10 jewellery designers you really need to know about

ISKENDERIAN takes us on a tour of the storied houses that produced the world’s most coveted Art Nouveau, Art Deco and post-war jewels

Philippe Wolfers, Art Nouveau multi-gem and enamel ‘Glycines’ Tour-de-Cou, circa 1900. Sold for $260,187 — a world auction record for Philippe Wolfers — on 18 May 2016 at Christie’s in Geneva

Wolfers Frères

Step into the exquisite world of Wolfers Frères, a legacy that began in 1834 under the visionary craftsmanship of Belgian goldsmith Louis Wolfers. It was his son, Philippe, who breathed new life into the atelier upon his arrival in 1875, infusing it with the opulent spirit of the Rococo era. Yet, it was during the enchanting era of Art Nouveau that Philippe Wolfers truly found his muse.

Behold the splendor of Philippe Wolfers’ Art Nouveau masterpiece, the ‘Glycines’ Tour-de-Cou, circa 1900. A mesmerizing symphony of multi-gems and delicate enamels, this creation fetched an astounding $260,187 at Christie’s in Geneva, marking a world auction record for the maestro himself.

Each jewel bearing the mark of Philippe Wolfers from 1897 to 1905 is bestowed with the stamp of ‘ex[emplaire] unique’, a testament to its singular allure amidst the offerings of the Wolfers Company. With only 131 unique pieces to his name, Philippe crafted an ethereal realm where Art Nouveau flourished, drawing inspiration from the sublime wonders of nature and the captivating allure of Japanese art. In 1908, the maestro paused his jewelry odyssey to embrace the realm of sculpting, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate connoisseurs.

Rarely do the jewels of Philippe Wolfers grace the auction stage, their scarcity matched only by the fervor of collectors who yearn to possess a fragment of his timeless vision.

Henri Vever

Ernest Vever, a scion of refinement, embarked on a journey from his hometown of Metz in 1871, setting his sights on the grandeur of Paris to forge a legacy in the realm of haute joaillerie. Three years hence, his progeny, Paul and Henri, graced the hallowed halls of his maison, bestowing upon the world the illustrious House of Vever. Under their stewardship, the House unfurled a tapestry of opulence, weaving threads of Renaissance Revival and Oriental opulence into their creations.

Henri Vever, Art Nouveau enamel and gem-set ‘La Bretonne’ pendant, circa 1900. Sold for $270,000 — a world auction record for Henri Vever — on 22-23 October 2001 at Christie’s in New York

Amidst the effervescent crescendo of the Art Nouveau movement in 1900, Vever ascended to the pinnacle of acclaim, clinching the Grand Prix at the Paris World Fair with a trove of treasures adorned with enamelled blossoms and ethereal creatures. These jewels, eschewing the ostentatious allure of gemstones, exuded a rarefied elegance that captivated the discerning eye.

Henri Vever, a luminary in the pantheon of Art Nouveau, left an indelible mark on the annals of creativity. His masterpiece, the ‘La Bretonne’ pendant, circa 1900, achieved apotheosis at auction, commanding an awe-inspiring $270,000 — a testament to his unparalleled genius. With luminaries like Antoni Gaudí and René Lalique as fellow travelers on the path of artistic transcendence, Vever stood as a titan among titans.

In 1921, Henri, with the quiet grace of a maestro, bequeathed the mantle of the maison to his nephews, turning his gaze towards the contemplation of Japanese art and the authorship of his magnum opus, the three-volume ‘Bijouterie Francaise au XIXe Siècle’ (1906-1908). This seminal work stands as a beacon, illuminating the winding path of jewellery history from the lofty peaks of the Empire to the sinuous contours of Art Nouveau sophistication.

Paul Brandt

Paul-Emile Brandt, scion of elegance and refinement, emerged from the quaint embrace of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in the gilded year of 1883. The siren call of Paris beckoned him in the dawn of the 20th century, where he unfurled the banner of his creative genius, crafting jewels that epitomized the ethereal allure of the Art Nouveau movement. With an alchemist’s touch, he wove together various techniques to breathe life into his creations, imbuing them with the sinuous grace of naturalistic motifs.

Paul Brandt, Art Deco lacquer cuff bracelet, circa 1928. Red and black lacquer, silver (French marks), inner circumference 15.8 cm, signed Paul Brandt. Sold for CHF 27,500 on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

In the halcyon days that followed the Great War, Brandt pivoted towards the resplendent embrace of Art Deco, ushering forth a new era of opulence and sophistication. His jewels, ensconced in the era’s zeitgeist, garnered adulation and awe, particularly his coveted cigarette cases and bijoux. Adorned with bold hues and geometric flourishes in lustrous lacquer, these masterpieces encapsulated the essence of 1920s chic.

