An Art Deco Blue Galalith and Chrome ‘Concentric Circles’ brooch, attributed to Jakob Bengel.
German, circa 1930s.
In 1873 locksmith Jakob Bengel began making watch chains at his factory in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. The chains, made from brass, silver and alloys known as tombac and Double Americaine, proved to be a success and by the 1920s the firm was also producing geometric costume jewellery in the latest Art Deco style.
Most of the jewellery was made from chrome and decorated with Galalith (a form of early plastic and often coloured white, black, red or green), crystals and rhinestones. Features such as brickwork chains enhanced the Machine Age style of Bengel?s output.
By the 1930s the majority of the factory?s output was being exported to the rest of Europe and the US. However, such was Germany?s unpopularity, few pieces were marked with the country or origin (in fact, those destined for French retailers may have been marked ?Made in France?). The company?s mark, a cannon and a pyramid of cannon balls, was also rarely used on export items.
The factory closed at the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 and was unknown until 2001 when collectors discovered the factory and its catalogues.
The Jakob Bengel factory is now a museum and produces 12 limited edition jewellery ? as well as chains ? using the original tools and working methods. Rare, original Art Deco pieces have come onto the market since then. Two books have been published featuring the original drawings and pieces and it is believed that one of the Bauhaus designers ? possibly Wilhelm Wagenfeld ? created jewellery for the company.