The largest collection of Art Nouveau jewellery ever to come to auction was offered at Christie’s Geneva on 13 November, representing “one of the greatest moments of the autumn season”.
The ‘Beyond Boundaries’ sale represented something extraordinary.
Estimated between CHF 2,3 and 3,3 million, this ground-breaking collection was assembled by a couple with a keen eye for rare exceptional works of arts and designed. As for the jewellery section, it offered something like 110 Art Deco and Art Nouveau treasures, all in perfect conditions.
The sale attracted international interest, it welcomed registered bidders from over 30 countries across five continents, and the bidding to possess jewellery art creations was very competitive.
The results followed the auction house’s high expectations: 100% of lots sold, with every piece selling above the pre-sale estimate realising a total of $12,430,343 (CHF12,354,375 / €10,654,581.
These jewels represent the highest in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco craftsmanship, and they are the best expression of the style, and of the social and cultural influences of those times.
All the greatest designers of those years, from Lalique to Fouquet to Cartier, are splendidly represented, with jewels that mesmerise for they way they explore Nature, volumes and geometry.
The Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau, as an artistic movement, did not last for a very long time, as it spanned from 1890 to 1910. Only twenty years, with its peak in terms of design innovation between 1898 to 1906.
However, despite such a short life, the Art Nouveau was destined to have an everlasting impact on all the figurative arts, in terms of originality, innovative materials and completely different design principles.
Art Nouveau represented, in fact, an abrupt shift if compared to the decorative arts of the late 19th century. It was inspired by the Japanese decorative world, as well as botanical and feminine inspiration – and all this was completely new.
Forms flow freely, the details and the level of work are superb, and simply irreplicable today. René Lalique (1860-1945) is the indisputable genius of Art Nouveau.
The use he makes of exotic and fragile materials, such as moulded glass and enamel, was revolutionary at the time, as well as his iconographic choices.
Lalique truly went “beyond boundaries” – in accordance with the evocative name of this exceptional sale – as his art in jewellery gave life to extraordinarily light pieces, always soft against the skin, with their back as beautifully mastered as the front.
Like in this Enamel, Diamond and Pearl Pendant Necklace, top lot at the sale, that sold for $978,480 against a pre-sale estimate of $90-130,000. This jewel set a new world auction record for any piece of Art Nouveau jewellery as well as for a piece of jewellery by Reneé Lalique.
Lalique’s jewels are true works of art, they remind of sculptures, yet outstandingly different thanks to its innovative design, the introduction of new materials – we just mentioned enamel and glass but let us not forget also hard and semi-precious stones and ivory.
For Lalique, jewels were not merely decorative, they also had a meaning – hence the symbolism imbuing every creation of his. Such as the symbolism of plants like the ivy, an ancient symbol of fidelity and longevity; or like thistles, very beautiful plants that are also covered with thorns.
Apart from the 45 pieces signed Lalique, the collection offers other outstanding jewels, such as those designed by Georges Fouquet (1862-1957), who joined his father’s business in 1891 and by 1900 opened his Boutique Fouquet at 6, rue Royale in Paris.
Fouquet is another great artist in the Art Nouveau framework. His translucent enamels are so delicate in their wire nets of gold, creating poetic and naturalistic masterpieces. These are valued today more for their originality and design excellence than for the intrinsic value of the materials used.
We have selected notable jewellery pieces by Henri Vever, Eugène Feuillâtre, Léopold Gautrait, Vican and Lucien Gaillard, with more from Lalique and Fouquet, all illustrated in this gallery:
From Free Naturalism to Straight Geometry: Art Déco
“The general public became more open to modern developments after World War I. Straight lines found their place in clothing, architecture and, of course, painting. It was at this time that the first ladies’ suits appeared and accessorising them required stricter, more streamlined jewellery. Art Nouveau creations quickly became completely outdated.” ∼ Michel Perrinet
Art Déco (1915-1935) went in the opposite direction compared to Art Nouveau – abstract compositions, essential geometry, clean shapes and straight lines. All the contrary as the intricate, flowery and fairy Art Nouveau world, in strong reaction against the Edwardian and Belle Époque’s excesses.
The beauty of Art Déco jewels lies in the chromatic contrasts, in the union of East and West in the purity of forms and colours, in the architectural designs.
Art Déco represents the physical embodiment of modern principles, generated as a consequence of those great social changes that happened during and after the First World War – with women replacing men in the emptied industrial plants, and the wealth of the nobility being severely dented.
Art Déco was the attempt of injecting visual and psychological order in a world of rapid and somehow chaotic change.
From moulded glass, enamels and gold wires there was a shift towards platinum, a profusion of diamonds, rock crystal, onyx, massive cabochon-cut precious stones, colour-blocking carved stones and the straight geometry gradually softened into more rounded pleats, scrolls and spirals to better follow the feminine curves.
From the World of Nature, of Dreams and Fairies to the World of Modernism, of Machines, of Industrial Progress.
The strong accent put on the structure is very clear in jewels like those signed Raymond Templier and Jean Fouquet (son of Georges), and their clean, minimalist design accentuating important gemstones is sensational.
These sleek, streamlined designs influenced also fashion, which preferred freer silhouettes leaving ladies a liberty of physical movement unknown before.
At the same time, while accentuating geometry in their designs, jewellery designers also exalted colour contrast.
A contrast that was also achieved by the use of rock crystal, which perfectly balanced the colours in the jewel, exalting the diamonds’ brilliance and, at the same time, conferring a sense of purity to the design.
Discover more Art Déco masterpieces in the gallery:
Art Déco is so fascinating and interesting because, in the words of Laurence Mouillefarine, “it is such a vibrant, vivacious period. The time between a bloody conflict and the stock market crash of 1929. A celebration, a party. it was during the Roaring Twenties, when ‘anything goes’ was an anthem. Artistic disciplines mingled and merged; there was no hierarchy between the so-called ‘Major’ arts and the applied arts.”
Images courtesy of Christie’s