Yet, as the tides of time ebbed and flowed, Brandt’s journey took a new trajectory. With the dawning of the post-war era, he bid adieu to the realm of haute joaillerie, venturing into the realm of tinware. Though his jeweled creations ceased to grace the world’s stage, their legacy endured, a testament to his indelible mark on the annals of artistry. Paul-Emile Brandt departed from this world in 1952, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate and inspire.

Raymond Templier

In the annals of Parisian high jewellery, the ascension of Paul Templier stands as a paragon of timeless sophistication. In the storied corridors of the family maison, established with fervor and finesse in the illustrious year of 1848 by his eminent forebears, Charles and Louis, Paul assumed the mantle of leadership in 1885.

Raymond Templier, Art Deco diamond and lacquer brooch, circa 1929. Sold for CHF 187,500 on 13 November 2017 at Christie’s in Geneva

Paul Templier navigated the legacy of the maison to unprecedented heights, solidifying its status as a beacon of Parisian elegance. His indelible contributions to the realm of jewellery earned him renown as a luminary in the Parisian jewellery trade, culminating in the prestigious accolade of the Légion d’Honneur in 1938.

Enter Raymond, scion of the Templier dynasty, who took the reins of the family business in 1919, poised to usher in a new era of artistic expression. Embracing a radical departure from ornate embellishment, Raymond embarked on a quest to redefine jewellery aesthetics, drawing inspiration from the sleek contours of modernity — the gleaming expanse of automobile metalwork, the soaring facades of towering edifices.

His creations, resplendent in their minimalist allure, eschewed ostentation in favor of clean lines and polished surfaces, punctuated by sparing accents of diamonds and colored stones. As a luminary of the Art Deco epoch, Raymond Templier carved his niche as a visionary craftsman, his avant-garde designs emblematic of a seismic shift in the landscape of jewellery artistry.

Moreover, Raymond’s indelible imprint extended beyond the atelier, as a founding member of the esteemed French Union of Modern Artists. In the illustrious company of avant-garde luminaries such as Charlotte Perriand, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Eileen Gray, and Sonia Delaunay, Raymond Templier solidified his legacy as a trailblazer of modernity, his creations serving as a testament to the enduring allure of Art Deco elegance.

Lacloche Frères

The illustrious saga of Lacloche Frères unfolds as a testament to opulence and refinement. Founded amidst the sun-kissed splendor of Madrid in 1875 by four visionary siblings — Fernand, Jules, Leopold, and Jacques — the maison swiftly ascended to the pinnacles of success.

Lacloche Frères, Art Deco Enamel and Gold Vanity Case, circa 1920. Blue and black enamel, gold. Estimate £5,000-7,000. Offered in Important Jewels on 30 July 2020 at Christie’s in London

The zenith of Lacloche’s artistic prowess was witnessed during the gilded epochs of the 1920s and 1930s, an era marked by an effusion of creativity and cultural renaissance. A maestro of enchantment, Lacloche Frères conjured masterpieces adorned with a kaleidoscope of multicolored enamels and intricately carved gemstones, evocative of the exotic allure of the Orient.

At the vanguard of the Art Deco movement, Lacloche Frères emerged as an arbiter of style, with their iconic vanity cases epitomizing the zenith of elegance and sophistication. It was during the hallowed halls of the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Arts in Paris that Lacloche’s legacy was indelibly etched into the annals of history, garnering the prestigious Grand Prix for their jewels that brought to life the timeless fables of La Fontaine.

Bathed in the radiant glow of royal patronage, Lacloche Frères adorned illustrious figures such as Edward VII, the luminous Grace Kelly, and the regal Queen Victoria of Spain with their resplendent creations. However, the tempestuous tides of fate intervened with the onset of the 1929 stock market crash, precipitating the untimely demise of the storied maison. Yet, from the ashes of adversity arose resilience and fortitude, as Jacques Lacloche valiantly resurrected the maison in 1936, continuing to weave the tapestry of elegance and refinement until the dawn of the swinging sixties.

Rubel Frères

Renowned as purveyors of the quintessential Art Deco aesthetic, Rubel Frères stands as a paragon of Parisian elegance, synonymous with the illustrious maison of Van Cleef & Arpels. Hailing from the cultural crucible of Budapest, the virtuoso duo of Jean and Robert Rubel epitomized the zenith of jewellery craftsmanship, their mastery extending far beyond the gilded gates of Place Vendôme.

Rubel Frères, Art Deco diamond necklace, circa 1930. Sold for $591,000 on 11 December 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The annals of luxury are adorned with the indelible imprints of Rubel Frères’ genius, from the iconic diamond and emerald cuffs that graced the wrists of luminaries like Daisy Fellowes to the awe-inspiring Egyptian Revival bracelet that captured the imagination of connoisseurs at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Arts in Paris.

