical excellence in producing a new collection of truly unique jewellery.
Russian by Heart
Marchak jewellery embodies the long standing cultural bridge between Russia and French luxury goods. After establishing a reputation in the final years of the Russian monarchy the brand went on to successfully capture the hearts of Parisians.
A catalogue illustration from 1897 depicts a series of opulent jewels created by Marchak during their Russian period. The illustration includes a diamond rivière necklace and bracelet, and a diamond brooch alongside a set of silver and crystal tableware. These pieces embody the sumptuousness of the Romanov rule and the skill of Marchak’s craftsmen.
From Paris, Alexander Marchak continued his father’s legacy, adapting to the new style of Art Deco and later in the post war period embracing the vogue for bold gold jewellery. Alexander embraced the vogue for the Ballet Russe which swept through Europe and particularly Paris in the 1920s.
Alexander’s brief partnership with Linzeler produced an exceptional collection for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. One such piece sold at Christie’s Geneva in 2011. It featured a graphic image of a bear impaled by a warrior on a horse. The scene is taken from a Persian hunting scene and is rendered in hardstone inlay with accents of mother of pearl. The image is inset in a lapis lazuli vanity case, with double pairs of diamond florets. The onyx frame of the scene was a popular characteristic of the Art Deco, the inlay of hard stones was a technique favoured in Russia and the scene shows Marchak’s progressive outward look beyond European culture.
Marchak pieces fail to sit neatly into one style, instead they artfully straddle many cultures to create truly unique jewels both highly modern and steeped in history.