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December 1999

From the Vault

Reflections in Time

Depression-era custom jewelry made affordable for the masses

To increase exposure in the U.S. market, French jeweler Mauboussin opened a store in New York City on Oct. 1, 1929. The timing could not have been worse. Within 30 days, the stock market disintegrated and the domino effect this disaster had on the world economy led to the Great Depression. Enormous fortunes were lost as society struggled to make ends meet in an atmosphere of deprivation. The luxury markets, including jewelry, were devastated by a drastic reduction in sales.

Mauboussin's expensive inventory was tied up in the U.S. and couldn't be used to help the parent company in France. To stay solvent, Mauboussin worked out a business arrangement with Trabert & Hoeffer, an enterprising U.S. company that combined Trabert's love of fine jewelry and Hoeffer's business and marketing acumen. Trabert & Hoeffer Inc.-Mauboussin became the exclusive marketing arm for Mauboussin in the U.S., allowing the French jeweler to maintain its presence and name recognition in America while Trabert & Hoeffer gained prestige from its alliance with an important Parisian jeweler.

A New Partnership

Soon after this partnership was established, Trabert & Hoeffer Inc.-Mauboussin introduced "Reflection: Your Personality in a Jewel," a remarkable design concept with a built-in marketing tool. Simply stated, the Reflection jewelry line offered women custom- designed jewelry at a reasonable price. Before this, custom-designed jewelry was an expensive privilege limited to the very wealthy. By making this elite service accessible to customers of more modest means, Trabert & Hoeffer Inc.-Mauboussin found immediate success.

The designs for Reflection jewelry were taken from the latest jewelry trends in Europe, making them the cutting edge of fashion. In tune with the modern love of machinery, the hottest looks incorporated smooth metal in sweeping expanses. Highly polished 18k gold was sculpted in curved volutes and rippling fan shapes.

To keep the cost down, Trabert & Hoeffer Inc.-Mauboussin cleverly designed a series of separate elements that could be integrated in a variety of ways. Mass manufactured as needed and then hand finished, these elements were cast rather than hand-fabricated and then hollowed out to save metal. Details such as hand engraving, gallery work and millegrain were omitted, making the final product more affordable.

Cost-Effective Gems

The company's use of gems was cost-effective as well. Large, clean and richly colored citrines, amethysts and aquamarines were inexpensive and made a bold statement. Pale golden and light blue sapphires were also well-priced. Usually these gems were accented by small diamonds, rubies and sapphires to increase their dramatic and luxurious impact.

Reflection jewels were introduced in the 1930s and remained popular through the 1950s. Today, we can look on Reflection jewels as the embodiment of a successful marketing and promotion campaign. The idea of custom-designed jewelry at an affordable price seems unremarkable to us now. But we must remember it was a new concept for fine jewelry at the time and recognize the genius of the original idea.

by Elise B. Misiorowski

Looking more like a floral corsage tied with ribbons than its name might suggest, this "Fireworks" clip brooch, set with oval yellow sapphires and accented with small round diamonds and blue sapphires in 18k yellow gold, is one of the Reflection series of jewels by Trabert & Hoeffer - Mauboussin made in the 1940s. Brooch courtesy of a private collection.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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