The 5 Most Renowned Jewellery Designers of the Art Nouveau Period
The Art Nouveau period (1890 to 1910) was defined by a free-flowing, decorative style inspired heavily by nature. In the realm of jewellery, Art Nouveau saw designers innovate crafting techniques and experiment with new materials. Art Nouveau jewellery was ornate, reflecting the unrestrained beauty of the natural world, and did not rely on the preciousness of its components.
During this brief period, five jewellery designers stood out amongst the rest for their masterful work.
Dragonfly-woman brooch made of Gold, enamel, chrysoprase, chalcedony, moonstones, and Diamonds (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Art Nouveau jewellery owes much of its lasting impact to French artist René Lalique. Apart from his eye-catching designs and immaculate craftsmanship, Lalique pioneered the use of unconventional materials, introduced subtle colour schemes, and imbued meaning into each piece he worked on. He approached jewellery making as a deeply expressive art form.
Lalique started his education in crafting jewellery under the apprenticeship of jeweller Louis Acoc. He studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris and went to university in Sydenham England.
He then lent his talents as a jewellery designer to Cartier, Boucheron, and Vever, before starting his own workshop when he was 25 years old. His brooches and combs netted him international recognition at the 1900 World’s Fair.
Instead of just using precious stones and metal, Lalique integrated enamel, moulded glass, ivory, amber, and horn, among other materials, in his work. He valued design over cost, and made great use of the unique textures and the interplay of light and colour with these different materials.
Lalique’s main motifs were plants, flowers, women with flowing hair, and fantasy figures. He realised such distinct iconography with rich, intricate designs that seemingly popped out of his pieces.
Together with his brother Paul, Henri Vever set up the House of Vever—one of the premier jewellery design studios in the 19th century. It was Henri’s work as a jewellery designer that cemented the House of Vever’s legacy in the Art Nouveau period.
Henri’s contribution to the movement also extended to his writing, as exemplified by his landmark historical account of 19th-century jewellery—La Bijouterie française au XIXe siècle— which continues to be referenced today by art historians and jewellers.
Henri Vever had been building his portfolio as a jeweller in the early 19th century, designing in the Renaissance style that preceded Art Nouveau. He helped define Art Nouveau in jewellery with his quality craftsmanship, enamelling expertise, and use of previously untapped materials.
Henri Vever’s pieces were a combination of traditionally fine elements and novel items. He used Diamonds, Pearls, and Gold with enamel, horn, ivory, and opals. Relative to Lalique, Vever still had a greater appreciation for convention both in the materials and the designs he employed. Even using nature motifs, such as leaves, women, and insects, Vever maintained a sense of practicality and classic beauty.
Son to accomplished jeweller Alphonse Fouquet, Georges developed his skill and artistry under his father’s wing in the House of Fouquet. Georges would take this experience and the wisdom he gained from Alphonse to run the company upon his father’s retirement. Georges then imparted his knowledge of jewellery to his son Jean, who would, in turn, contribute to the modern geometric stylings of the craft in the early 20th century.
Georges Fouquet had already started making a name for himself when he took the reins from his father in their jewellery Maison, designing beautiful pieces that showcased his enamelling skills.
He gained even more fame when he started working with Alphonse Mucha, a Czech painter who had yet to make a splash on the art scene. Mucha was first hired by Fouquet to renovate his boutique. Soon, they entered a professional partnership that earned them success through quality commission work, most notably for actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Gold, enamel, and mother-of-pearl pendant with Opal, Emerald, and coloured stones (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Fouquet, like Lalique and Vever, fashioned jewellery with semi-precious and non-precious items with artistic flair. Lacquer and enamel were some of his preferred materials, along with coloured gemstones when he worked with Mucha. He used less metal compared to his contemporaries, as he prioritised wearability in his designs. The dominant motifs of nymphs, plants, and insects unsurprisingly also featured in Fouquet’s Art Nouveau jewellery.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
While Art Nouveau in jewellery design was mostly felt in Europe with France leading the way, America made its mark on the movement through Louis Comfort Tiffany of the famed luxury brand Tiffany & Co. Referred to by his initials, LCT was famed for his groundbreaking glasswork.
LCT became the first design director for Tiffany & Co. in 1902, after the death of his father and company founder Charles Tiffany. He started the Tiffany Artistic Jewelry department in the Fifth Avenue branch. From that department LCT developed his signature style, crafting remarkable Art Nouveau jewellery pieces that were distinctly American.
Following the overall aesthetic of the period, LCT was influenced by the natural world. Butterflies, berries, and vineyards were some of the sources of inspiration for LCT’s work. He designed striking brooches, necklaces, and pendants with enamel, black Opals, Gold, and Platinum.
Continuing the pattern of family tradition in jewellery making, Lucien Gaillard came from a line of jewellers. It was his grandfather Amédée Alexandre Gaillard who founded their Paris workshop, which was then taken over by his father Ernest Gaillard. Lucien’s experience as his father’s apprentice prepared him to lead the firm just as the Art Nouveau movement started taking off.
Gold and enamel moth pendant with carved horn and Citrines (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Lucien Gaillard was deeply fond of Japanese art, and this fondness translated to excellent metalwork based on the Japanese style. His fascination for the land of the rising sun went so far as bringing Japanese craftsmen across the sea over to work in his Parisian studio.
Ivory, horn, lacquer, and copper were used alongside gold, emerald, pearl, and enamel in Gaillard’s Art Nouveau jewellery pieces.