The Freeman’s Jewellery Auction on 3 November in Philadelphia will feature a beautiful piece made by Dreicer & Co. in the early 20th century.
This house, whose pieces can be found from time to time in the auctions, is a famous signature of the first quarter of the 20th century. I therefore propose here to tell you about it and to let you discover its history and some of its achievements.
The story begins in 1868. That year, two years after emigrating from Russia to the United States, Jacob Dreicer and his wife Gittel set up their first jewellery shop at 1128 Broadway in New York. Every year, Gittel went abroad to buy rough stones and supervise their cutting so that her husband could offer them for sale. Jacob has great taste in jewellery, inherited from his family and his past in Russia. He therefore offered elegant women jewellery enriched with coloured stones: rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. But in the last quarter of the 19th century, women were won over by fine pearls. So he will offer pearls! His son, who was born the same year the shop opened, was trained by his parents and also during his mother’s trips to London, Amsterdam and Paris. He became an expert in fine pearls for the American market.
By refining the selection of jewellery offered for sale, the Dreicer family gradually competed with the more established jewellers of the time, such as Black, Ball & Co. and Tiffany & Co. In 1885, Michael Dreicer officially joined the family venture and at the same time the firm changed its name to J. Dreicer & Son.
Gold and enamel bracelet made around 1900 by J. Dreicer & Son. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2003 for $1900. Photo: Sotheby’s.
In 1885, the firm acquired the building and moved to 260 Fifth Avenue, New York. The house also made several other real estate investments on Fifth Avenue. In the late 19th/early 20th century, the area was known as an upscale part of the city and this did not change over the years. However, it is worth noting that Dreicer was one of the first to perceive the future commercial potential of this now world-famous thoroughfare in the late 19th century. He established the reputation of his shop and competed with the greatest. The Times described them as having created “a taste in this country for the finest gems and for the exquisite art of jewellery”. In addition to this shop, they had a Chicago address at the Blackstone Hotel and a “winter” address in Palm Beach.
In 1904, the firm became even better known by representing the French firm Atanik Eknayan, Parisian diamond dealers. Mr. Eknayan is known, among other things, for having cut the briolette des Indes between 1908-1909, which was sold by Cartier before continuing its life among the great fortunes of the world. But let’s go back to 1904, during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, Dreicer will propose a choice of jewels in platinum and diamonds which will have a great success, this style and this taste for the pieces entirely set with brilliants will last until the 20’s and 30’s.
Platinum and diamond brooch dating from around 1910. Signed Dreicer & Co, it was sold at Sotheby’s for $86,500. Photo : Sotheby’s
Platinum, diamond and pearl necklace. The total weight of the diamonds on this necklace is estimated at 22 carats. Sold in 2009 at Bonhams for $67,000. Photo: Bonhams
In 1906, the house moved again to the north side of 5th Avenue, settling permanently at 560 and never moving again. It called on the greatest names in design and craftsmanship of the early 20th century to furnish and decorate this address. It also seems that the company changed its name again at this time to Dreicer & Co.
In 1915, they exhibited a string of fine pearls at the Grand Central Palace, which was offered at the astronomical price of $800,000 for the time. The necklace, made up of 59 pearls, came with a diamond and emerald clasp. The story goes that it took Dreicer several years to collect the pearls on this piece of jewellery. Some came from the collection of the Countess of Dudley, but the last pearls to complete it were acquired from the Duchess of Sutherland. It is rumoured that the pearls were sold to finance the land taxes she owed for her lands in Scotland. I invite you to read this article of August 27, 1915 written on this subject by the New York Times. In 1916, the company imported and offered for sale a string of pearls said to have fetched over a million dollars.
The company continued to operate throughout the first quarter of the 20th century. The 1920s marked the end of the company. In 1921, Michael Dreicer died at the age of 53 at his Deepdale estate on Long Island. Less than a month later, Jacob Dreicer also died, devastated by the death of his only son. The company closed its doors for good in 1923 after all its assets were liquidated. The building at 560 Fifth Avenue was sold to the Northern Pacific Railway Company and Cartier purchased the entire inventory for $2.5 million. The family’s collection of paintings joins the Metropolitan.
Platinum, diamond and engraved emerald centre ring, made by Dreicer & Co. circa 1920. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2013 for just over $33,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
Platinum ring, GIA E Vs2 certified diamond of 5.67 carats and AGL certified natural emerald of 3.18 carats. This Art Deco ring by Dreicer & Co. was sold at Christie’s in 2000 for $226,000. It was owned by Belle Wilcox Baruch.
Platinum and diamond ring with a pink diamond of more than 9 carats in the centre. Owned by Mrs Huguette M. Clark, it was sold in 2012 at Christie’s for $15 million. Photo: Christie’s. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful and expensive piece from the Dreicer house sold in recent years.
Pieces regularly appear in auctions. They bear witness to a somewhat forgotten history and a bygone era. The building still exists, if you go to New York, go see it.
See you soon!