Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Журналист, писатель, бард. Обладатель «Бриллиантовой совы» интеллектуальной игры «Что? Где? Когда?»
Liberal Arts
6 minutes for reading

ROOTS AND WINGS: Joseph Marchak, «Kyiv Cartier» from Gnativka

ROOTS AND WINGS: Joseph Marchak, «Kyiv Cartier» from Gnativka
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Artwork: Olena Burdeina (FA_Photo) via Photoshop


The profession of a jeweler requires a person to be very versatilely gifted — he is a fitter, a cutter, a blacksmith, an artist, and, of course, a psychologist — without this, it will be difficult to sell even a brilliant creation to a rich and satiated buyer.

A typical example of a successful jeweler — is Benvenuto Cellini: not only a jeweler but also a builder, a bone carver, a creator of musical instruments, a marksman who killed the enemy commander-in-chief at the siege of Rome with an aimed shot and wounded his successor, and also the author of memoirs, which are republished 500 years after they were written. A man with such a biography is obviously interesting to writers — Cellini became one of the main characters in Dumas’s novel «Ascanio» and a number of books and movies.

But today, we will talk about another brilliant jeweler. The great Faberge himself ordered the closure of the branch of his firm in Kyiv, saying that two bears in the same den are cramped. Who in Kyiv could create such intense competition for this kind of jewelry monster? Probably, his path to the top of the craft was free of unnecessary obstacles and strewn with roses? It doesn’t seem so — and it is even more enjoyable. It is worth learning more about this man.




It is not surprising that children and grandchildren of jewelers often become jewelers — they have someone to learn from and enough money for this not-cheap profession. Louis-François Cartier only founded a famous trading house, whose expansion to London was headed by his grandson Jacques-Théodul and to New York by another grandson, Pierre Camille.

English King Edward VII not in vain called Cartier «jewelers of kings and kings of jewelers» — a number of jewels of the British crown (and other crowns) were created by their hands. But the dynasty began, as already noted, Louis-François — at first a modest employee of the jeweler Adolphe Picard, who, after he retired from business, bought his workshop and named it after him.


Луи-Франсуа Картье (2 ноября 1819 – 15 мая 1904) — французский бизнесмен, ювелир и часовщик. В 1847 году он основал всемирно известный ювелирный дом Cartier
Louis-François Cartier (November 2, 1819 — May 15, 1904) was a French businessman, jeweler and watchmaker. In 1847, he founded the world-famous Cartier jewelry house / wikipedia.org


The famous «Fabergé» company did not emerge immediately either — its founder Gustav Fabergé, after moving from his native Estonian Pärnu to St. Petersburg, studied the craft for a long time with the gold box maker Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel, only in 1842 opened his first jewelry store, and the heyday of the company came, perhaps, not even with his children, and not even with his son Karl, but with his grandchildren — Agathon, Eugenia and Alexander.

A number of Fabergé masterpieces, including their famous «Easter eggs», contributed to the fact that it is the Fabergé surname that first comes to mind when talking about the jewelry art of the Russian Empire. Where such a strange surname comes from is an interesting question. Tradition says that the French Huguenot Favri fled from religious persecution back in 1685, settled in Estonia, and already changed his surname first to Favrer and then to Faberge.

But here, the famous Estonian writer Jaan Cross in his novel «Professor Martens’ Departure», tells how Gustav’s heir Carl Faberge goes from the Estonian church to the German church and, in irritation, shouts: «What did we get from those damned Estonians? Huh? And I’ll tell you: nothing except our impossible surname. Do you know what our last name is in Estonian? Vanaperse is our last name».

For those who don’t know Estonian, I’ll translate it — «Old ass», pardon me. I don’t know… There’s probably less aristocracy in such a surname and perhaps more nationality. However, it’s not essential, but the fact that the firm knew no competition in the whole empire. Or did it?


Густав Фаберже (30 декабря 1814, Пярну – 29 октября 1893, Дрезден) — ювелир родом из эстонского города Пярну. Умер в Германии. Основатель ювелирной фирмы «Дом Фаберже»
Gustav Faberge (December 30, 1814, Pärnu — October 29, 1893, Dresden) was a jeweler born in the Estonian town of Pärnu. Founder of the jewelry firm «House of Fabergé» / wikipedia.org




This man also had an unusual and uncommon surname like Fabergé, but it had no French or Estonian roots. He was a Kyiv, and this circumstance in the Russian Empire did not make his path to success any easier either. Jewish surnames are formed in different ways, and among them, there is this way — a curious and almost unique: abbreviation, shortened by the first letters of the characteristic of the founder of the surname.

