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Marks, Percy (1879–1935)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Percy Marks (1879-1935), jeweller, was born on 6 July 1879 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of London-born John Marks, jeweller, and his New Zealand-born wife Eliza Jane, née Levy. The family moved to Sydney about 1880 and Percy was educated at Paddington Superior Public School. At 14 he was apprenticed to R. H. J. Jenkins, jeweller, and also studied at Sydney Technical College. On 7 March 1899 he married Eliza Robinson Barton with Congregational forms, and that year started his own business in Market Street. He advertised his appointments as a vice-regal jeweller from 1908.

In 1907, impressed by samples of dark opal from Walangulla (Lightning Ridge), Marks obtained a miner's right. Although winning only 'shin-crackers' himself, he recognized the opal's market potential, and bought all available. Captivated by its 'flashing splendour', he described it as 'the orchid of gems' and named it black opal to distinguish it from the more common pale form. Promoting it as Australia's national gem, he discounted the superstition that opal was unlucky, and made a collection for public display. He won the grand prix at the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London and at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

In 1919 the State government commissioned him to inquire into the marketing of opals in Europe and North America. He exhibited his collection at the Foire Internationale de Lyon, France, and in Paris, and presented collections of rough and cut opal to eight French museums and mining schools. Believing the opal trade was being hampered by miners demanding excessive prices, he suggested in his report that a small advisory board be appointed by the government to protect and harmonize the respective interests of miner, jeweller and the public. In 1925 the French government appointed him officier d'instruction publique.

With a 'courtly manner' and a 'clear-cut', 'polished' appearance, Marks had a boyish whimsicality. He delighted in presenting jewellery of his own design to celebrities. At a dinner in honour of Pavlova each female guest was presented with a silver-papered 'chocolate', in reality a black opal. Others to receive gifts were Dame Nellie Melba, Elsa Stralia, the American bandmaster J. P. Sousa and Amy Johnson. The opal presented to the Duke of Gloucester in 1934 by the Federated Retail Jewellers' Association of the Commonwealth was selected and mounted by him. Marks also made a miniature opal casket for Queen Mary's Doll's House. He donated sports trophies and charity appeal prizes, as well as presenting opal collections to the Mining and Geological and Technological museums, Sydney, and to twelve high schools.

Marks was awarded King George V's Silver Jubilee medal in 1935. He had a wide range of other interests: golf, billiards, swimming, yachting, fishing, gardening and Freemasonry. He was a director of the New South Wales Sports Club Ltd and a member of the (Royal) Motor Yacht Club and of the Amateur Billiards Association. Survived by his wife and four sons, he died of cancer in hospital at Moore Park on 23 September 1935 and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at £21,420.

Select Bibliography

  • Millions Magazine, 1 Mar 1921
  • Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker, 1 May 1934, 2 Sept, 1 Oct 1935
  • Sun (Sydney), 21 Dec 1919, 27 July 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Feb, 14 July 1921, 2 May 1923, 4 Apr, 7 Nov 1925, 19 June 1926, 23 Feb 1932, 21 Nov 1933, 12 Apr, 8 Sept, 15 Nov 1934, 6 May, 24 Sept 1935
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Feb 1934
  • Australian Worker, 2 Oct 1935
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Marks, Percy (1879–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marks-percy-7489/text13053, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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