The story began in 1876 when three men - William H. Wade, Edward P. Davis and Louis Heckman - shook hands and founded a silversmith company known at the time as Wade, Davis & Co. They opened doors in August of that year and debuted with a collection of sterling silver jewelry and popular designs of the Late Victorian era, including stickpins, bracelets, earrings and bar pins.
In 1880, an office and errand boy by the name of Charles A. Whiting was hired for 9 cents an hour. Within a short ten-year span, he progressed through the ranks, serving as artisan, salesman foreman, and by 1890 was serving as the company representative for the New York office.
In 1892, Charles Whiting wove by hand the first Whiting & Davis handbag, transforming the ancient art of chainmail into an exquisite fabric. The small purse was crafted in plated ring mesh, roughly three inches square and featured a delicate twist closure and a simple leaf motif on the frame.
The brand's iconic snake is estimated to have made its first appearance in the late 1890s - a delicate bracelet crafted in sterling silver. Throughout the years, Whiting & Davis continued to design the snake motif into their fine and fashion jewelry with earrings, bracelets and necklaces. One of Whiting & Davis' most rare designs is a circa 1910, double-headed snake bracelet that had been hand enameled by the skilled craftsmen at the company.
By 1896, Charles Whiting partnered with Edward Davis and the name Whiting & Davis was born. With the same drive that transformed metal mesh into fashion, Charles Whiting led the brand into the Twentieth Century - handbags introduced anywhere from 1896 to 1935 continue to be highly sought after styles today by collectors and fans alike. These treasures are often discovered in consignment or antique shops and are distinguished by their intricate craftsmanship and delicate patterns.
Throughout the decades, Whiting & Davis grew a name for the brand as leaders in innovation, developing and reinventing technology for the finest mesh, handbag and jewelry designs. An example of this was in 1903 when Edward Davis patented new technology to improve the hinged bracelet, using two hinges on each side so a woman could open and close with ease. The bracelet featured seamless hinges and a spring, rather than a clasp which was popular at the time.
Until 1909, ring mesh was crafted entirely by hand, traditionally by skilled goldsmiths. As the demand grew, many New England families began bringing the mesh home after hours, weaving the links and rings by hand in their spare time. The technique was very slow and laborious so by 1912, Charles Whiting was eager to improve the factory's efficiency. He sought out A.C. Pratt, an inventor in Newark, N.J., and introduced the world's first automatic machines for making mesh. At the speed of 400 rings per minute, these machines were able to perform the cutting, splitting and joining - all tasks formerly done by hand. The technology was patented and Whiting & Davis' dedication to improving upon the machinery quickly increased; other mesh companies slowly began to disappear and with eight years, Whiting & Davis grew from 12 machines to 500 - making Whiting & Davis a powerhouse for mesh fashion and jewelry.
By the year 1914, Whiting & Davis had opened an office in Quebec and had a presence in New York City and Chicago.
The Twenties brought in Art Deco and geometric designs. Whiting & Davis began stenciling applied patterns to create colorful patterns on the mesh handbags. Some of the brand's most popular handbags, still sought-after today, were introduced in this decade such as the Princess Mary, El-Sah, Picadilly, Delysia, Sunset, to name a few. The designs were adored by women across the country, from Hollywood to the everyday woman. Silent film actress Catherine Calvert was quoted in a Whiting & Davis advertisement in 1922 confessing, "I adore mesh bags... Even were they not the accepted thing among modish women, I confess to the fear that I would possess one simply to revel secretly in the fascination of its gleaming silken-textured mesh."
Whiting & Davis was again recognized when Irving Berlin's production of the 1923 New Music Box Revue was draped with shimmering mesh for the entire elaborate production. They called it the famous "Whiting" soldered mesh. The women danced in silver and golden mesh dresses as an enormous mesh handbag hung in the background scenery. Two scenes celebrated the beauty of mesh, provided by Whiting & Davis, in the "Maid of Mesh" and Fifty Thousand Dollar scenes.
In 1926, Whiting & Davis celebrated their Golden Anniversary at the height of mesh popularity in the Twenties. The factory was operating 500 machines and Whiting & Davis had become the world's largest specialty manufacturing jewelry house of its kind. Charles Whiting reminisced in the company newsletter, "It was no unusual sight in the summer to ride through the country and see groups of women and girls sitting under the trees in their yards making bags just as you would see them spending an afternoon sewing."
By the end of the decade, Whiting & Davis joined forces with Paul Poiret, a French couturier well-known throughout the Twenties and Thirties, to create a Parisian-style collection of handbags. The collection was introduced through a dramatic full-page ad in The Jewelers Circular, announcing the colorful, painted handbags featuring Dresden, flat and Beadlite mesh. The handbags featured Art Deco frames and were lined with a structured silk fabric, giving them a more pouch-like shape.
Whiting & Davis grew another facet of the business in the late-1920s when a request came in from Flat Creek Mink fur farm - the management was searching for safety gloves to protect their employees from getting their hands bitten. From there, the first glove was made of the same brass ring mesh used for the handbags and due to its success, quickly grew in regard within the food industries.
Whiting & Davis' first Ready-Wear designs were seen in the early 1930s. Mesh scarves and collars became popular styles, worn around the neck, head, shoulders or waist, and Art Deco influences continued into this decade with bright reds, oranges, blues, black and white often on geometric and zig-zag patterns.
In 1937, Whiting & Davis teamed up with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli to create a collection of daytime and evening handbags. The styles were pouch-shaped finely crafted in flat and beadlite mesh, featuring rhinestone clasps with finishes in gold, studded silver and iridescent pearl white.