This is how such famous surnames as Bryk (Ben Rabbi Yehuda Kohen), Bashmet (Baal Shem Tov — «possessor of a good name»), Katz (Kohen Tzadek — «righteous kohen»), Harpak (Hatan Rabbi Pinchas Kalman — «son-in-law of Rabbi Pinchas Kalman») and, take it as you wish, even Rimbaud (Rabot Mahshavot Belev Ish — «there are many thoughts in a man’s heart») — although the origin of the French poet’s surname is somewhat different.

Among these surname abbreviations, there is one that is very familiar to us. It is not quite clear what religious figure it comes from — whether from Moreinu Ha-rav Rabbi Shmuel Kaidanover («our teacher Rabbi Shmuel Kaidanover», in honor of a famous Polish rabbi of the XVII century) or Moreinu Ha-rav Rabbi Shlomo Kluger («our teacher Rabbi Shlomo Kluger», in honor of a prominent Galician rabbi of the XIX century), but it is certainly familiar to you — it is the surname Marchak.

Everyone knows the brilliant poet and translator Samuel Marchak, and the man about whom this story is going to be told is his great-uncle. And a representative of a poorer and provincial branch of the family — if Samuel Marchak was stillborn in crowded Voronezh in the family of a master of a soap factory, who was able to send his son to grammar school, his uncle Joseph Marchak was born in the remote village of Gnativka near Kyiv in 1854 (no grammar school for half a thousand inhabitants) and received, as it is customary to say in such cases, «homemade» — that is, no education.


Иосиф Абрамович Маршак (1854, Гнатовка, Киевский уезд, Киевская губерния, Российская империя – 22 августа 1918, Киев, Украинское Государство) — купец, ювелир, меценат. Основатель ювелирного дома «Маршак»
Joseph Marchak (1854, Gnatovka, Kyiv district, Kyiv province, Russian Empire — August 22, 1918, Kyiv, Ukraine) — merchant, jeweler, patron of the arts. Founder of the jewelry house «Marchak» / wikipedia.org


But people are different. Many people would have lived their whole life like that, but Joseph Marchak, at the age of 14, went to Kyiv to look for a place as an apprentice and, interestingly enough, found it! And it was the place of a jeweler’s apprentice: a pass to a complex and prestigious profession. Probably, he wanted it so badly that he could not do it any other way.

Finding such a place doesn’t mean anything special either, you can be stuck there for decades and learn nothing special. But this is not the case — in a few years, Marchak will pass the exam at the craftsman’s board and get the opportunity to engage in jewelry craft on his own.

This also means nothing: the profession of a jeweler is not cheap and requires a lot of investment. And Marchak gets married at the age of 19 — it is necessary to spend money on the wedding, to care for his young wife Lia and to support her… And it is necessary to prepare his products for sale, made of gold and silver — and with what money? Marchak tries to use his only chance — the wedding that has just taken place.

His wife brought the house 100 rubles dowry, but it was not enough, and the happy husband sold his wedding suit — that’s where it was enough penny in a penny for the first gold chain. One failure — and he is again a beggar, but he has no right to fail, and he successfully sells his first «masterpiece» and begins to build new ones. His wife also learns some of the more straightforward jewelry skills, helps her husband as much as she can, and so on all her life.


Ювелирный дом Иосифа Маршака в Киеве, Крещатик
Joseph Marchak Jewelry House in Kyiv, Khreshchatyk / wikipedia.org




Things went well, and a year later, Joseph moved to Khreshchatyk, where the most expensive stores, including jewelry stores, were already located. He rents two rooms in house No. 4 from the Swiss watchmaker Verle — an unmistakable marketing move: clients already know this address!

His turnover grows, his and his wife’s working hands are no longer enough, and he hires assistants for engraving works that require precision and attention; he first among his colleagues begins to hire women — if his wife can cope with the work of a jeweler, why are other women worse?

In 1890, Marchak traveled abroad for the first time, visited the World Exhibition in Paris and a number of European industries, and returned with new ideas. They were followed by international recognition: a medal with an honorary diploma at the World Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 and a gold medal at the 1894 World Exhibition in Antwerp, the world capital of jewelry. Then came the main prizes of exhibitions in Kyiv, Paris, St. Petersburg, Liege… 


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He bought his business from Verle and built a genuine jewelry factory in the house on Khreshchatyk, 4, which already in 1896 produced a total of 7 poods (112 kg) of gold pieces. His products are sold at fairs in many cities of the Russian Empire — Poltava, Kharkiv, Tiflis, but the most tremendous success is enjoyed in the largest cities — St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, well, and Kyiv, of course — Fabergé himself can not withstand the competition in this city.

In 1899, the factory Marchak perished in a fire, but even losses of 155,000 rubles could not stop him. The factory is rebuilt, and, like Moscow in Griboyedov’s «Woe from Wit», «the fire has contributed to her much to decorate». He restores the production areas, equipping them with the most modern equipment, using not only the labor of women, which has already been mentioned but also the labor of teenagers… And this, perhaps, is not good?

