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In many respects the history of Wendt's is a potted history of Australian gold and silver smithing. State directories of the late 1800s show that they sold watches, jewellery, rings, trophies, church plate, optical goods and electroplate. They also repaired watches and jewellery.
Joachim Matthias Wendt arrived in Port Adelaide in 1854, just 18 years after the foundation of South Australia. He was born in 1830 in Denmark. His mother died when he was nine years of age, leaving his father to look after him and two sisters. Joachim became a watchmaker's apprentice.
He brought these skills to South Australia, quickly opening a small watchmaking and jewellery shop in Pirie Street, Adelaide. Business was good and so he soon moved to better premises in Rundle Street.
Wendt's soon became recognised as a top quality shop. The jewellery, silverware, watches and clocks were equal to the best which were imported. In 1864 and 1865 Joachim received first prizes at a Scottish exhibition. In 1871, Wendt's was selected to make silverware caskets featuring Australian motifs for the Duke of Edinburgh, who was visiting Adelaide and other towns.
So pleased was the Duke of Edinburgh with Wendt's craftsmanship that he purchased additional items and appointed J. M. Wendt 'Jeweller to His Royal Highness in this Colony', By this time, twelve silversmiths, watchmakers, jewellers and shop assistants were being employed. What could not be made locally was imported.
Wendt's reputation for quality was further confirmed by the award of two first prizes for silverware at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. Success followed success, leading to a broadening of interests, including an involvement in the building of the Theatre Royal, the Adelaide Arcade and the Freemason's Hall.
J. M. Wendt had married a widow, Johiamic Koeppen, in 1872. Her son Herman entered her husband's jewellery business and added Wendt to his name, becoming Herman Koeppen (H. K. J Wendt. He and his brother, Jule, in 1903 were made partners of the business, Jule was sent abroad to be the overseas buyer.
Joachim Wendt died in 1917 aged 87. Nonetheless, the business continued to flourish under H. K. Wendt's management. His eldest son, Alan, joined the business in 1919, becoming a partner. On his father's death in 1938, Alan became sole proprietor. In 1947, Alan's son Peter Koeppen Wendt, joined his father and they became the first directors of the newly formed private company.
The final managing director of J. M. Wendt's was Timothy Wendt. Five generations of the family held executive positions in the business until its closure at the end of the 20th-century.
A highlight in Wendt's long and successful history was to be commissioned by the South Australian Government to manufacture a necklace and ear-rings for Queen Elizabeth II, and cuff links for the Duke of Edinburgh, for their visit in 1954. The jewellery had to incorporate opals, the most magnificent of which was the 203 carat 'Andamooka' white opal owned by the Government. Palladium was chosen as the metal and the large opal was flanked by 180 diamonds. The necklace and earrings are illustrated.
A trade journal described the gift as follows: 'The opal and diamond necklet and ear-rings suite is mounted in jewellery palladium with the large opal as the centre of the necklet. This is flanked by elegant side pieces, hand-carved in an attractive scroll design handset with diamonds. The chain at the back is of diamonds, each set in a diamond-shaped setting alternating with links pierced in the matching scroll designs and finished with a diamond set snap.'
As Wendt's centenary year official history closed 'In this way Wendt's first hundred years were fittingly symbolised'. Alas, Wendt's has now closed
From: Carter's "Collecting Australiana", William & Dorothy Hall, published by John Furphy Pty. Ltd. 2005