Designer Spotlight: David Belais, Inc.

Photo © 2013 EraGem Jewelry
Photo © 2015 EraGem Jewelry

The history of white gold is intimately linked with David Belais, Inc. jewelry. Indeed, throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s, white gold was synonymous with the brand name Belais. While the prominent New York jeweler did not invent white gold, his efforts in the manufacture of 18k white gold and his keen marketing strategies essentially put white gold on the map.

Antique Bracelets

The pairing of platinum with diamonds and sapphires was the quintessential look of turn-of-the-century jewelry, prolific in pieces from the Edwardian, Belle Epoque, and Art Deco eras. It would take only 20 years of prominent use, and a World War, to urge metallurgists to begin hunting for a substitue for the rare and expensive metal.

A cursory glance at history suggests that while many worked on white gold formulas as far back as the 1800s, including the Belais brothers, the serious push for a workable platinum substitute began in earnest only after the onset of World War I {1}.

As the war progressed, demand for platinum for military efforts increased. The costly metal was becoming harder and harder for jewelers to acquire, and eventually, in 1918, the government enforced a ban on all non-military use of platinum.

In 1915, Karl Richter of Pforzheim, Germany, successfully filed the first commercial patent for white gold. It is stated in the record that the war thwarted the efforts of Herr Richter to further develop this alloy for commercial use {1}.

David Belais was the next to promote the commercial use of “an improved substitute for platinum.” In 1917, he filed US patent #1,584,352 for a “white gold that will have the appearance of platinum and that may be used as a substitute for it, especially in the jewelry trade,” and which “will have more nearly the appearance of platinum, and that will be more malleable and ductile than any white gold previously used for this general purpose” {cited}.

By itself the patent was insufficient to launch white gold into the retail jewelry market. Already established as a leading jewelry designer in New York, David Belais used his platform and the new age of advertising to launch his brand new white metal alloy. Throughout the early and mid-1920s, Mr. Belais took out copious ads in trade and society magazines in New York.

He advertised in The Jeweler’s Circular, the industry standard for the American jewelry business (currently known as JCK), as well as in Opium Theatre and American Theatre magazines, The Rotarian, and even Popular Mechanics (a brilliant move, really). Replete with catchy slogans like “Belais Is Bought Where Quality is Sought” and “Belais Made Means Well Made”, these advertisements establish the clear mark Belais made on history with his white gold alloy. So powerful was this ad campaign that in nearly every one of these ads, retailers sold original rings made using ’18k Belais’, as opposed to ’18k white gold’.

The boldness of Belais knew no bounds. In the January 25, 1922, issue of The Jeweler’s Circular, a full-page ad reads: “The hand writing is on the wall and it is writ in large letters that David Belais’ White Gold is an epoch making metal. So pause and think. If you have had any prejudices against his metal, eradicate them so that you may think and see clearly. You will then be able to visualize the great part that Belais’ White Gold is bound to play in the Jewelry Industry throughout the World. Its future is assured.”

Another bold claim was made in Orpheum Theatre magazine: “Ladies: Do You Know That David Belais’ White Gold…is revolutionizing the jewelry industry of the world? It is pure Gold changed to a beautiful Blue White color, 18 Karat Fine and is guaranteed to stay white. Always insist upon David Belais’ White Gold ‘Gifts That Last’.”

They staked their claim and held fast, rocketing to fame for the introduction of a truly beautiful metal alloy perfectly suited as a replacement for platinum. It appears we have David Belais to thank for the abundance and beauty of vintage white gold rings, brooches, and pendants in Art Deco style. Its past, present, and future have most certainly been assured!

Notes

1. Ruby Lane. “White Gold is Not Antique.” Notes from the Lane Blog, February 8, 2012.