It is impossible to answer unambiguously — children worked 3 hours less to be able to attend school, after graduation, they remained in a prestigious job, and enough people were willing to give their children to Marchak in science.




The management of the factory was primarily corporate in nature. If two employees of the firm got married, they were paid quite a decent dowry at the owner’s expense, provided that they stayed to work for Marchak. It is more difficult to talk about the system of fines adopted at work — 1 ruble for smoking in the wrong place, rudeness and drunkenness, 30 kopecks for lateness, 75 kopecks for failure to observe silence in the workplace, etc.

It is often said that fines are necessary only to increase exploitation, but for some reason, there were always enough people willing to work at Marchak, regardless of these fines. Weekends were not only days of service but also religious holidays, and not only Christian, but also Jewish.

More than 300 outstanding masters of jewelry worked for Joseph Marchak’s firm — some, as mentioned above, from early childhood. Even Israel Rukhumovsky worked for him, who deceived even the Louvre with his art — the gold tiara made by him, allegedly presented by the Olviopolites to the Scythian king Cytofernus, was exhibited in the section of ancient art in the Louvre as an incomparable masterpiece.

Later, when Rukhumovsky admitted that he had made it himself, no one believed him at first — they said that the secrets of the ancient masters had been lost and no one could make such a thing now! Rukhumovsky had to make a second tiara to prove that even a modern jeweler could make such a thing.

The arrival of Nicholas II in Kyiv in 1913 turned out to be another triumph for Marchak — all official gifts to the Tsar were made by his masters. In particular, the model of the Pedagogical Museum (now the Teacher’s House) presented by the financier Mogilevtsev — its dome opened and served as an inkwell, and there were also compartments for pens, cigars, and cigarettes.

This is one of the few works by Marchak and his colleagues that has survived — time is ruthless, and people are self-serving. By the way, even after such achievements, Marchak could not get permission from the Ministry of the Court to brand his products with the double-headed eagle — the letter of a man of an undesirable nationality to the authorities was not even answered.


Украшения, созданные на фабрике Иосифа Маршака: «Брошь-черепаха с кварцитами», «Коробка в виде сундука», «Бриллиантовый осьминог»
Jewelry created at Joseph Marchak’s factory: «Brooch-turtle with quartzites», «Box in the form of a chest», «Diamond octopus» / jewel-fashion.com




After decades of successful work, unfortunately, Marchak was struck by a severe cancer illness, which led to his death. In his will, he divided his assets between his eight children while leaving a fantastic sum of one million rubles to charity. He never spared money for good deeds: he maintained a cheder (a Jewish religious school) at his own expense and generously rewarded those who had worked for him for 25 years or more (that’s how long his firm had existed!).

But his will was not fulfilled — he died in August 1918 at the age of 64, and the Bolsheviks, who seized his property, leaned on his last will and dealt with him in their own way.

His manufacturing complex, which occupied as many as 5 houses at the beginning of Khreshchatyk in Kyiv, no longer exists, jewelry bearing his trademark was destroyed, melted down, and remnants can be found in museums in the Russian Federation. His sons managed to emigrate to France, and there, the trademark «Marchak» continued to exist; they knew both the best and the worst times, but, interestingly enough, it has survived to this day, and it is quite famous.

Marchak’s son Alexander continued to work with jewelry until 1970 and then transferred the management of the company and the famous trademark «Marchak» to a talented professional, Jacques Verge.

During the surge of interest in jewelry art in the United States in the ”60s-70s, he offered the market products in a new style — voluminous rings generously studded with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds resembling small cushions decorated with garlands of stones depicting green foliage and berries, unusually bright and lush.

Brooches in the form of a bunch or brush, bright flowing shades, often decorated with butterflies and flowers, somewhat fell out of the traditions of more conventional French jewelry art, but this only attracted attention and had undoubted success.

Even King Hassan II of Morocco appreciated the art of the «Marchak» company, ordering gifts from it for his peers, for example, for the wife of General de Gaulle.

Representative offices of the House of Marchak, which has its headquarters in Paris, work in the United States, Japan, Australia, and a number of other countries. And how many people in Ukraine know about the company that emerged in Kyiv and the man who successfully competed with Fabergé himself, who was called «Kyiv Cartier» even during his lifetime? Do they remember enough the man who made the whole world admire the skillful jewelry of our fellow countrymen? What object in his native Kyiv keeps his memory? Doesn’t he deserve a better attitude of descendants?

Let us remember him, pay tribute to his talent and think how we can at least a little make amends to him, who did so much for the glory of his native land…


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