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Mysterious and beautiful, Fenichel jewelry is intriguing to the collector. The quality of this jewelry is unmistakable: brilliant rhinestones as fine as those used by Eisenberg, sturdy construction which has withstood the test of time, and simply elegant design that never goes out of fashion. Until now, however, much was unknown about the company. Who was Fenichel? When was this jewelry produced? And where?
Fortunately for jewelry aficionados everywhere, Bob Fenichel, son of the company’s founder, has come forward to share information which has allowed the fantastic Fenichel story to be presented here for the first time!
In 1897 Louis Fenichel was born in New York City, the oldest of five children. His parents, who became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1903, had emigrated from Austria in the early 1890s. His father worked as a tailor, but Louis did not follow his father into the garment industry. Instead, after his graduation from high school he went to work selling cars at the largest Ford dealership in the city of New York. Intelligent and ambitious, he soon rose to a management position.
By 1924, when he was 27 years old, Louis was ready for something new. He purchased a partnership in The Reichman Novelty Company, located at 15 West 36th Street. One year later, Louis bought out Mr. Reichman and changed the name of the business to the Fenichel Novelty Company. Louis brought in his 22 year old brother, Max, as a partner three years after buying the business.
Fenichel Novelty Company manufactured and wholesaled costume jewelry. Among his many other talents, Louis had a natural gift for design. Although he never received any formal training in design or jewelry production, he designed about 95% of the company’s production and was intimately involved in the day to day manufacturing process.Production methods
The company’s 15-20 employees, which included both men and women, produced by hand the entire jewelry line at the 36th Street plant. Each new item was created by assembling and soldering purchased components into the desired design. This assembled prototype was then repeatedly pressed face-down into trays of asbestos/cement slurry, which held the impressions and hardened to create a mold. Metal components were placed upside down into these molds, where they were then soldered together. This technique allowed for more rapid and efficient production of uniform pieces. The soldered findings were smoothed and polished, then sent to an outside facility for plating. After the plated pieces returned to the factory, Fenichel workers handset the finest quality Austrian rhinestones into the findings to create finished jewelry.An unwavering standard
For the entire 31 years that he owned this company, Louis Fenichel personally inspected every piece of jewelry before it left the factory, ensuring that his exacting standards were met. He made no exception to demanding only the best quality of materials and production methods. In the final years of the company, when the company was smaller and production was slowing, he and one male employee did most of the soldering.
In the early days of the company only rhinestone jewelry was made. Austrian rhinestones were used exclusively because they were the best in the world. These stones were purchased from a supplier in Providence, as were the metal components into which they were set. When World War II cut off the supply of Austrian rhinestones, the company introduced a new line of hand painted jewelry. Most of these pieces were floral figurals, though some birds, animals, and butterflies were made, as well. Unlike many other jewelry companies of that era, Fenichel continued to produce its jewelry in base metal during the war, rather than switching to sterling silver. When the war ended and the brilliant top quality Austrian stones were once again available Fenichel began to manufacture the spectacularly simple and elegant pieces most familiar to today’s collectors.
The mark seen on jewelry by this maker is FENICHEL, all in capital letters. The final L is often poorly struck, so the mark can be interpreted as FENICHE or FENICHEI. Because the entire name was used, smaller pieces usually could not accommodate the mark. For this reason it is common for only necklaces to be marked, though the mark is sometimes seen on bracelets or brooches, as well. The earrings are seldom marked and must be identified by their accompanying marked pieces or by recognition of the distinctive Fenichel construction, materials, and design.
The Fenichel Novelty Company did not have a showroom, though some customers would visit the factory and place their orders. More frequently, Louis would meet with potential customers at buying offices. Stores located outside New York City paid a fee to be members of these buying offices. The stores could then choose to be represented by the buying office; with personnel at the office selecting merchandise they felt would meet the needs of the member store, or the store could use the office as a New York headquarters when their buyers came to town to make their own selections. Larger department store chains maintained their own buying offices, which were used by their out of town buyers. Louis planned each day’s itinerary by reading the New York Times during his 45 minute commute on the Long Island Railroad as he rode into Mid Town Manhattan. The Times listed buyers who were in town and Louis went to buying offices where he knew he could display his jewelry to those who interested him. Louis and Max also traveled across the country from coast to coast and up and down the Eastern seaboard to Florida calling on potential customers. They sold to better stores nationwide such as Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.Legacy
Louis Fenichel passed away in 1956. Max tried to carry on without him for a few years, but with little success. Around 1959 the doors were closed for good. Fenichel Novelty Company had been a partnership between the two brothers, but Louis was at its center. His mind had invented the designs, his hands had crafted the jewelry, and his feet had carried the product to customers across the nation. His spirit continues to shine in the brilliant stones of his enduring creations.
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