The somewhat unlikely alliance between the venerable French jewellery house Mauboussin and the entrepreneurial American jewellers Trabert & Hoeffer lasted seventeen years during which time they produced some of the most imaginative and glamourous jewellery of the 1930’s and 40’s.
Mauboussin had begun to establish itself in America during the 1920’s and had initially done well, winning a Grand Prize at the French Industrial Exhibition in New York in 1924 and opening a boutique on Park Avenue shortly afterwards. Profiting from the American desire for French fine jewellery which was regarded as the epitome of fashionable chic, they were soon able to open a second branch in Palm Beach, Florida. At the beginning of October 1929 Mauboussin moved its New York premises into a beautiful five story town house on East 51st Street. Unfortunately, less than a month later the American stock market crashed and the firm found itself in increasing financial difficulty over the next few years. It was forced to close both its New York and Palm Beach stores in 1935 and hold a liquidation sale in the December of that year. This unfortunate turn of events left Mauboussin without representation in America, a fact that Howard Hoeffer of Trabert & Hoeffer recognised as an opportunity that he could capitalise on.
Randolph J. Trabert & William Howard Hoeffer had set up in business together in 1926, selling and appraising jewellery and gemstones. They bought a number of historic jewels and gemstones which they would exhibit in order to draw potential clients in to the store and during the early 1930’s they began to associate themselves with Hollywood film studios to whom they would lend jewellery for leading ladies such as Claudette Colbert to wear on screen. They were successful and ambitious in their expansion and the entrepreneurial Hoeffer was quick to buy up Mauboussin jewels and offer the company a partnership at the end of 1935. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement that served both companies well. Trabert & Hoeffer acquired a level of prestige that a French name and automatically implied and Mauboussin gained a means of keeping its jewellery and name present in the American market.
In March 1936, the New York Times announced the ‘merger’ of Trabert & Hoeffer Inc. with Mauboussin and within three months the newly formed Trabert & Hoeffer – Mauboussin (THM) placed its first advert in Vogue magazine. They introduced a new logo and publicised a unique marrying of French design with New York manufacturing. In reality it was less of a merger and more of a marketing alliance as Mauboussin continued independently in Europe and the THM locations in America were run almost exclusively by Howard Hoeffer with his existing stores in New York, Atlantic City, L.A. and Miami Beach adding the Mauboussin name to their signage.
Hoeffer continued his frequent trips to Europe and on his return from the Paris World Fair in 1937, during which he had carefully studied the design and style of jewellery on display, Hoeffer began developing a new collection which over the coming years, would become synonymous with the name Trabert & Hoeffer – Mauboussin. The ‘Reflection’ line was designed by Gustave Toth and introduced in 1938, marketed as “the first truly American jewel style”. The pieces were bold and stylish, vibrant and glamourous often utilising yellow gold and with designs that moved away from the geometric shapes of Art Deco jewellery towards a more curvilinear three dimensional profile. These stylistic and material elements were cleverly combined with a ‘modern’ approach to personalisation as the collection allowed the client to select from a series of pre-cast elements which could then be assembled by hand to create a semi-bespoke piece or suite of jewellery, many of which were convertible. Marketed as “Your personality in a jewel” women were encouraged to explore the different options available, reassured that “Whatever your choice…. the result will always be the same: a true reflection of your own personality.” These jewels were made in 14ct as well as 18ct gold, and sometimes platinum, and clients were also encouraged to bring their existing jewellery in for remounting or as THM referred to it – ‘Reflectionizing’. By using mass-manufacturing techniques, a range of different metals and sometimes clients own jewels, the Reflection line was able to produce pieces that were more modestly priced and therefore able to appeal to a far wider audience than either company had previously.
The collaborations with Hollywood continued and THM jewels were soon being worn, both on and off screen, by some of the biggest screen stars of the day such as Marlene Dietrich, Mary Pickford and Greta Garbo. As American women began to look more and more towards these glamorous movie stars for fashion and style inspiration, they became walking, talking advertisements for the jewellery. Trademark pieces included cocktail rings sporting large colourful centre stones with cabochons and star stones particularly popular; wide strap bracelets which were often worn in fashionable stacks up the arm; double clips and brooches as well as elegant watches for both men and women.
In 1939 Mauboussin returned to America to exhibit at the New York World Fair and Hoeffer made sure to advertise this as widely as possible, encouraging clients to visit their stand at the fair and then come to the THM Park Avenue store to see the jewellery there as well. New THM stores were opened in Palm Beach and Chicago and the company continued to thrive, weathering the wartime scarcities of the early 1940’s by focusing on yellow gold and gems such as citrine and amethyst which could be imported from South America. They also produced price sensitive ranges of small novelty jewellery such as the Zodiac and Initial collections which proved popular.
As the 1950’s dawned however, Hoeffer began to disengage from the jewellery world in favour of real estate and without his passion and drive, the business began to suffer. In Paris, Mauboussin had regained full financial strength post war and so it was inevitable that the partnership between the two firms would cease. Formerly severed in 1953, the Trabert & Hoeffer Mauboussin partnership left behind a legacy of glamourous, stylish and original jewellery combining French influenced design with American manufacture and marketing prowess.