The Legendary Jewelry Designer Gustav Manz
Gustav Manz was a legend, one of the greatest goldsmiths and jewelry artists that ever graced the earth. His jewelry pieces are extremely rare and sought after by collectors across the world.
His name may not be well known among the general public, because his jewelry – true works of art - usually carried the retailer's distinctive hallmark. But, no doubt about it, Gustav Manz's (1865--1946) reputation was legendary among wholesalers and jewelry manufacturers.
The brilliant designer made jewelry pieces for famous companies in the industry, such as Tiffany & Co, Cartier, Raymond Yard, Marcus & Co, Black Starr & Frost, and many other such important players.
The German master goldsmith shined in the jewelry world for decades - from the Belle Epoque to the Great Depression.
With help from jewelry scholars, and combing Gustav Manz's design book and business archive for their road map, his great-granddaughters, Laura and Cuyler Mathews, have uncovered many of his pieces in estate sales, jewelry exhibits, and private collections.
In a talk at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Laura Mathews – who has been a magazine editor, fiction editor, and book reviewer for the last 25 years - shared her finds and insights about Manz's studio and his part in jewelry history.
A Brief History of Gustav Manz
Gustav Manz was born in May 1865 in the German town of Stuttgart, near Pforzheim, a major jewelry manufacturing center of the country.
He was the apprentice of a goldsmith, and after he finished his training, he went to South Africa, to work in the diamond mines, since at that time the diamond industry started to boom.
But he got very ill from typhoid and didn't like the climate there very much, so he went to Paris. He spent a couple of years there, and then emigrated to the US in 1891, and began his career in New York.
We don't know precisely who he was working for. He did have a workshop right on Union Square, which in New York City at that time was home to what was called the "Ladies' Mile" district. All the famous jewelry companies such as Tiffany & Co, Marcus & Co as well as others were there. Some of them had their own workshops, but they also used these independent goldsmiths who had their skills.
And Gustav Manz was a classically trained goldsmith, and he was very good at what he did. A lot of pieces signed by these well-known jewelry companies are attributed to Manz.
Gustav’s daughter – Doris - worked for him as his jewelry saleswomen. He was very close to this second brother, who was the head gardener at the New York Botanical Garden. It was a handy connection to have since one of his specialties was doing realistic fronds and naturalistic jewelry.Gustav Manz was not just a manufacturing jeweler, but also a designer and an accomplished sculptor. It was very common for metalsmiths to make fancy goods, so he also made some exquisite ones as well.
Gustav Manz’s Jewelry
Gustav Manz was a genuine literalist. He didn't do abstract stuff, he liked to follow the classical themes, and he put his own distinctive spin on them.
The famous jeweler used a very eclectic range of motives. Although the styles kept changing, he always seemed to have something that would fit, or that could be adapted to the new fashion styles of the time.
He loved to bury precious gemstones inside the gold, it's a very naturalistic technique that he liked to use in his jewelry pieces. The German artist really liked carving, and he did a brilliant job at it.
Gustav Manz liked working with gold, as well as platinum and silver. His jewelry was accompanied by a variety of precious and semi-precious stones, such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies, jade, amethyst, opal, garnet, etc.
The motives used by Gustav Manz
He enjoyed the Egyptian motives (pharaoh, Eye of Horus, etc), Roman and Greek mythology (goddess Diana / Artemis, Medusa, etc), as well as Christian motives (he was born in a Catholic family).
Many floral and animal motives (such as the bear, snake, tiger, lion, cat, dog, elephants, dragons, camels) and mythological creatures such as the mermaid can also be observed in his jewelry.
He was a cat lover, he was known to bring home small felines from the zoo. There is a story that he brought home a wild cat cub or kitten one day so he could study it and draw it.
The famous goldsmith also did a lot of carving with the Buddha, and also explored different other fascinating Oriental motives.
There were a lot of representations of theatre scenes as well in his jewelry. For example, there was a jewelry piece depicting Siegfried, from Richard Wagner.
Gustav Manz represented a period that was rapidly changing as the jewelry business become more industrialized and mass-produced, and he really was one of the last of the old-style jewelers.
He was a genius, a fascinating character that left his mark in the jewelry world.
His handmade antique jewelry artworks are nowadays a "Rara Avis" in the eyes of collectors and experts around the globe.
DSF Antique Jewelry has managed to collect some of Gustav Manz’s most exquisite jewelry pieces, some of which you can also notice in the scratches (or similar ones).
You can admire them down below, they truly reflect the perfect craftsmanship and brilliance of this extraordinary master jeweler.
- Gold diamond ring with the and panther serpent motive
- Victorian figural yellow gold and opal brooch with lion and serpent motif
- Art Nouveau 18K yellow gold floral basket motif pendant set with fancy colored gemstones and a yellow sapphire briolette drop.