REFLECTION JEWELRY: THE STYLE OF Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin

“Deep in the heart of every woman is the conviction that there is something about her that is ‘just a little different,’ an individual charm which serves to make her personality stand out from the commonplace crowd.”

So observed a March 1935 issue of Jewelers’ Circular Keystone. The American jewelry house of Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin took this observation to heart during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and made a significant contribution to 20th century jewelry design with its typically American concept called “Reflection – Your Personality in a Jewel.”

In Reflection jewelry, standardization and individuality were uniquely combined for the first time. Technical advances leading to mass-production brought the quality and selectivity associated with custom-designed jewelry – previously reserved for the very rich – to a wide-spread audience.

Reflection jewels were machine-made and hand-finished. Casting enabled the firm to produce a selection of standardized design elements, from which a client was able to choose to create her own composition. These designs were then produced in 14k, 18k or platinum and often set with colored gemstones such as aquamarine, ruby, topaz or sapphire, often in combination with diamonds. Ironically, mass production contributed to the individuality of each piece.

Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin was the result of the merger of Trabert & Hoeffer of New York and the Parisian firm of Mauboussin. Trabert & Hoeffer, headed by Howard Hoeffer, was enjoying a highly successful business in the late 1920s. Timing was against Mauboussin for it chose to open a new shop in New York City in October 1929, just at the moment of the Great Crash. Due to this unfortunate timing, it soon failed, leaving a large inventory in this country. Trabert & Hoeffer acquired the inventory, merged with Mauboussin and added its name to its own. The newly-merged firm then opened a store at 407 Park Avenue, distinguished itself immediately with the innovative line of Reflection jewelry, and received a great deal of publicity throughout the 1930s.

In a reaction against the restraint of Art Deco design, and with typically American innovative spirit, the Reflection jewels were heralded by their makers as the result of the “relentless quest for something entirely new.” The new firm and its unique line of jewelry were highly successful, and by the early 1940s, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin had shops in New York, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Atlantic City, Miami Beach, Palm Beach and Paris.

A remounting campaign was an important part of the successful marketing of the Reflection line. The firm encouraged women to “Reflectionize” their older, outdated jewelry. Clients were invited to visit the company’s showrooms and workrooms to choose from a vast array of setting designs, into which their stones could be incorporated. However, the firm was quick to stress, “We do not remount. We Reflectionize.” Individual combinations of designs and stones were produced, and the personal preferences of each client were incorporated into these made-to-order designs. Many of these jewels were marked, not only with the mark of the firm and the “Reflection” line, but also with the name of the client. As the firm stated in its own promotions of the Reflection line, “…whatever your choice…the result will always be the same: a true reflection of your own personality.”

The jewels were promoted as “the first truly American jewel style, inspired by the greatest, most vital force on the earth, The Sun.”

An object of inspiration. Basic designs were taken from a large number of master patterns created by the firm’s various designers. The sharp lines and angles of earlier Art Deco pieces were softened and curved to new, more fluid effects. The shape and color of the sun became the object of inspiration for many designs, such as brooches, which were created with irregular, asymmetrical spiraling forms and could be worn in any direction. Other designs for bracelets, clips, brooches and necklaces captured the various effects of the sun’s rays. Movement, color, rhythm, fluidity, and light all were characteristics of the Reflection line jewelry. Floral patterns also were used, in less abstract but nonetheless fluid designs.

These jewels incorporated fewer stones than other contemporary pieces; the individuality of each stone was emphasized. Later Reflection jewels of the early 1940s took on bold architectural forms, with individually-cast design elements and broad smooth planes of curving metal contrasting with rays of layered, mounted gemstones. These flamboyant designs in 18k gold and colored gems were highly appropriate accents for the sophisticated, tailored fashions of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

A keen ability to combine European stylistic trends with American design preferences is evidenced in the whole “Reflection” line. American designers were well aware of European trends, via published examples, imported pieces, and displays at international expositions such as the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris and the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

“The tendency toward combining precious metals, such as gold, with materials of less commercial value, is well illustrated in the latest arrivals from France,” noted the March 1934 issue of JCK. Broad surfaces of 18k gold mounted with semi-precious stones, characteristic of the “Reflection” line, had clear precedents in France.

Today, a contemporary issue of JCK advised its readers that “the jeweler must be prepared to fulfill the desire for distinctively personal jewelry…that reflects the temperament of the wearer.” Such advice seems to echo the widespread success of Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin’s concept of personal jewelry designs. Reflection jewelry brought to its American marketplace a unique union of disparate characteristics like standardization and originality, frugality and indulgence, and American and European design.