The first major landmark in the jewelry industry's expansion south of Friendship Street was the Champlin Building, erected in 1888 at the corner of Chestnut and Ship Streets. The S.B. Champlin Company had been founded in 1872 by Stanton B. Champlin and his son George to manufacture gold rings and gold-filled chains. Having outgrown its quarters at Eddy and Elm Streets, the Champlin Company built a five-story brick building large enough to house its own operations and to provide rental space for other manufacturers. The venture was such a success that the building was enlarged on the South in 1901. Among the other companies that occupied the building were: the E.M. Dart Company, manufacturers of pipe fittings and pumps, valves and regulators; the Edwin Lowe Company, successors to the plating business started by Thomas Lowe; and the Hedison Company, jewelry manufacturers.
The concentration of these multistory factories on Chestnut Street increased in 1907 when James Doran and Sons built the seven-story brick Doran Building at 150 Chestnut Street. The Dorans, who manufactured findings, occupied only one floor in their building and rented out the remainder.
A similar pattern of development but a different type of building technology produced the A.T. Wall Building at 162 Clifford Street in 1910. Ashbel T. Wall founded his company in 1888 for the production of gold-plated wire. In 1901, the company employed 60 workers, and by 1908, it had outgrown its rented quarters and had commissioned the Bowerman Brothers of Boston to design a new factory. The result, built by the Thomas F. Cullinan Company of Providence, was the first example in Rhode Island of mushroom-column, flat-slab reinforced-concrete construction.
The mushroom-column system of flat-slab construction, developed by C.A.P. Turner in 1905-06, was one of the earliest successful flat-slab structural systems. The A.T. Wall Company occupied part of the building and rented the rest. One of the first tenants was the Clark and Coombs Manufacturing Company, makers of gold rings. Established in 1862, the Clark and Coombs firm is still in operation in the Wall Building.
The mushroom-column, flat-slab system was used again two years later when James Doran and Sons erected a second factory building purely devoted to jewelry-manufacturing rental units. This five-story building at 70 Ship Street became known as the Doran-Speidel Building.
In contrast to these large multiple-unit factories, the Manufacturers' Refining Company building, erected at 26 Ship Street in 1910, was a small two-story brick building, devoted entirely to that company's business, which was the refining of the precious metals contained in the floor sweeping collected from the neighboring jewelry workshops.
Not all of the building in this vicinity in the early 20th century was related to the jewelry industry. An interesting exception was the Providence Women's City Missionary Society Laundry, built at 155 Clifford Street in 1903. The Providence Women's City Missionary Society was a voluntary society founded in 1867 to aid the city's indigent women. A basic goal in their efforts was to create an "industrial home" where women might learn skills that would enable them to earn a living. A lack of finances delayed the creation of such an institution until 1897, when the Society, following the example of Trinity Church, Boston, established a laundry where needy women could find employment and learn the trade. The laundry's success enabled the Society to move it out of rented quarters and into this new building, designed specifically as a laundry.
For several years the laundry was able to support itself, but in 1908, a depression reduced the amount of business at the same time that large commercial laundries began to compete with hand-wash laundries. By 1912, both business and the number of applicants for positions in the laundry had decreased to the extent that the Society closed the laundry and sold the building. In the course of its existence, the laundry paid $42,000 to its employees, all of them needy women. The Society itself continued its other activities for many more years before publishing its final report in 1940. The laundry building was soon taken over by the J. & H. Electric Company, a firm that specialized in furnishing and servicing electrical motors and other apparatus for the jewelry industry and other manufacturers. After J. & H. Electric moved to anew building at 200 Richmond Street in 1929, the former laundry building was occupied by a succession of tenants, all involved in some aspect of the jewelry industry.
With the completion of the second Doran building in 1912, the building boom south of Friendship Street slowed down for a time. However, the jewelry industry continued to expand and diversify while Providence's other major industries, textiles and base metals, faltered. Because of the relative simplicity of machinery in the jewelry industry and the typical small capital investment in and personal ownership of jewelry companies, many new experimental companies continued to form. Though not all were successful, many made significant contributions in new products, processing and machinery.
