Rapaport Magazine

Instantly Collectible

Verger Frères was the behind-the-scenes firm that created fabulous jewelry for the grand maisons of Paris.

By Phyllis Schiller

Diamond and natural pearl, black onyx and black enamel Art Deco lapel watch made by Verger Frères with Vacheron & Constantin movement, circa 1920. Photo courtesy Kathryn Bonanno, PG,FGA, Inc.
If the fashionable of the world looked to Paris for their Art Deco–designed jewelry, the great French houses of the early-twentieth century looked to one family-run manufacturing firm, Verger Frères. Their client list, explains Kathryn Bonanno of Kathryn Bonanno, PG, FGA, Inc., New York City, included names coveted today by collectors — Lacloche Frères, Boucheron, Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels, among many others. Verger was, she says, “the jeweler to the great jewelers of Place Vendôme,” and even beyond. “The firm made for everyone — in other countries, too, including Black Starr & Frost, Tiffany & Co. and Charlton & Co. in the U.S., Gübelin in Switzerland, even Bulgari in Rome. Verger Frères was the manufacturer to the manufacturers.”
   The firm was founded by Ferdinand Verger, who began as an apprentice at age 11. By 1875, Bonanno says, he was working with the house of Vacheron & Constantin of Geneva, the association between the two firms becoming a partnership that continued through 1938. Ferdinand registered his French maker’s mark of a lozenge with “FV” in 1896. “His turn-of-the-century pieces can still be found,” says Bonanno. “They’re exquisite.”
   Ferdinand’s two sons, Georges and Henri, eventually joined him in the family business in 1911, at which time, says Bonanno, the firm name was changed to Verger Frères (Verger Brothers) and the trademark became VF. By 1921, Ferdinand officially left the business to his sons. The business continued as Georges Verger et fils from 1935 through 1945 and Verger et Co. from 1945 through 1979. The present-day Verger Frères is owned by Atelier Bouder.

Manufacturer Par Excellence
   “The Verger name is not known as well as some of the designers for whom they created, but those in the know recognize the craftsmanship and superb materials,” says Dana Kraus, owner of DK Farnum Estate Jewelry, New York. “They were at the top of the list of the great makers of the Art Deco period. What sets them apart is the attention to detail, the extraordinary workmanship and the use of exceptional quality materials.”
   While the earlier pieces with the identifying “FV” and those with the later stamp, “Georges Verger et fils” or “Verger et Co.” are more easily identified, the pieces made by the firm during the Art Deco period are not always easy to discern. The VF maker’s mark, in fact, is often on the inside of the case, or in some very discreet spot, as opposed to the retailer’s stamp, which is usually on the surface of an object.
   The firm’s dominance dated from the early 1920s through just prior to World War II, says Steven Fox of Steven Fox Fine Jewelry, Greenwich, Connecticut. “Verger was like an orchestra with every type of in-house artisan self-contained — stone setters and watchmakers and clockmakers and case designers — who worked in harmony with the firm’s jewelers.” Adds Bonanno, “They had some 200 people working for them early on. It wasn’t that Cartier or Van Cleef would come to them and say, ‘I want this done.’ Verger would propose their designs to these big houses.” The firm’s style repertory ranged from the simplistic “black and white” of early Art Deco, shown right, to geometric pieces and the more elaborate chinoiserie and tutti frutti creations.
   Verger didn’t use just one centerpiece “wow” stone, says Bonanno, but integrated quality gems into the overall pattern, often with lacquer and beautiful enamelwork. Lapis, onyx, carnelian or other hard stones might be set with precious gems or plaques of pavé-set diamonds adorned with beautiful caliber-cut rubies, emeralds or sapphires. The palette of materials also included jadeite, malachite, mother-of-pearl and coral.
   Along with designs made under others’ brand names, what was equally interesting, says Benjamin Macklowe, president of the Macklowe Gallery in New York City, “are the pieces Verger made for direct sale, such as the 1930s-era rose quartz, ruby and diamond hinged bangle bracelet we currently own.”
   Kraus notes that she has a pair of gold and diamond earrings by Verger Frères and that she’s “had some pieces with jade, onyx, enamel — a lot of enamelwork on bracelets of watches — and gold, diamonds and emeralds mixed together, which is a very Deco, chic look.”

Timely Creations
   According to Steven Fearnley of JS Fearnley, Atlanta, Georgia, “Verger Frères was most known for the early Art Deco designs in jewelry and in timepieces, but particularly for timepieces. The firm made some amazing lapel watches but was probably most known for its mantle clocks with the use of ornamental and precious stones and, in particular, mystery clocks.”
   Ranging from exotic and ornate to “simple” examples with mother-of-pearl and precious gems, the clocks are some of the most expensive and most extraordinary Verger pieces available today, points out Bonanno. The jeweled Art Deco clocks are particularly popular with collectors, agrees Macklowe, and “often signed on the face by the brightest lights of the Place Vendôme.”

   You can still find fine examples of Verger Frères in the market but, agree the experts, it’s difficult, and it will cost you. And Verger Frères table clocks “just go through the roof,” says Bonanno. According to Kraus, “their pieces hold their value.”
   “I find that it is all about the piece,” says Fearnley. “I do not see a lot of really gemmy Verger Frères pieces on the market and the ones that I do see are usually priced fairly strongly because of the fineness of the work.”
   “The firm of Verger Frères was the anonymous genius behind the biggest names in French jewelry and watches,” sums up Bonanno. “Verger did not just manufacture but in many instances actually originated the designs, made the pieces and presented them to the large retailers for approval and purchase. At the end of this process, a Verger creation would become an instantly collectible jewel.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2015. To subscribe click here.

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