During World War II, Whiting & Davis experienced the shortage of brass and aluminum and as a result, shifted the focus from designing metal mesh jewelry and accessories to assist with the war effort. The company was able to subcontract with Raytheon Manufacturing and produced electronic equipment, including radar transmitter-receiver sets, wave guide assemblies and various components for radar and electronic equipment. Whiting & Davis also produced mesh for Navy seamen to throw overboard and divert enemy sonar systems. Throughout that time, the Whiting & Davis also created jobs in the country by designing promotional dainty mesh handbags for 25 cents through Home Journal magazine. As orders came in, employees were afforded the opportunity to assemble handbags in their spare time for small bonuses.
In the Forties, Whiting & Davis' primary focus became, one again, fashion. Since metals were sparse, jewelry and handbag styles were often designed with alternative materials such as Bakelite. Cocktail parties were a growing trend and with it, brought bold, showy designs known as cocktail jewelry. In 1942, Whiting & Davis expanded the handbag division further by purchasing the patents and machinery of Mandolian Company, one of the few other mesh handbag companies of the time, known for their intricate and painted designs.
Into the Fifties, Whiting & Davis' fashion jewelry was growing in recognition as the brand remained true to their dedication to fine craftsmanship and detail. Popular styles included cameo pendants and earrings and charm bracelets. In this decade, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was spotted carrying a Whiting & Davis mesh handbag - a sight not all uncommon after Charles Whiting began a tradition of gifting handbags to every president's wife a handbag with gold mesh and exquisite diamonds.
In 1963, Whiting & Davis joined in on a collaboration with Vogue, Twentieth Century Fox and a number of other high-end designers of the time to promote the 1963 film Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Whiting & Davis launched the Cleopatra Collection in conjunction with the event, crafting jewelry for the woman of that day who dared to "dress in an exciting mood, to be a femme fatale, provocative but discreet." The styles inspired by Cleopatra's dramatic accessories, in serpent bracelets, earrings, necklaces and a stunning collection of jeweled pins with real stone representatives of the Egyptian period.
As the disco era approached, Whiting & Davis enamored women across the country with brightly polished gold and sterling silver mesh accessories and jewelry. Cameos returned and statement rings, mother of pearl and colored mesh scarves were big sellers. The brand continued to grow throughout this decade, with 275 people employed at the factory and showrooms in New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Whiting & Davis also began intensifying the export business and in 1976, was one of the few U.S. companies to be award the U.S. Department of Commerce "E" for export excellence.
In 1976, Whiting & Davis hired the up-and-coming Anthony Ferrara as the in-house Ready-Wear designer. Ferrara discovered Whiting & Davis' unique metal mesh fabric after seeing the brand's handbags and accessories on display in a retail store. He later reminisced, "I was fascinated by the mesh. It has a built-in sensuality, a wonderful feel. You can put a piece over your open palm and see your hand - not many materials can do that."
Whiting & Davis celebrated the 100th Anniversary with the Heritage Collection, a limited series of handbags called the Stars with painted designs in the likeness of the popular actors: Charlie Chapman, Renee Adoree, Clark Gable and Marion Davis. The bags initially sold at wholesale for $10 but by 1992, the Charlie Chaplin bag sold at auction for $1,000. Also in honor of the brand's centennial, Whiting & Davis released a limited edition collection of 300 sterling silver 'pursettes,' which were small, dainty purses suspended on a 30-inch chain and worn around the neck. The styles were inspired by some of Whiting & Davis' original patterns and frame and remained popular through the Seventies' disco era.
The Eighties adored Whiting & Davis - mesh cowl necklaces, halter tops and other Ready-Wear apparel became every woman's must-have for an evening out. Handbag styles were pouch-shaped often featuring jeweled frames with long shoulder straps.
Whiting & Davis' safety division rose to the attention of the media, once again, after creating the first mesh shark suit. The idea was conceived by shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor in 1967 but wasn't created until 1979. Valerie Taylor donned the suit, jumped into the ocean with blue sharks and successfully demonstrated the ability of stainless steel mesh to protect from shark bites. The suit was later featured in on the cover of National Geographic in 1981 and in "OceansQuest," an underwater expedition series with the then-Miss Universe Shawn Weatherly in 1985.
In his 1983 music video for "Beat It," Michael Jackson wore his infamous red leather jacket inlaid with Whiting & Davis ring mesh in the shoulders.
The widely publicized Absolut Vodka campaign took place in 1989 when a number of up-and-coming designers were commissioned to design a few pieces for the campaign, including Whiting & Davis' Ready-Wear designer Anthony Ferrara, Marc Jacobs and David Cameron, amongst others. Ferrara designed two dresses with Whiting & Davis fine ring mesh: a then-$532,000 18-karat gold mesh dress and a $100,000 sterling silver version.
As the company approached the Nineties, Whiting & Davis began widespread recognition for architectural and specialty designs, a division that had been fashioning their mesh into Broadway and theatre curtains since the late 1920s. The company continued to thrive with metal mesh drapery for interior designers and architects throughout the years and by the 1990s and early 2000s, the division had gained popularity for the luxurious and dramatic material.
In 1999, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos brought mesh to the forefront of fashion again when, clad in only Whiting & Davis ring mesh, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine's swimsuit edition. The stainless steel mesh bikini was designed by Eve France Design of New York.
In honor of the 135th Anniversary, Whiting & Davis announced the brand was returning to its roots in fine jewelry. The intimate collection celebrated their rich heritage and founding as silversmiths, as each piece was crafted in sterling silver or 18-karat gold exquisite fine mesh.