VCFJ Convention Speech 10-16-2009
First I'd like to thank Lucille for inviting me tonight and thank you all for the opportunity to present my ramblings. You should know before I start that I am not a historian, nor an artist, I’m a findings manufacturer. And what I have to say is based on my experience, limited research and my imagination.
If I leave you with any doubt as to where some little tidbit that I’m going to speak about is coming from, feel free at the end to ask , or, you can just assume that it is from my imagination and that I am making it up !
One of the more common questions we ask and get asked throughout our lives is, what do you do? And we all delight in hearing answers like, I’m a teacher, or a fireman, a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, or a publisher. Even a jewelry manufacturer brings a knowing nod. Try telling people you make jewelry findings. First comes the hesitation, then the question…what are jewelry findings? The simple answer is “well, they are jewelry components”. The blank stare that normally follows leads to a more detailed explanation that goes something like this.
Look very closely at an earring and you will
see that it is made up of a number of parts. For example, the little clasp, the
post, the wire, the little flower or charm. These are all called jewelry
findings. This little summary usually brings a slight pause, and then, “oh, so
you make the little posts and wires?” Well some finding manufacturers do,
however, we at Guyot Brothers actually make the charm or the flower; you know, the decorative
part. And this is normally where the conversation ends. In an awkward silence,
broken with something like…isn’t the weather nice, how about those Red Sox,
or, so, what do you do?
Sometimes you get one final question…Oh, so you make castings ? Do you work in gold? I thought the jeweler did that. Where to you sell them? Oh, so you make jewelry?” And one that I could not answer with any authority “why do they call them findings?”
This seemingly simple question not only perplexed myself but many others as well, when I asked them. So in my younger days I set out to come up with the origin of the word, findings.
After looking in numerous dictionaries, encyclopedias and studies of word origins, and still not coming up with its origin, I resigned myself to…oh, well, maybe someday. Then I met my wife. A typical first date, full of awkward moments, Diane, a teacher, did ask the question, “what is it that you do?” Now, her being an educated woman from Rhode Island, I was sure she would know what jewelry findings were. So, without hesitation replied, “I’m in the findings business.” And, you guessed it: instant blank stare. Followed by a “what is the findings business?” Now you have to understand, when I first met Diane, it was love at first sight, and I wanted more than anything else for her to say yes when I asked her out a second time. But that still does not explain my answer. “Why I find things, of course. Everyday I take my briefcase in hand and walk around the fields, meadows and hills, and I find things.” And that is when two things happened. First Diane knew that she was in the company of some kind of nut, and secondly, I stumbled upon a theory regarding the origins of the word, findings.
Imagine yourself in England back at the beginning of the Renaissance. You have just become a master jeweler's apprentice. The master jeweler has just received a commission to make a ruby ring, with a gold bezel embossed with tiny flowers and leaves. The master studying the commission turns to you and instructs you to go and search for an assortment of rubies, a few small strips of gold and some tiny flowers and leaves for him to study. Being the highly efficient apprentice that you are, you return in an hour. The master, pleased with your rapid completion of the task, turns and greets you with, “Back so soon? Come, show me your findings.” And that is my theory on the origin of using jewelry findings to describe jewelry parts.
Back in December of 2004, I had the opportunity to attend an internet marketing conference in Chicago, where I was 30 years senior to an overwhelming majority of the attendees. During one of the session breaks, I found myself sitting with a young man who was clearly discouraged.
After engaging in some small talk, I took on the role of old sage, and asked what was troubling him. “I don’t know what I’m going to do” he replied. “The internet marketing business has, well matured so fast that all of the opportunities are disappearing. Why some of my competition has been doing this for almost 10 years.” Having taken on the role of old sage, I couldn’t look at him and say “What are you thinking?” Instead I said, “Well, 10 years doesn’t really make a mature marketplace. Consider the business that we’re in. Our company is 100 years old and we have competitors who have product lines that have been in continuous production for 600 years. Now surely you recognize that as a mature business?” He looked at me and said, “What business are you in?” I answered “Why, I’m in the jewelry business.” To which he replied, “Oh, that doesn’t really count.” I smiled, nodded exchanged good-byes, and said to myself…kid, ask your wife or your sister if jewelry really counts.” What I should have done is get his email address and send him a link Joe Todarro’s article, “How to Buy Jewelry for Her”, because this young man is definitely going to need it.
That aside though, it got me thinking even further about jewelry, findings and their origins. Framex in France has product lines that have been in production for over 600 years. And although that seems like an awful long time, and it is, the commercial jewelry business has a documented existence for over 5,000 years. And when I think of this staggering length of time, then I think about maybe the word, findings, has only been around since the beginning of the English language and the dawn of the Renaissance. But the findings themselves, and jewelry stampings themselves have been around a whole of a lot longer than that.
