Posts tagged Georges Fouquet jeweller

Chrysanthemum carved opal, enamel, diamond and baroque pearl brooch by Rene Lalique.  The highly stylised plant motif is typical of the period.

Fairy pendant by Henri Vever.  Note the slight asymmetry of the jewel so beloved by Art Nouveau designers.

Art Nouveau jewellery, like its stylistically opposed counterpart, Art Deco, refuses to go out of fashion and remains popular with collectors.  Last month, Christie’s held a sale dedicated exclusively to jewels from this decorative period which more than met expectations.  What is the enduring appeal of this short lived movement?

Art Nouveau arose around 1900 and sought to put all the arts on an equal footing with what were regarded as the higher arts: sculpture and painting.  It sought to liberate the arts from the usual, somewhat stifled historical references of the Victorian era and to elevate through intelligent design ordinary, everyday objects, and to bring these to the masses. This is the reason Art Nouveau is also known as a total art style, as it applies to everything.  This is also why it is more difficult to categorise the artists of the period as they were apt to put their hand to anything (although with varying degrees of success.  One of the greatest jewellers of the time, Rene Lalique, also became equally well known because of his glassware.

One of the greatest examples of this total art style is the Hotel Tassel in Brussels by the architect Victor Horta.  Everything in it, down to the last door handle has been designed to harmonise with the interior and exterior architecture.  It also uses an abundance of asymmetric, highly stylised plant motifs, a theme designers sought to make their own as they strove to break away from the constraints of the 19th century.

This preoccupation with the intrinsic whole is the main theme of Art Nouveau jewellery.  Designers were preoccupied with the harmonisation of the entire piece, how stones and techniques would fit in with each other to create a beautiful whole.  This is why the newly discovered Japanese arts were such a major influence, rendered effortlessly elegant by the sum of their materials and not the component parts.  Diamonds were used as decorative highlights, not as grand centrepieces.  Favoured stones included the full range of coloured semi precious gems such as amethysts, opals, citrines and freshwater pearls.  These were rendered even more vivid by the use of enamel- again a humble material elevated into an art form.

Abalone pearl and enamel fish brooch by Georges Fouquet.  Imperfectly shaped stones and humble materials such as enamel have been raised to masterpiece level.

A highly naturalistic iris brooch in purple sapphires, demantoid garnets and diamonds by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

In accordance with the principles of good design, the best Art Nouveau pieces were hand made by craftsmen with the deepest knowledge of the craft.  These craftsmen were highly preoccupied with how the pieces would sit on the wearer and their robustness combined with their suppleness is incredible.  However, this attention to detail made the jewels expensive and is one of the reasons for the downfall of the movement- it found itself unable to fulfil its commitment to democratisation.  Also, as it became more florid it was losing the essence of not using superfluous decoration.

Notable artist jewellers of the time include Henri Vever, who first exhibited in the new style at the Paris salon of 1900; Lucien Gaillard was a real innovator, recruiting Japanese craftsmen to come and work in his Paris atelier; Georges Fouquet, who worked closely with the modernist artist Alphonse Mucha over several decades; and the aforementioned Rene Lalique.

If you are thinking of investing in an Art Noveau piece, an absolute requirement for the piece is its condition: it must be perfect.  In spite of the cleverness involved in making them, many of the stones and materials used (such as opal and enamel) are fragile.  This must be checked.  A signature is also always preferable, and any supporting documents such as original sales invoices or working drawings are always a bonus.

The big jewellery houses also produced some fine examples of Art Noveau jewellery, the finest examples by far being by Tiffany.  The big Place Vendome names, in my view, fall slightly short of the great Art Nouveau designers.


The Biennale des Antiquaires was held with the usual fanfare this year in its usual venue in the Grand Palais in Paris.  It was my first visit to the Biennale and I loved the magnificent setting of the Palais, a fitting foil for the magnificent exhibits on show.  My head was turned by the variety of the exhibitors, but of course I went to see the jewellery.  Some of the big names were conspicuous by their absence, but there were a couple of newcomers, young companies who were outstanding: Cindy Chao and Nirav Modi.

In no particular order, the pieces I would have taken home:

  1. Rose Petal Earrings by Cindy Chao.

A truly original pair of earrings which epitomises Cindy’s fascination with nature.  Like in nature, no two are exactly the same and this is reflected in the asymmetric nature of the piece.  The earrings are fashioned in titanium- a very laborious process which nevertheless makes them very light to wear.  The mosaic pavé work of the different sized stones is a masterclass in the art of stone setting.

Asymmetric Beauty: Rose petal earrings in ruby and diamonds by Cindy Chao.

      2.  Padparascha Sapphire Lotus Ring by Nirav Modi

The central stone is a rare, unheated padparascha sapphire of peerless quality.  It is surrounded by beautiful D coloured diamonds that have been so finely set they look like they float on the hand.  Nirav Modi is opening his new showroom in Bond Street in London this month and we wish him every success

Pretty in Pink: Padparascha sapphire Lotus ring by Nirav Modi.

      3.  Art Nouveau Pendant by Georges Fouquet, exhibited by Epoque Fine Jewels. 

This Belgian company is well known in the high end art fair circuit, but I only came across it for the first time at the Biennale.  It specialises in very beautiful, very unique Art Nouveau jewels of museum quality- the value of these jewels lies in the piece as a whole, not the constituent parts.  This woman’s head pendant particularly took my fancy and would leave any true jewellery connoisseur drooling.

Museum quality piece: Art Nouveau pendant by Georges Fouquet.

      4.  Pink and Blue Diamond Necklace by Cartier, exhibited by Véronique Bamps.

This exhibitor had also been honoured by being awarded a coveted place in the Salon d’Honneur.  While many jewellers today would be tempted to overdress such an important stone such as this one, this necklace showed classic Cartier restraint and good taste.  The very pale pink pearls on which the pink diamond was suspended is a triumph of colour matching.

Restrained flamboyance: Cartier pink and blue diamond necklace.

      5.  Platinum and Diamond Tiara, probably by Chaumet, exhibited by Alain Pautot.

I couldn’t go to a jewellery show in Paris and not be taken in by a diamond tiara... Although not signed, this superb piece is thought to be by Chaumet, made at the turn of the century.  It is a lovely example of a Garland Style jewel and not difficult to see why Chaumet supplied anyone who was anyone with glittering headgear during the heady days of the Belle Epoque.

Belle Epoque beauty: Platinum and diamond tiara exhibited by Alain Pautot.