The French-German Connection - Dior and Henkel & Grosse 
review by Mary Sue Packer 

 

  "You've seen the show, now read the book!"....to paraphrase the old exhortation, which in this case refers to the impressive monograph documenting the exhibition at the Pforzheim Museum late last year ("Costume Jewelry from the 1950s; Christian Dior and GrossÚ from the House of Henkel & Grosse"). 

The exhibit was temporal, the book is of course timeless, and expands so grandly on the relatively few objects presented that one could give the show a miss if it weren't on the way to somewhere else, knowing the book would more than recap the exhibit. 

That one of the foremost French designers sought out one of the most respected German jewelry manufacturers in the postwar years was more a departure and new initiative for Christian Dior with his 'New Look' in 1947 than for Henkel & GrossÚ, which had previously produced jewelry for Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli, maintained a Paris sales office and received a medal of honor for innovative jewelry design at the 1937 Universal Exposition in Paris. 

In 1907 the brothers-in-law Heinrich Henkel and Florentin Grosse established a factory in Pforzheim, the thriving so-called 'Gold City' near the Black Forest, specializing in woven hair jewelry and watch chains, which brought them recognition up until the First World War.

Demand for rolled-gold keepsake jewelry then ensured the company's survival, and after the war alpaca ('German silver') mesh purses and cigarette cases were added, along with other lines. The company rallied after the 1929 economic crisis and focused on high-end costume jewelry utilizing galalith, a new casein-based material, enabling the optimal combination of form and function according to Bauhaus principles. New European markets were sought out, targeting jewelers and shop owners rather than wholesalers or jobbers. Their exceptional designs and craftsmanship attracted major Paris designers, e.g., Lanvin and Schiaparelli, and in 1936 a sales office was opened there. National Socialism and the ensuing Second World War devastated the jewelry industry, with the loss of international markets and the reduced availability of materials.
In 1945 Pforzheim was completely destroyed by British bombers; Henkel & Grosse company headquarters was levelled, new premises were needed, and a new business strategy was required for a radically changed world. A New York sales office materialized, with collections created specifically for the American market; commissions were acquired, and the fanciful range of their jewelry designs was recognized and sought after by the fashion world. 

In 1955 the epitome of this renown was Henkel & Grosse's license to develop, produce and sell high-end costume jewelry for the Dior brand - of historical significance, in that it involved French ministerial approval of this collaboration with a German firm, and that the young ministerial director who supported the project was none other than ValÚry Giscard d'Estaing. The licensing agreement lasted over 50 years, - remarkable in House of Dior history, and in 2005 Henkel & Grosse was taken over by Dior. 

This first comprehensive history of this redoubtable company is introduced by the jewelry historian Vivienne Becker, chronicling its existence with insights into the founding family enterprise throughout the last century, as well as the historical context in which the firm developed and flourished in spite of the commercial havoc wrought by the two world wars which reconfigured the world arena. Art, technology and craftsmanship managed to supersede the political tensions between France and Germany. 

The lavish photo documentation is testimonial to this: full- and double-page presentations of single pieces in which the fine details of workmanship are brought into minute focus, some choice items from a vast pictorial repertory, - not to mention the spectacular GrossÚ neckpiece featured on the dust cover. 'Accessoried' fashion photographs and advertisements further mark the evolution of the Grosse/Dior style. This book is to be grateful for, and is a must for collectors and art historians fascinated by the historical transcendence of political stand-offs by mutual interests and ambitions involving diverse art forms - in this case finely wrought costume jewelry in spite of industrialism. 

 

 

Vivienne Becker et al., HENKEL & GROSSE, 100 Years of Passion for GrossÚ and Bijoux Christian Dior. 192 pages, ca. 400 color illustrations. Hardcover with dust jacket, text in German and English. ISBN 978-3-89790-335-7. Arnoldsche Art Publishers, Stuttgart. Available for $85. from the Antique Collectors Club, Easthampton, Massachusetts

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Review reprinted with permission

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