Joseph Marchak (1854 – 1918) was only fourteen when he left his home in Ignatovka for Kiev and an apprenticeship with a jewellery manufacturer. After ten years hard work he felt he had enough experience and knowledge to set up on his own and he founded his eponymous business in 1878, the same year he married Elizabeth Fedorevna with whom he would go on to have eight children.
He invested everything he had into his business and began by making gold chains, simple pieces but made with skill and real attention to detail. Marchak realised early on that quality of both materials and craftsmanship were of paramount importance if he was going to distinguish himself from his many competitors and become successful. This belief served him well and within the space of ten years he moved premises several times to settle at 4, Kreschatik where he employed a large team of goldsmiths and other specialist craftsmen such as engravers and stone setters. He believed firmly in investing in his employees and began a series of apprenticeships initially in goldsmithing but eventually in many disciplines including chasing and enamelling. He created an extensive reference library for his designers to use and continually sort to ensure the best, most up to date working environment for his staff. He travelled as much as possible, largely to expose himself to other ideas and influences, such as the 1891 Franco-Russian exhibition in Moscow which was to have a lasting impact on Marchak but also further afield, to Paris in particular.
An 1897 catalogue illustrates the wide range of sumptuous jewels that the firm was now creating including diamond rivière necklaces, bracelets and brooches as well as silver and crystal tableware and presentation pieces. In twenty years Marchak had built what was now arguably the most prestigious jewellery firm in Kiev. They had been attending International Exhibitions for several years when, in 1900, they showed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris where they were awarded a silver medal.
The 20th Century dawned and Marchak was riding high on success, they won a gold medal for their jewellery display at the Saint Petersburg International Artistic Exhibition in 1902, and a Grand Prix at the Liege Universal and International Exhibition in 1905. 1913 marked the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule and Marchak were commissioned to create many commemorative pieces including a silver replica of the Kiev museum which housed a concealed inkwell in one of its domes. The cover of that year’s catalogue shows two impressive collier de chien, a magnificent tiara and a beautiful devant de corsage of imposing proportions.
However the political situation was becoming increasingly tense and with the outbreak of World War I things became more and more challenging for the firm. Joseph’s youngest son Alexander (1892 – 1975) had been studying in Paris and on his return was supposed to join his father in the business but was instead obliged to fulfil his military service. When Joseph passed away in 1918 the shop closed its doors and within six months Alexander and his family had fled to Paris where they were to settle and begin the next chapter in the Marchak story.
Having lived and studied in Paris for several years Alexander was fluent in French and settled easily into Parisian life, doubtless aided by the credit note he was alleged to have brought with him for fifty million francs. He wasted no time in setting up the family jewellery business and chose 48, Rue Cambon as the location. He ensured the showroom was stylish and modern and success came swiftly as the family name was already known and respected. An advert from 1924 gives both this address and also one in Nice, suggesting that by this time he had opened a branch there as well.
In 1922 he entered into a partnership with Robert Linzeler, a master jeweller and silversmith who had famously brought to life the jewellery designs of Paul Iribe including a spectacular aigrette set with a large Mughal emerald. Styled ‘Linzeler et Marchak’ the firm produced some exceptional jewels during their three years of operation and were one of only thirty jewellers to exhibit at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The outstanding quality of their jewellery in terms of design, craftsmanship and technical expertise earned them a Grand Prix and although they dissolved the partnership later that same year, they are remembered for producing some of the most exciting jewels of the Art Deco period.
Like his father, Alexander adhered to the French canons of jewellery design and production and felt so affiliated with French culture in general that he applied for citizenship, which he was granted in 1928. Some believe that in spite of this his Russian spirit could be seen reflected in his work whilst others attribute this to an inherently daring attitude to design, very much echoing that of the Ballet Russes whose sweeping popularity made a lasting impression on Paris in the 1920s.
Alongside jewellery, Marchak also produced a wide range of objet d’art and accessories such as desk clocks, vanity cases and cigarette cases. During the 1930s they continued to exhibit widely and successfully but when World War II broke out the family were forced to retreat to Savoy leaving the shop to be looked after by a trusted manager. After peace was restored Alexander returned to Paris and picked up the reigns once again. He set about hiring new staff, including the designer Alexander Diringer who had previously worked for Cartier and Sterlé and salesman Jacques Verger who brought with him a great passion for jewellery coupled with years of experience working for Ostertag and Sterlé. The firm now entered a period of particular artistic richness and produced much yellow gold jewellery some of it showcasing new techniques developed to create a range of different textures and finishes.
When Alexander retired in 1957, Verger acquired the firm from him and continued it successfully under the same name for many years. He entered the American market in New York and Chicago and executed many large private commissions for clients such as the King of Morocco. With no one to succeed him, Verger sold the company in 1988 and brought to a close over 100 years of Russian-French jewellery history.