The name Dreicer is little known today but a century ago this New York firm was spoken about in the same breath as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, indeed the latter considered them their greatest rival in the city.
The company was started in 1868, by Jacob Dreicer and his wife Gittel the year after their arrival in New York from Minsk in Russia. Jacob started by selling pocket knives and gradually began to deal in jewellery and then gemstones. The couple worked hard and by 1879, Jacob Dreicer & Company was listed as a diamond brokers, operating from an office at the family home 177 Lexington Avenue.
The couple had three daughters and a son Michael who joined them in the business when he was 17. He would often travel abroad with his mother on her annual sourcing trips to the top gem dealers in Europe and it was at her side that Michael learnt not only about the gems themselves but also how to negotiate and to buy well. By the turn of the century Dreicer was well established and was selling jewellery and gemstones of the finest quality. From the earliest days they sought to distinguish themselves by making the finest quality jewellery, utilising beautiful materials, the best craftsmen and the latest techniques. Their focus was primarily on traditional European style jewellery and it is easy to see the influence of Parisian fashions in their designs. The newly wealthy Americans of the period looked to Europe for fashion and design inspiration and Dreicer sought to emulate the jewels of the fashionable European elite and even Royalty in order to best serve their clientele. It was in keeping with this thinking that Dreicer made a specialty of pearls which they saw were popular in Europe and they wanted to create the same demand in America. Today they are credited with having a huge influence on the rise in popularity of pearls in America and some of the finest pearl strands in the world would pass through their hands. In 1911 they offered for sale an extraordinary graduated natural pearl necklace that they advertised as having taken ten years to assemble. Some of the pearls were said to have Royal provenance and the asking price? US$1 million.
The firm imported pieces of finished jewellery from Paris however much of the jewellery they sold was made in house. Their principal designer in the early 20th Century was the French trained Marcel de Banneville and his creations were brought to life by a dedicated team of craftsmen, many of them from Paris. Some of the significant gemstones that the company was dealing in include a 22ct blue diamond, a 47ct Burmese sapphire that was set into a pendant with a 26ct Golconda diamond and a beautiful cushion shaped pink diamond that was bought by William Clark Snr for his wife and when auctioned recently sold for US$15.9 million.
Having moved premises several times they eventually settled on 5th Avenue, first at number 292 and then in 1907 at number 560 which is where they remained until closing. The interior was decorated in an elegant refined style and Michael, who was running the business by this time, was renowned for his friendly and charming personality. At various times they had boutiques in holiday destinations such as Saratoga Springs and Palm Beach as well as in Chicago and Massachusetts.
By prioritising quality over everything else and investing in expertise and technology the Dreicer’s built a thriving and well respected business that made them incredibly wealthy. Sadly this was all cut short by Michael’s untimely death in 1921 which was tragically followed by Jacob’s death less than three weeks later, which some attributed to a broken heart. Whilst the business continued for a few more years, it was unavoidably affected by these deaths and in 1926 the decision was taken to close and liquidate the firm. A notice was put in the Wall Street Journal that Dreicer & Co. would be offering all their stock at greatly reduced prices and that the last day of trading would be February 28th 1927. It was reported that this final day of sales brought in US$250,000 and that the remainder of the stock was sold to Cartier for US$2.5 million.
In some ways Dreicer & Co. was a product of its time, the Gilded Age in America saw unprecedented levels of growth and wealth which Jacob, Gittel and Michael capitalised on very successfully but their foresight, business acumen and work ethic should not be underestimated. They made sure they offered the New York elite exactly what they wanted and were careful to always keep quality at the forefront of everything they did. Today, almost 100 years after the doors closed, Dreicer jewellery is still greatly admired and can command very high prices. Despite being relatively unknown today, compared to their contemporaries like Cartier and Tiffany & Co., the company that operated for less than sixty years left a profound impression on the history of jewellery in America.