Five Rare Egyptian-Revival Jewels
This group of important Egyptian revival jewels, all made by Cartier in the 1920s, turns a spotlight on one of the most engaging and enduring influences on 20th century jewelry design: the 1920s vogue for all things Egyptian that developed into a craze bordering on obsession. Unique masterpieces of the Art Deco period, these jewels highlight this very specific fashion, capturing a very particular moment in time, when artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship in precious jewelry reached a level of awe-inspiring brilliance. The theme, narrative and authenticity of these jewels turn them into works of art of great originality, powerfully resonant of the zeitgeist.
Ancient Egypt had been a design inspiration throughout the 19th century, particularly in France, from the time of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798, although the effect was really only felt in the jewelry world in the 1860s, following discoveries of ancient Egyptian ornaments by the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette, and around the time of the opening of the Suez Canal, by the Empress Eugenie, in 1869.
The mania for Egyptian art, artifacts and style spread across Europe, as part of a parade of archaeological and historicist inspirations, and became popular in England, first in the 1860s after the Prince of Wales’ visit to Egypt in 1862 and then when the British took control of Egypt in the 1880s; studies of ancient Egyptian art and ornament were part of Owen Jones’s design sourcebook, The Grammar of Ornament. Egyptian influence was to remain a significant factor in decorative design through the turn of the century and into the 20th. It segued perfectly into the wave of exoticism, of heady Arabian Nights romance that swept fashion and style in the early decades of the new century, while in Paris interest in ancient Egypt was revived and intensified by the Franco-Egyptian exhibition at the Louvre in 1911.
So that, by November 1922, after 18 years of exploration, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter made their momentous discovery of the boy king Tutankhamun’s tomb, with its breathtaking jewels, talismanic objects and the magnificent golden burial mask, the world was primed and ready to embrace a fully-fledged Egyptomania. Even before 1922, Vogue featured Egyptian fashions and interior design, and newspapers and magazines made frequent mention of Egyptian styles of hairdressing and head-gear, Egyptian fabrics and embroideries.
Cartier began to design and make Egyptian style jewels as early as 1910, and continued the theme into the 1930s. Their earlier jewels were designed by Charles Jacqueau, in Paris, under Louis Cartier’s inspired direction, incorporating motifs like the lotus and the pylon — the temple gateway, with its tapered rectangular structures — as in the brooch in this collection. The geometry and stylization of Egyptian art and ornament was perfectly in tune with the linear, two-dimensionality of the emerging new style that came to be called Art Deco.
It seems very likely that Jacqueau was inspired by the exhibition in the Louvre in 1911, and certainly, according to Judy Rudoe, (in her book to accompany the Cartier 1900-1939 exhibition), he was influenced by Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament, which resulted directly in two pages of sketches in the Cartier Paris archives. What is clear too is that Cartier’s Egyptian revival jewels, throughout the period of their production, were the result of very serious in-depth study and research, their design and creation underpinned by a dedication to authenticity.
© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans
After 1922, Cartier began to incorporate antiquities into their Egyptian-style jewels, and this second stage of Egyptian revival designs continued into the mid- to late 1920s, producing a spectacular series of one-of-a-kind masterpieces. The jewels made over a short period of time, were limited by the availability of the ancient treasures around which they revolved; they are believed to number 150 in total. These cerebrally beautiful and strikingly original compositions, possessing a powerful and imposing presence, are amongst the most rarefied of Cartier jewels from this period. They capture the spirit and spirituality of ancient Egyptian beliefs, the sense of mystery and majesty of the jewels, and they carry with them, in their fragments of the past, the mystical amuletic quality of ancient Egyptian ornaments.
Louis Cartier, who masterminded these jewels, was an avid collector of Egyptian antiquities, which were found for him by specialist Paris dealers. In his seminal book on Cartier, Nadelhoffer tells us that in 1914, one dealer in particular, Kalebdjian sold Louis Cartier a series of antiquities, mostly glazed faience figures, many of which very likely became the inspiration and the starting point for these unique jewels. The use of antique elements was to become a Cartier tradition.
The fan-shaped brooch (lot 410), spectacularly theatrical, of sublime proportions, is designed around a faience figure, Late Period, 716-30 BC, depicting the warrior goddess Sekhmet, shown in profile, as a lioness, bearing a solar disc and Uraeus on her head. The faience fragment is set into a lapis semi-circle, creating a night sky studded with diamond stars, framed in an enamel and stylized diamond lotus blossom border, set onto a single large stylized lotus blossom mounted in gold and platinum. The image of Sekhmet, powerful protector of Pharaohs, set against the night-time heavens, produces a strong, atmospheric effect; the use of lapis is inspired by the Egyptians’ love of this material, and their obsession with the color blue, the auspicious, protective color of the heavens, replicated in the use of deep blue faience glazes. The form of the brooch is taken from the flabellum, the long-stemmed fan formed of ostrich feathers, attached to a semi-circular base, used by the ancient Egyptians, in everyday life, and in burial, to signify and celebrate the spirit.
