Before getting into the identity question of our 1930s jewelry ‘mystery maker’, I have several more recently-found examples of their work.
This quadruple-strand mesh chain necklace is clearly a ‘sibling’ of the triple-strand example illustrated in Part One. It expands the color palette from two to four shades of brown – chocoholics would probably adore this necklace! This necklace is noteworthy because it contains two features that I haven’t seen before: the use of four chains (previously I had not found more than three) and this particular center station.
Although this green necklace lacks the maker’s usual center station, and the chains are also spaced farther apart than I have before seen in their multi-chain designs, I am almost certain that it is indeed one of their styles. The spacing is easily accounted for by the lack of a central station that they would need to pass through. The three shades of green are matches for two other examples of their work found in the previous three posts, as is the actual snake chain itself. After a number of years researching a particular maker’s work, one does eventually acquire a sort of sixth sense about whether an item is theirs or not, and I am confident in attributing this necklace to this maker’s shop.
There’s no question about this third necklace being theirs, because we’ve seen several different color variations of it in Part One. This particular colorway combines their mid-blue (almost a Wedgwood color but not quite) with white, over silvertone metal. Very nice indeed and almost “nautical” in feeling!
Now to examine the big question which is of course “Who the heck was this jewelry designer?” Some sellers have answered this question with two words that make the heart of any Art Deco jewelry aficionado skip a beat: Jakob Bengel. In fact, it was shortly after I discovered that a necklace I’d bought simply because I liked it was in fact the product of the same maker as the Part One examples, that I saw an identical necklace for sale online stating that it was a Bengel design. You can imagine how thrilled I was to read that! However, being a “research geek” my next thought was to find out where the attribution came from (hopefully a book or some other research material on Bengel). The seller of the second necklace, when asked for the attribution source, referred me to Sheryl’s Art Deco Emporium which is widely recognized as an authoritative online source for Bengel jewelry. I searched the site and lo and behold there was another example of this pendant necklace located in the for-sale section devoted to Bengel jewelry. Better and better! Right?
Well….not so fast; the description of the necklace did not actually contain the word “Bengel”, which raised a red flag in my mind. If it was made by Bengel why didn’t the item description say so? That’s when I contacted Sheryl via email to ask for clarification as to whether the necklace was (a) actually made by Bengel, (b) a Bengel design but actually made by someone else, or (c) nothing to do with Bengel. I received no reply. After a few weeks I tried again, thinking that perhaps my query had sunk to the bottom of an Inbox black hole. No response. After a third try I gave up and faced the fact that I wasn’t ever going to get an answer to my question; I kept the other seller in the loop because she was just as concerned as I was about having a correct description for her item.
In the meantime I kept looking for other examples of the necklace online, and found several; in three of those instances the description claimed that it was either a Bengel piece or a Bengel design. Upon contacting those sellers to ask what their source was, I wasn’t really surprised when they all cited the Art Deco Emporium listing. One of them also cited the listing from the seller I’d originally contacted (even though the listing had since been modified to remove the reference to Bengel). I have not been able to find any other source of information (other than vintage jewelry listings) that describes, cites or illustrates this particular necklace/pendant as being one of his. All trails led back to only that one single listing on the Art Deco Emporium site which just happens to be located within the site section devoted to Bengel.
It’s obvious what happened here. One or more vintage jewelry sellers searching online for information about this particular necklace (meaning the pendant, regardless of what style of chain it happens to be on) ended up at that one Art Deco Emporium listing and automatically assumed that because it was located in the Bengel section – rather than in the general, non-Bengel, section for Art Deco jewelry – it thus must be a Bengel design, and that attribution gets put into their description of the necklace. A later seller sees this (or the Sheryl’s one) and puts it into THEIR description…. and so it proliferates (especially on eBay). I honestly don’t think that ANY of these sellers were deliberately trying to deceive; they simply took the attribution they found at face value without checking further. The problem is, there’s no original basis for it other than what section one single necklace listing, on one site, happened to be put into.
Which, I firmly believe, is the totally WRONG section for it. It should never have been put into the Bengel section in the first place. On a site such as the Art Deco Emporium which is used by so many sellers as an extensive source of examples of this type of vintage costume jewelry, the site owner should not assume that “people will know it’s not Bengel, because the description doesn’t actually state that it’s Bengel.” Sorry… I disagree. If someone is looking through a site section headed “Jakob Bengel jewelry” of course they are going to automatically think “This necklace is in the Bengel section, therefore it must be Bengel; because if it isn’t, it wouldn’t be here.” Clearly this is what a number of vintage sellers have assumed. Amazing how one single error in placement can proliferate and cause an identity crisis.
Trust me: As much as I would absolutely love to discover from an unimpeachable and fully documented source that the necklace in question was made by Bengel – because clearly all the examples that I’ve examined in this series are from the same maker, and thus they would ALL then be Bengel necklaces!! – I am 99.99999% sure that it will never happen. First of all, just as the products of our Mystery Manufacturer all have a certain “look” (style, materials, colors, etc) so does everything made by Bengel and although there are some occasional similarities here and there (the four-strand necklace in the first photo here is an excellent example of that) they really do not match up sufficiently. So we’re back where we started which is with the unanswered question of “who the heck was it?”. The one thing we can be pretty darn sure of is that it wasn’t Jakob Bengel!
ADDENDUM, DECEMBER 2015:
One of my readers alerted me to the fact that another of the Mystery Maker’s designs, shown below, is/was offered by Sheryl’s Art Deco Emporium erroneously claimed as Bengel:
This is described as “Chrome mesh collar necklace, made by Jakob Bengel in the late 1920’s. With typical Bengel chatelain type panel to the centre. Does up behind the panel. ” First of all, the item is not chrome; it is brass with a silvertone finish. But what really boggles my mind is that Sheryl makes no mention of the American Pat.Pend. mark that appears on the sides of every single one of those exact front closures!! These same clasps appear in my second post showing the patterned mesh necklaces that our Mystery Jewelry Maker produced. The notion that any German jewelry manufacturer during the era of the rise of the Nazi Party would have been using American-made findings is patently absurd. These necklaces, like all of other Mystery Maker designs, were absolutely not Jakob Bengel creations. Unfortunately the Art Deco Emporium listing has again contributed to misinformation in the marketplace.
If you have information about this jewelry or photographs of any examples that do not yet appear in this blog series, I would be delighted to include them in a future post! Please use the Contact Form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.