Wandering around various museums, I’ve often wondered about the ancient jewelry on display and marveled at the detail and the workmanship. The items that always caught my attention the most were the life forms; like insects or lizards, tiny feathers, tiny flowers, so minute you almost need a jewelers loupe to see them. Having worked with, and seen the work of some very talented and extraordinary hub and die cutters, it had always left me baffled as to how the ancients could have gotten such exquisite details in their dies, and what were their dies made of, and why did these dies not survive?
Exploring the Museum of Natural History in Hull, Quebec, one possible answer came to me as I stood staring at a lizard fossil that had amazing detail. Not unlike an ancient lizard brooch I had seen not long before, leading to another of my theories, That the first jewelry stampers were ancients who discovered they could pound soft metal such as gold, into a fossil and get a stunning "piece of art." This in turn, may have led to some semblance of a jewelry stamping company. When Cleopatra turned to her master goldsmith and said, “Bring me a golden lizard like the one that Nefertiti wore.” Can you imagine being the apprentice getting assigned to that little job? I think I might ask for a month or two to deliver.
Another commonly asked question encountered in the jewelry industry and I have yet been able to find a decisive answer, is “Why did Attleboro, Massachusetts become known as the birthplace of jewelry in America?” All the local studies, that I’m aware of, end the same way: it is because the first jewelry maker settled in what is now known as Attleboro Falls… and when you go and ask, well, who was the first jewelry maker to settle there and why ? … the is question always answered…”The Frenchman” and who knows. Unfortunately The persons’ actual name is lost along with the sights of the hundreds if not thousands of jewelry shops that sprang up and faded away in the Attleboro, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island area.
After hearing of the Frenchman a few dozen times, another of my life's questions was answered. That being, why would my great grandfather Numa, a French speaking master engraver from Lyons come to settle in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Not only did he come to settle in Attleboro, Massachusetts when he left his home, he came to Attleboro, Massachusetts. It was his destination. He came to Attleboro to work in the jewelry business that was started by “The Frenchman.”
Unfortunately I never met Numa, and yet somehow, we who have worked at Guyot Brothers know him because, you see, we have his tools, his gravers, his loupe, his sketchbook, his engraver's ball and saddle .They tell the rest of his story.
Guyot Brothers was started in 1904 as N. Guyot and Sons. It became Guyot Brothers in 1925. Starting as a supplier of hubs and dies, Guyot Brothers probably didn’t start making findings until around 1915. And this date is pure conjecture. The internal papers of its 1925 incorporation show it as a producer of jewelry findings and stampings, but other than that, our written records are a little sparse. What I do know, is that the company did not have a product coding system until somewhere around 1935 or 1936, and prior to this, the findings of more than approximately 2000 different styles were referred to by name…”you know, that little leaf stamping with the loop.” We know this is true from two sources. Oral lessons from some of the elders we had the chance to work with, and dates for the first items that show up in the earliest entries of our master product book. As a systems freak, I break out into hives if I think about this too long!
Some notes from our master product book you may find of interest:
February 13, 1928 - Loop with fancy raised edge all around - The Morse Andrews Co.
May 11, 1927 - Connecting link for attaching strap and clasp for Mazur Brothers
What we have also found going through this
product book is a litany of names; many names long lost in the same jewelry shop
walls as The Frenchman, others not only known today, but growing in notary with
each passing year. The list of names is lengthy, but I'd like to read a few to
A name you may not know, but you surely know his work - Sam Rapaporte - we made hundreds of different parts for Sam Rapaporte, sold in quantities of thousands upon thousands. All carried the same type of description: link for Trifari bracelet.
Now when I was reviewing this number book, gathering this information that I thought I would present tonight, it proved to be interesting in many ways, and one of the things that was most interesting, was in the back of the book there were mostly handwritten notes made in alphabetical order by company name. This being the case you could see where they might have been able to tell what Coro, round lockets were, what the Calvin Dean small initial series was. I’m sure the tool cribs in the factory and the production of the parts were set up based on these alphabetical order descriptions, as confusing as they may have been.
But the other thing I found out in this number book, was, it is a great teacher. And like all great teachers, the information it passes on, may be eternal.
My dad had the opportunity as a young man to meet Miriam Haskell. Not being much of a storyteller, Dad would only tell my sister and I, that yes, he’d met her, he brought the line of samples to the showroom so that she could look them over. When we asked what Miriam Haskell was like, his reply was prompt and succinct. “She was incredibly organized and she was a real lady.”
There is entry in our number book that I think you will all appreciate; the notation is made in handwriting that I do not recognize, but my guess is, it is that of a woman. The notation that I believe is the beginning of our numbering system It simply reads:
1 brooch front Miriam Haskell - October 8, 1936
2 brooch front Miriam Haskell - October 8, 1936
The note lists up to code # 8 all the same description, name and date, the code number being the key identifier.
So, the next time you find and preserve that Haskell brooch, or that Trifari bracelet, we at Guyot Brothers past, present and future say thank you for preserving a little of our story as well.
I thank you for your attention.
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