Whitehall Jewelers was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1895. It offered a selection of fine jewelry that included gold and silver pieces, diamonds, precious stone jewelry and fine watches. At its height, the company operated 386 retail stores across 38 states in the United States.
Whitehall Jewelers was acquired in 1903 by Hugo Marks, who brought in his brother Al to run the store with him. They changed the name of the store to Marks Bros. Jewelers. Marks Bros. expanded very slowly through the first half of the 20th century and had just five stores by 1946. It was, however, the largest jewelry store chain in the metropolitan Chicago area.
With the death of Hugo in 1948, the business passed on to three of his children. The Marks children emphasized expansion more than their father had, and they extended Whitehall's reach to Beverly Hills, California. However, there was still limited consideration of expanding company operations farther than the city limits, and the nine stores that the company opened in the 1960s and 1970s were all in Chicago.
In 1979, the company hired a youthful management team that included Hugh and Matthew Patinkin and John Desjardins. The new leadership strongly emphasized expansion. By 1990, Whitehall had opened 100 new stores across the country, most of which were in malls and other shopping centers. Seven years later, the company had almost doubled its number of retail stores as it operated 188 stores across 24 states. The growth spurt continued through the end of the century, and by 2000, Whitehall had 264 locations.