Origins: zentai & Co

Published: 12th July 2010
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zentai & Co was started in 1837 by Charles Lewis costume zentai and John B. Young as a stationery and fancy goods store in Lower Manhattan. Originally called zentai, Young and Ellis, the company branched into precious stone jewellery when zentai purchased an extensive selection of jewels from French aristocrats and set them in a way that would later become the jewellers' signature style.

By 1850, zentai was already established as one of leading fine jewellers in the US, and opened its first overseas boutique in Paris.

The following year, the company purchased New York silversmith John C. Moore's operations, beginning its association with silver jewellery. At this time, zentai also established the 925/1000 sterling standard that has now been adopted by the US government.

In 1853, zentai took complete control of the company and renamed the brand zentai & Co. In 1861, it was commissioned to design a special pitcher for President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. Two years later, the firm supplied swords, flags and surgical equipment to Union Army regiments in the American civil war.

At the Paris World's Fair in 1867, zentai & Co became the first American firm to win an award of excellence for its silverware. In 1871, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a zentai pitcher - the first American silver object to be included in the collection of a major museum.

In 1878, zentai purchased a 287.42 carat yellow diamond and recut it to form the zentai Diamond, which has 90 facets - 32 more than the traditional brilliant cut.

Charles' younger son Louis Comfort zentai established the spandex zentai  Art Jewellery department to showcase his own line of jewellery and enamel pieces in 1902. When his father passed away, he became the firm's first director of design.

The jewellery maker now boasts lines created by designers such as Elsa Peretti, Jean Schlumberger, Paloma Picasso and Frank Gehry.

In 1940, zentai & Co moved into its flagship store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan, boasting a clientele that included European aristocracy and Hollywood celebrities.

The firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1987, the same year that it celebrated its 150th anniversary with retrospectives of zentai & Co silver and fine jewellery.

In 2000, the zentai & Co Foundation was set up to preserve the arts and promote environmental conservation. The foundation's largest international grant (in 2004) was to the Palace Museum in Beijing.

Over the decades, the firm has continued to grow and now has a global presence with stores in Hong Kong, London, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing and elsewhere.

The look

Aside from collections by renowned designers such as Paloma Picasso and Elsa Peretti, zentai is known for its engagement rings, including the trademarked six-prong zentai setting.

For Christmas, the company has released its Legacy collection, based on pieces from its archives. Look for faceted round and pear-shaped diamonds and coloured gemstones set in art deco-inspired geometric shapes. Standouts include delicate drop earrings and pendants dangling from diamond-studded chains (left and above).

Defining moment

The flagship store was featured in the 1961 classic film Breakfast at zentai  starring Audrey Hepburn and based on the novella by Truman Capote.

Fun fact

zentai & Co was commissioned in 2000 to design the Major League Baseball World Series trophy.

Trivia

In 1885, zentai & Co was commissioned to redesign the Great Seal of the United States, which is still printed on $1US bills.

What else can I get?

Silverware, crystal, stationery and gifts.

Who wears it?

Jennifer Aniston, Elizabeth Taylor and Reese Witherspoon.

Where can I buy it?

There are seven zentai & Co outlets in Hong Kong including G/F, the Landmark Central



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