Posts tagged jewellery
THE ARTISTRY OF ART NOUVEAU JEWELLERY

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  It sought to liberate the arts from the usual, somewhat stifled historical references of the Victorian era and to elevate through intelligent design ordinary, everyday objects, and to bring these to the masses.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.

AN INSIGHT INTO PRINCESS DIANA'S FAVOURITE TIARA

The pearl and diamond Lover's Knot tiara, made by Queen Mary and passed down to her descendants.

The Lover’s Knot tiara was one of Princess Diana’s favourite pieces of jewellery, probably the piece that most people can recall when they think of her.  It was probably presented to her by the Queen on her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981 and it is good to see that it has been put to further use by her successor, the Duchess of Cambridge.  It is an elegant, balanced, stylish jewel with the sharp increase in the value of natural pearls its value today is probably almost incalculable, containing as it does the set of perfectly matched natural drop shape pearls.  Spectacular and rare it may be, but it is not a unique jewel.

Princess Diana wearing the tiara with panache: teaming it up with a pearl bolero jacket.

Queen Mary wearing the tiara given to her by the Ladies of Great Britain as a wedding present.  She removed the upright pearls to create the Lover's Knot tiara.

The original Lover’s Knot tiara, made in around 1818, was a jewel owned by Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg Strelitz, aunt and godmother of Queen Mary (grandmother of the present Queen).  It was a piece that Queen Mary knew well and which she much admired.  She did not inherit it, however- probably on the grounds that Queen Mary already had a lot of jewels at her disposal and would have access to even more on her accession to the British throne.  The tiara was left to the Grand Duchess’ granddaughter.

The tiara known to us was ordered by Queen Mary from Garrard and Co., then Crown Jewellers, in about 1913.  This was less than three years after hers and her husband’s accession and amongst other things, was busy remodelling several pieces to suit her own taste.  She created an exact replica of the Mecklenburg tiara; the original also contains upright pearl drops in addition to the ones suspended in the frame, which Queen Mary also copied.  For these, she removed upright pearls from the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara which she had been given for her wedding and set them on her new Lover’s Knot tiara.  The drops were then made detachable and permanently removed in 1932.  It was in this form in which the Queen inherited the piece on Queen Mary’s death in 1953.

The Queen presented the Lover’s Knot tiara to Princess Diana on her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981.  It matched her personality perfectly- romantic bows, diamonds to complement her skin tone and pearls representing innocence.  As she evolved as a fashion figure, she was able to incorporate the tiara into some of her more daring outfits with panache- it could be argued that the tiara and the Princess made each other iconic.  It is now worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Princess Tatiana Youssoupov wearing her Lover's Knot tiara in a portrait by Winerhalter.

A Bolshevik committee evaluating Tsarist treasure.  The Youssoupov tiara can be seen at the bottom left hand corner.

There were other copies of the Lover’s Knot tiara in other princely European families, notably those of Saxony and Bavaria.  These have not been seen decades and are unlikely to have survived.  There is a loss that must be mourned, however, and this is of the Youssoupov Lover’s Knot tiara.  Contemporary photographs of it show it containing large, perfectly matched natural drop pearls, the shape and size being superior to those in the British version.  As this was made for the Youssoupovs, the richest family in Tsarist Russia, we can assume the quality was impeccable, too.  From a gemmological point of view it is sad that this fine assemblage of perfect pearls was dismantled.  The tiara was last seen on the table of the Bolshevik committee tasked with valuing and selling Tsarist treasure.

The original, however, the 1818 tiara that probably sparked all those copies, is still around and remarkably, intact.  It was auctioned by Christie’s in 1981 with the buyers rumoured to be a noble, rich, German family. 

The original Lover's Knot tiara, from which Queen Mary copied hers: note the upright pearls on top of the piece.

VIVIEN LEIGH'S JEWELLERY TO BE AUCTIONED IN LONDON

The engraved eternity band given to Vivien Leigh by Laurence Olivier, nestling among two important bow brooches.  The brooch on the left is the most valuable item in the sale, estimated to fetch £35,000-£40,000.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier shorty after their marriage.  Their feelings for each other are plainly written on their faces.

To my mind, Vivien Leigh was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen.  Her romance and marriage to Laurence Olivier fascinated the public- they had left their respective spouses for each other and the electric talent and good looks of each of them inadvertently made them one of the early power couples of showbusiness.

Vivian Mary Hartley was born in India in 1913.  She always wanted to become a great actress.  She married barrister Leigh Holman in 1933 and started taking on small film roles from then on, her agent having persuaded her to change her name to Vivien Leigh, which was thought to be more theatrical.  In 1935, she was cast in the lead for a play called ‘The Mask of Virtue’, for which she received rave reviews and became an overnight success in England.  In the audience had been the actor Laurence Olivier, already a famous actor in his own right.  She left Leigh Holman, and Laurence his wife the actress Jill Esmond, in 1937.

During this time, the race for the role of Scalett O’Hara was hotting up and Vivien was obsessed with getting the role, despite being considered by most to be a hopeless outsider due to her being relatively unknown in the United States.  She flew to the States to meet David Selznick, the director, who had already started filming.  Film legend has it that she walked in on the set while filming the burning of Atlanta and he was instantly captivated.  Vivien, as we know, won the role and was awarded the Academy Award for her portrayal of Scarlett.

Vivien Leigh's 19th century diamond bow brooch with detachable tassel.  

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien continued to work to critical acclaim, both on the stage and the screen.  Her second Academy Award was to come from her role as the troubled Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film version of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.  Sadly, her life was blighted by manic depression and her role of Blanche exacerbated it.  Laurence did not know how to cope with it and the couple divorced in 1960.  Vivien found love again with the actor Jack Merivale but Vivien died in 1967 at the age of only 53.

When she was well, Vivien was known to be a highly cultured woman with immaculate taste.  Her clothes and houses were always the last degree of elegance without seeming contrived.  As a child of Victorian parents, her taste in jewellery could be best described as ‘restrained British’, with a few very good pieces and a fondness for sentimental jewellery.  The most important piece is undoubtedly a 19th century bow brooch set with old cut diamonds, with a detachable diamond tassel.  There are also several pairs of earrings set with green stones such as jade and emeralds, no doubt worn to highlight her extraordinary green eyes.

Her charm bracelet is surely undervalued at £1000-£1500 and includes a gold charm of a ‘Gone With the Wind’, inscribed ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on the inside.  A tangible testament to the passionate love they enjoyed is the engraved gold band, inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’.

Vivien Leigh's charm bracelet marking important milestones in her life.  The gold 'Gone With the Wind' book charm opens to reveal the names 'Scarlett' and 'Vivien' engraved inside.

‘Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection’ is open to viewing at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, 22nd-25th September 2017.  The auction will be held on the 26th September 2017. 

THE FRENCH CROWN JEWELS PART 4: HISTORICAL VANDALISM

The emerald and diamond tiara made for the Duchesse d'Angouleme, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's only surviving child and married to the heir to the throne.  It was sold in 1887 and mysteriously reappeared in the 1960s, its provenance forgotten.  it is now on display at the Louvre.

By 1875, the Third Republic was established in France- it was the most radical sitting government since that of the Terror established after 1789 and agitations by extreme right wing monarchists gunning for another Restoration only served to further polarise French society.  In the National Assembly, the cry of “without a crown, no need for a king” began to gain currency.