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Bengel, Jakob

Famous for his Art Deco jewellery items made mainly from chrome and galalith, otherwise known as Schmuck. His company was based in Idar-Oberstein Germany and his designs are famous for their Bauhaus modernist styling. Galalith has been described as a synthetic material with unlimited possibilities and jewellery was certainly one of them, it was also used for buttons and boxes and many other items. It is made from a resin produced from casein milk and formaldehyde. Gala - is Greek for milk and lithos - is stone hence the name Galalith. Galalith jewellery was also produced in France and the Bengel company also exported worldwide. Many top designers worked for the company and the workers were highly skilled and trained mechanics and tool makers. Unfortunately the factory ceased production due to the second world war when jewellery production came to a halt and the machines were used for the war effort. In recent years pattern books and unused pieces of jewellery have been discovered and we are now becoming aware of the extent of the items his firm designed and produced.

Jakob Bengel began making watch chains in his factory in Idar-Oberstein, Germany in 1873. The chains were made from silver, brass and other alloys known as Tombac and Double Americaine. He was a success and in the 1920’s went on to producing geometric costume jewellery using chromed chain, tubes, findings and Galalith. He also created complicated constructed chain known as brickwork, this was cold painted in reds, blues, blacks and greens. The majority of Bengel jewellery is unsigned/unmarked (the Bengel mark is a pyramid stack of cannon balls and a cannon) especially those that were exported. In some cases because of Germany’s lack of popularity in the 1930’s, items exported to France were marked ‘Made in France’. The factory closed on the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 and lay closed and undiscovered until 2001 when collectors discovered the factory and its catalogues. The Jakob Bengel factory is now a museum. Two reference books have been published featuring the original drawings and pieces.

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