Magnificent and Rare Egyptian-Revival Faience and Jeweled Brooch, Cartier, London
Estimate: 300,000-500,000 USD
This brooch, made in 1923, the year of the momentous discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, is one of only two similar designs, made by Cartier London. The second, sold at Sotheby’s New York on December 4, 2007, was also semi-circular in form and set with a faience plaque, with a border of papyrus and a large lotus blossom below. Made for stock in November 1923, Cartier sold it in January 1925. The first brooch offered here was exhibited at the French Industrial Exposition, Grand Central Palace, New York, in 1924, and probably at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. It was also one of a group of Egyptian-inspired jewels illustrated in a Cartier advertisement, in the Illustrated London News, 26th January 1924, showing “The Tutankhamen Influence in Modern Jewelry.” The copy below the illustration which gives descriptions of the pieces and their faience antiquities, (incorrectly describing the fragment in the fan brooch as a sacred ram) says “Women interested in Egyptology, who desire to be in the Tutankhamen fashion, can now wear real ancient gems in modern settings as personal ornaments.”
Also illustrated in this advertisement are two of the jewels that had belonged to Iya, Lady Abdy, (1897-1993) the pylon shaped brooch, and the Isis pin (the top altered from the original). The pylon brooch (lot 407), with a later addition of gemstones to the lower edge has a glazed faience centerpiece, dated to New Kingdom, 1540-1075 BC, set upside down, and is framed in gemstones. The top border is set with calibrated colored gems, arranged in stripes, in a style that strikes both the right note of Egyptian geometric formality and, along with the monochrome scheme of diamonds and black enamel, perfectly contemporizes the ancient fragment. As noted from the advertisement, gems have been added to the lower edge of the brooch; Lady Abdy was well known for re-modeling and changing her jewels. The first wife of English shipowner Sir Robert Henry Edward Abdy (1896-76), she was born Iya Grigorievna de Gay in St. Petersburg, daughter of George de Gay, and escaped with her family to Finland during the Russian Revolution, before moving to Paris. She married Sir Robert Abdy on 23rd June 1923, but divorced him in 1928. A striking blonde beauty, over six feet tall (Cecil Beaton said she ‘invented size’), Lady Abdy was a leading light of Parisian society of the 1920s and 1930s, a friend of Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, and a regular in the salon of the Comtesse de Noailles. She was also something of a style icon, much photographed, amongst others by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and for Vogue by George Hoyningen Huene. Vogue, 8th December 1928 features a photograph of Lady Abdy, showing her hands held in front of her corsage or bodice to which is pinned the pylon brooch. The photo-feature is headed “A Jewel Song from Paris: The Wearing of the Gem is an Ancient Art to which the Parisienne Brings Modern Interpretations”. Her fondness for Egyptian revival jewels clearly suited her theatrical tastes: she was known for her fantastic costumes, worn to the celebrated costume balls of the time. In 1928, Vogue showed a photograph of Lady Abdy at the ‘Flora and Fauna of the Sea’ ball, given by the Comte de Beaumont, wearing “a miraculous costume, from Alex, representing sea-mist. From her waist at the back, large balloons rose in a cloud of tulle and floated about her silver cockle-shell head-dress.”
The pin (lot 408), shown in the Illustrated London News advertisement, is composed around a faience figure of the goddess Isis, Ptolemaic; 305-30 BC; the top has been altered, replaced with a square-faceted coral bead. The pendant from Lady Abdy’s collection (lot 409) is illustrated in pages from Cartier archives coincidentally on the same page as the fan-shaped brooch offered for sale here, and the second fan-shaped brooch, mentioned above. The rectangular pendant is centered on a faience plaque engraved with three rows of ducks, walking in rows, in graduated size, framed in a richly enameled case, the back enameled with Egyptian favored stripes and zig-zag, pyramidal frieze, and surmounted by a stylized lotus blossom inset with immaculately cut sections of jade, lapis and coral, the jade and lapis conjuring the Egyptian obsession with blue, the coral adding an exuberant Art Deco note of exoticism.
The spectacular figural brooch, the star jewel in Lady Abdy’s collection, is composed around a faience figure of Sekhmet (lot 406), the lion goddess, also depicted in the fan brooch, dating to the 21st-22nd Dynasty; 1075-716 BC. Here she is holding a papyrus scepter, and the sun disc, her attribute, above and behind her head, created in diamonds, colored gems and black enamel. Two sketches in the London design books, in the Cartier London archives (and illustrated in Rudoe, Cartier 1900-1939) present alternative designs for the figure, and hand-written annotations on the sketches suggest that the jewel was to incorporate the client’s own faience figure. One design sets Sekhmet against a gem-set curving lotus flower, on a semi-circular base; the other against the brickwork, presumably in lapis lazuli, of a Temple gate shrine. There is no record that these designs were made, and no design has been found for the brooch offered here, although it seems likely that these designs were made for Lady Abdy, who clearly chose a different setting entirely for her faience figure, and one that showed Sekhmet complete with her sun disc, and, as befits a goddess, lavishly bejeweled.
Rare and Important 18 Karat Gold, Platinum, Faience, Diamond, Colored Stone and Enamel 'Sekhmet' Brooch, Cartier, Paris
Estimate: 200,000-300,000 USD