Many products manufactured in the early 20th century, particularly after World War I, represented an imaginative entrepreneurial response by jewelry manufacturers to changing social customs and tastes. One such product was the cigarette lighter, which became popular with the increasing number of men and women smokers. Another was the wristwatch, which became a fashionable item after its widespread use by the armed forces in World War 1.
The Speidel Manufacturing Company, one of the first companies to manufacture the metal watchband, traced its originsto Albert Speidel, a German immigrant, who began as a manufacturer of gold watch chains at 70 Ship Street before World War 1. His brother Edwin designed an expandable metal watch bracelet in 1930 and went on to found the Speidel Corporation, which eventually acquired ownership of the building at 70 Ship Street.
New building in the southern end of the Jewelry District in the 1920s included a number of moderately-sized, steel-framed, factories, as well as some of the largest buildings yet erected by the industry. There was an increasing tendency to locate the new factories south of the existing concentration at Chestnut and Clifford Streets. The smaller buildings appeared for the most part on the cross streets like Ship Street, Elm and South Streets.
Among these smaller buildings were two built by manufacturers: the office and factory building of the W.H. Coe Company, manufacturers of gold leaf, at 89 Ship Street, and the N.H. Haronian Building at 60 Ship Street, built by Nazareth Haronian both to house his own small jewelry and novelty company and for rental use. An example of a similarly-sized factory built solely as an investment is the Alfred Company Building at 100 South Street, which housed tenants including the William C. Greene Company, a Providence jewelry firm that dated back to 1849. The two firms that built large factory buildings in the 1920s exemplified the general trend in the Providence jewelry industry toward high volume production of increasingly inexpensive jewelry.
The Little Nemo Manufacturing Company, founded in 1913 by Benjamin Brier, Charles Brier and Samuel Magid, specialized in imitation diamond jewelry, using stones imported from around the world that were cut, polished and in some cases, set by machinery. In 1928, the company moved from rented quarters at 70 Ship Street, to their new factory at 222 Richmond Street, where they remained for half a century.
The Coro Company, which started as the Cohen and Rosenburger jewelry firm in New York City, opened a Providence branch in 1911. In 1929, they moved into a new factory at 167 Point Street, built in the same flat-slab, reinforced concrete style of construction as the Little Nemo Building, which provided them with the largest factory in the jewelry business in Providence. Although the onset of the Great Depression made this expansion appear ill-timed, the Coro Company survived by becoming the leading manufacturer in the field of costume jewelry in the United States.
Paradoxically, the Depression of the 1930s stimulated the Providence jewelry industry, as precious jewelry craftsmen applied their skills to the design of cheaper, mass-produced jewelry. By introducing a quality approach, they raised the production standards of costume jewelry and stimulated its consumption. Coro had been one of the first firms to experiment in costume jewelry, and with its new plant, it was the best equipped to respond to the new demand. It consolidated its early lead and went on to become the biggest manufacturer of costume jewelry, on into the 1960s. The Little Nemo Company enjoyed similar success as a "syndicate plant", manufacturing costume jewelry for chain stores such as Woolworths. Costume jewelry has continued to be a mainstay for the Providence jewelry industry.
Before the success of the costume jewelry industry was apparent, the Depression had effectively put an end to new building in the Jewelry District until after World War II. Manufacturing had clearly become the dominant activity in the area though, and many of the existing houses were adapted for use by small jewelry firms. Perhaps the greatest losses to the old residential neighborhood came with urban renewal and the Interstate highway program in the late 1950s and 1960s. Complete blocks of houses were razed to create parking lots, while the older industrial area to the north, the original Jewelry District, largely disappeared with the construction of Route 195 and the subsequent completion of a court complex on Friendship Street.
In recent years, the jewelry industry has done most of its new building in Providence farther south along Eddy Street, as well in the industrial parks in the surrounding suburbs.Within the remaining portion old the Jewelry District today, a very few jewelry manufacturing and its associated industries are still an active presence, and many of the factory buildings have been adapted for reuse as office and commercial space, industrial and residential condominiums.