NEW YORK - In the time between World War I and World War II, Art Moderne jewelers looked to new modes of creation as a means of interpreting the rapidly changing world around them. The gears and bolts of the Machine Age offered an increased sense of speed and a new visual vernacular; the improvisation and syncopation of jazz music allowed for new forms of expressive dance; women, emancipated by increased employment opportunities during World War I, donned new styles completed by bobbed hair and shift dresses with increasingly rising hemlines. Inspired by Cubism, Futurism and Russian Constructivism, these jewelers aspired to create wearable art for the masses, rather than gem-encrusted ornaments for the elite.
Silver, Silver-Gilt and Enamel Cigarette Case, Gérard Sandoz, France. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
By the time of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoritfs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, it was clear that jewelry design was undergoing an immense transformation. While large design houses such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron looked East for inspiration, using Egyptian, Persian and Indian motifs, a smaller group of artist jewelers instead used their European surroundings as their muse. Gérard Sandoz, Jean Fouquet and Raymond Templier displayed pieces rich in design rather than material. Enamel cases by Sandoz (such as lot 336) were applied with intricate geometric motifs that call to mind the sounds of shifting gears and speeding engines. In 1929, inspired by changing tastes and dissatisfaction with the Société des Artistes-Décorateurs, architect Robert Mallet-Stevens rallied these three trailblazers and others to form the Union des Artistes Moderne. The formation of this group allowed Art Moderne jewelry to truly flourish.
The 21 April sale of Magnificent Jewels in New York showcases pieces from a variety of makers that exemplify the Art Moderne movement. What these pieces have in common is their bold nature, their use of unexpected materials and their allusions to modern society. Art Moderne jewelers were not concerned with the intrinsic value of their work; they felt jewelry should be bold enough to command attention from afar yet personal enough to speak to the wearer of the jewel. Many designers represented in the Magnificent Jewels sale such as Gérard Sandoz, André Rivaud and Jean Després had families rooted in the jewelry industry. Many were also deeply connected to the art world, further fueling their desire and ability to transform jewelry design.
18 Karat Gold Bracelet, Jean Després, France. Estimate $75,000–85,000.
Lot 338, an 18 Karat Gold Bracelet by Jean Després is a highlight of the Art Moderne section of the auction. The highly polished design composed of delicately balanced geometric forms is as chic and modern today as it was upon its creation circa 1935. Després worked to manufacture airplane parts and engines during World War I, and the impact of this experience is illustrated vividly in this piece. The convex hammered links joined by golden columns are centered by alternating baton and floret-shaped decorations, calling to mind the propellers and wings of an aircraft. Effortless to wear and striking in design, this piece is extraordinary due to the rarity of all-gold pieces by Després. Because Art Moderne jewelers typically used more accessible materials such as silver, it is likely the bracelet was a special commission.
18 Karat Gold and Lapis Lazuli Bracelet, Cartier, Paris. Estimate $7,000–9,000.
As the 1930s continued, larger design houses made note of Art Moderne’s popularity and incorporated the movement’s motifs into their repertoires. Two pieces by Cartier in the 21 April auction demonstrate this concept; lot 339, a bracelet composed of curved gold links spaced by carved lapis lazuli is paired with lot 340, a gold safety pin adorned with articulated beads and coral cabochons. Although the Art Moderne movement began as a means of departure from the traditional designs of such established firms, these pieces display how the vision of the Union des Artistes Moderne had become popularized by 1940.
18 Karat Gold and Coral Brooch, Cartier, Paris. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
Art Moderne jewels are prized because they champion the jeweler as an artist. Whereas Art Deco jewelers were masters of stones, utilizing new cuts to create sparkling narratives, Art Moderne jewelers were masters of form, twisting and joining metallic links in ways previously unseen outside of factory walls. Almost a century after the Art Moderne movement’s creation, the rapid pace of today’s technology-infused world still benefits from the harmony presented by their designs.