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Belle Époque jewellery: the fascinating history of jewellery

Discover the wonderful history of the Belle Epoque jewellery !

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The Belle Époque, also known as the Art Nouveau movement, began at the end of the 19th century in Europe and particularly in Paris. Revolutionary and innovative in many fields, this period was a period of abundant creativity and saw the emergence of a new artistic production among jewellery designers. Precursors and avant-gardists, Belle Époque jewellery is incredibly original and inventive. What are the origins of the creation of necklaces, pendants, brooches, rings and earrings at the end of the 19th century? Let us tell you the fascinating history of Belle Époque jewellery.

 

Historical reminder: What is the Belle Époque?

 

A few dates and a bit of history

 

The Belle Époque, a prosperous and exciting period, lasted from the end of the 19th century until 1914. Between the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the beginning of the First World War, Europe experienced a period of peace and prosperity favourable to economic and technical progress, as witnessed by the Paris World Fairs of 1889 and 1900, which were great showcases. The populations were swollen with optimism and unconcern about the future. The atmosphere of the Belle Époque was felt above all in urban areas, in the major European capitals. The energy that animates social, cultural and artistic life is as joyful as it is exciting.

 

The art of the Belle Époque

 

The Belle Époque is a period rich in creativity during which Art Nouveau was emerging. Art developed at a high speed thanks to artists such as Picasso, Renoir or Van Gogh for example. A new style appeared, leaving its mark in all artistic fields, from music to sculpture, architecture, tapestry or decorative art. The flowers of master glassmaker and ceramist Émile Gallé and the famous Parisian metro mouths of Hector Guimard, picturesque jewels of Art Nouveau, are the perfect illustration of this.

 

The art of jewellery during the Belle Époque

 

This Belle Époque still fascinates today with its sulphurous courtesans, its sumptuous lifestyle, its excess of reception and above all the jewellery and high jewellery which settled in Place Vendôme at that time. Thus, Fréderic Boucheron chose the Hôtel de la Comtesse de Castiglione: the courtesan lived on the top floor of 26 Place Vendôme. Many jewellers followed and settled there: Chaumet, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels… Their clientele was certainly nobility and bourgeoisie, but it was above all the courtesans, embellished ambassadors, who set the trend of this Belle Époque, which bears its name well, sumptuous and seductive. Let us mention La Belle Otéro, who was only faithful to Cartier jewellery, but also Liane de Pougy (her greatest rival), La Païva or even Valtesse de la Bigne. Today, these figures of courtesans still fascinate. In 2007 in Geneva, two sumptuous yellow diamonds that belonged to La Païva, one 82-carat “pear” and the other 102-carat “cushion”, panicked the auction and sold for 3.5 and 5 million Swiss francs respectively.

 

Characteristics of Belle Époque jewellery

 

Inspired by the numerous artistic innovations of the time, the Belle Époque jewellers marked their jewellery creations by the representation of nature and women. Very avant-garde, Art Nouveau jewellery cheerfully celebrates the animal and vegetable kingdom: they are recognisable thanks to their curved lines, their natural forms and their evocation of magic and fairy tales, of which the famous woman-libellule of the jeweller René Lalique remains one of the great symbols. Pendants and brooches are legion in the Belle Époque, as their surface area is larger to stage the artistic representation, offering their creators the opportunity to give free rein to their overflowing imagination. There are therefore a large number of Art Nouveau brooches or pendants depicting female faces with the body of a dragonfly or insect.

Belle Époque jewellery is set in gold, platinum and sometimes silver, set with old-cut diamonds, precious stones (the great return of the opal) or pearls (often fine). Some unexpected materials also make their appearance, such as horn, tortoiseshell, exotic woods, mother-of-pearl and especially enamel. Most of the motifs are ribbons, knots or crosses… We then find swirl rings, rings you and me or necklaces that can be transformed into brooches.

Belle Époque rings

 

Daisy ring, cameo ring or enamel ring, the Belle Époque ring, much appreciated and sought-after today, is a beautiful legacy of the creative vitality of this period. Harmoniously blending classical style and modernism, late 19th century rings are often of sumptuous beauty. Although yellow gold remains dominant in ring creations, jewellers do not hesitate to marry it with silver or platinum, a precious metal that has gradually become very fashionable. A few juicy anecdotes circulate about Belle Époque rings, such as the creation of so-called “erotic” rings, intended for dandies, representing the bodies of naked women. It is also said that the famous spy dancer Mata Hari hid a powerful aphrodisiac in the unscrewable dome of a poison ring. It is said that she used it to extract highly confidential information from the men she was seducing.

 

Precious stones in fashion during the Belle Époque

 

1900 jewellery is highly sought after by collectors of old jewellery, as it is relatively rare. Indeed, the Belle Époque was an intense but relatively short period: the production of jewellery artists was therefore limited. Moreover, their finesse and age give them a fragility that encourages to keep them to exhibit them rather than to wear them.

The heyday of the French colonial empire facilitated the trade in rare and precious materials. Many gems are therefore found in the manufacture of Art Nouveau jewellery: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, platinum, gold, silver… The exploitation of the mines in South Africa towards the end of the 1860s made it possible to easily obtain supplies of high quality diamonds. Diamonds therefore remained the stone of choice for the manufacture of rings at the end of the 19th century.

Sale and free valuation of Belle Époque jewellery in Paris

 

If you own Art Nouveau jewellery and would like to know its value, we will carry out an initial oral valuation for you, entirely free of charge. Do not hesitate to contact us and make an appointment in our boutique in Paris, in the 15th arrondissement.