Here are some first impressions of the Jacob Bengal Factory.
Amazing and overwhelming! Fresh off the plane & train, I received a late afternoon introduction to the chain making a machine, the upstairs machine rooms complete with zillions of punches, the offices and the brand new permanent exhibition room. (There was a terrible flood here in 2005 that filled the first floor, (Filled with steel machinery and punches), with water. It has taken until now to clean and repair the tools and create a brand new renovated exhibition/display space. It is a beautiful balance of old and new, and I just missed the grand re-opening on the space.
Any visitors who come to the Denkmal will receive a personal guided tour through all these amazing spaces for the too-low cost of 4.50Euros.
Sneak peek inside the Bengel villa, and view to the street from the factory.
These are two very special people I met on the first day. Mr. Braun is married to a descendant of the Bengel/Hartenburger family and is the patriarch of the firm. He served in the military and became more involved in the Bengel factory/Foundation after his retirement. Mr. Bauer (on the right), is a master steel engraver, 91 years old I believe, who does tours of the factory, and seems to be the only one who currently knows how the machines and punches work. I’ll highlight his amazing history in a future post.
Some of the beautiful stampings/machines/impressions of the space
To sum it up briefly from what I have garnered from reading Christianne Weber’s book, ” Art Deco Jewelry, JAKOB BENGEL, Idar-Oberstein/Germany“, this firm was founded in 1873 by Jacob Bengel to make chains for pocket watches. This was a booming industry and his firm grew, and both waxed and waned according to the economy, wars, availability of materials, and interest in the objects being produced. I would say that not much has changed on this site. Almost everything is still here save for the business of 50+ people working on site punching, plating, assembling, packing, etc~ You can read much more on the fascinating history in these few links: an article by Rudy Collier, a short blurb from the current firm that now licences the designs, and more…..
Of most interest to everyone seems to be the jewellery produced at this factory in the 1930’s. It is called both Art Deco style, and Bauhaus style, and stands out for being uniquely clear, innovative and modern designs, made with relatively inexpensive materials so it could be purchased by women throughout Europe. “Galalite” was a special new plastic made from milk and formaldehyde that came in many colours, could be polished and was not flammable like celluloid.
Being a designer myself, I ask who designed the hundreds/thousands of stamps/punches/finished jewellery pieces….almost no designers seem to be known. I am often told the steel engravers were the designers. I look forward to learning more about this but suffice it to say the volume of distinct designs is extraordinary.