Their pièce de résistance, the ‘Dancers’ series, epitomized the exuberance of the Jazz Age, a mesmerizing ode to movement and rhythm. It is whispered that the genesis of this iconic collection took root amidst the pulsating rhythms of a Latino dance club in the heart of New York, a testament to the brothers’ unerring ability to distill inspiration from the zeitgeist.

With the shifting tides of fortune, the Rubel brothers embarked on a transatlantic odyssey, establishing a foothold in the bustling metropolis of New York. Under the banner of John Rubel Co., John Rubel, in his Americanized guise, forged ahead, weaving a tapestry of innovation and artistry that spanned continents. Branches in London and Paris followed suit, each a beacon of refined elegance in an ever-changing world.

Yet, as with all tales of grandeur, the sands of time are unforgiving. The ravages of war cast a pall over the Rubel legacy, and with a heavy heart, the final curtain descended on this illustrious chapter of haute joaillerie.

Suzanne Belperron

Hailing from the bucolic landscapes of Eastern France, Suzanne Belperron emerges as a luminary in the realms of drawing and haute joaillerie. Under the watchful eye of her mentor, Jeanne Boivin, she honed her craft, before gracing the ateliers of Bernard Herz under the name of Herz and Herz Belperron.

Herz Belperron, Chalcedony, Sapphire and Diamond Brooch. Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 29 July 2020 at Christie’s in New York

From the illustrious era of Art Deco, Belperron ushered in a new epoch of design, pushing the boundaries of conventional jewellery-making. With an unparalleled mastery, she unveiled innovative techniques, transforming crystals into ethereal forms and adorning them with precious and semi-precious stones.

Drawing inspiration from the global tapestry of culture, she wove together elements of Congolese tribal jewellery, the stark lines of Brutalist architecture, and the delicate beauty of Japanese sakura, crafting pieces that transcended mere ornamentation. Each creation bore the unmistakable imprint of Belperron’s artistic vision, meticulously tailored to reflect the essence of its wearer.

In the echelons of fashion, her brilliance found a champion in the iconic Elsa Schiaparelli, while her clientele boasted European nobility and Hollywood’s elite. Yet, despite her illustrious clientele, Belperron remained an enigmatic figure, eschewing ostentation and preferring her art to speak for itself.

An aura of mystique envelops her legacy, for Belperron, ever the purist, believed that ‘my style is my signature’. It wasn’t until the 1980s, with the auction of jewels once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, that her work garnered renewed acclaim. The acquisition of the Belperron name and archives by New York-based jewellers Ward and Nico Landrigan in 1999 marked a resurgence of interest, culminating in the publication of an illustrated biography in 2016.

Pierre Sterlé

In the wake of his father’s untimely demise amidst the tumult of World War I, Pierre Sterlé found himself under the tutelage of his esteemed jeweller uncle, who imparted upon him the secrets of their illustrious trade. With an innate sense of artistry, Sterlé set about revolutionizing the landscape of haute joaillerie, envisioning his creations not merely as adornments, but as exquisite masterpieces to be worn as living canvases upon the lapels of couture garments.

Sterlé, Set of turquoise, diamond and amethyst jewelry, 1965. Estimate $20,000-30,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 29 July 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Sterlé’s oeuvre bore the unmistakable hallmark of his genius, with each piece exquisitely adorned with intricate depictions of avian elegance and the ethereal grace of feathers. His creations transcended mere jewellery, becoming veritable objets d’art that captivated the imagination.

Sterlé’s ascendancy to the zenith of French jewellery design was swift and assured, with the decades spanning the 1950s to the 1970s witnessing his meteoric rise to prominence. Renowned for his deft juxtaposition of gems, he deftly wielded turquoise and amethyst alongside the luminescence of diamonds and other precious stones, crafting compositions that evoked a sense of unparalleled splendour.

At the epicentre of Parisian haute couture, Sterlé cultivated a devoted following among the elite denizens of the Faubourg Saint Honoré. Eschewing the title of mere jeweller, he preferred to be hailed as a ‘jewellery couturier’, underscoring his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of sartorial elegance through the medium of precious gems.

His illustrious clientele spanned the globe, with notable commissions including the crown of Queen Narriman of Egypt, consort to King Farouk, as well as bespoke jewels for luminaries such as the Begum Aga Khan and the Maharani of Baroda.

Sterlé’s atelier remained a bastion of creativity and refinement until its closure in 1976, when it was acquired by Chaumet. Even in his twilight years, Sterlé’s legacy endured, with the venerable maison enlisting his expertise as an artistic advisor, ensuring that his visionary spirit continued to shape the future of haute joaillerie for generations to come.

Donald Claflin

Hailing from the land of opportunity, the esteemed designer Donald Claflin embarked on his illustrious journey, honing his craft under the tutelage of luminaries such as David Webb and Van Cleef & Arpels, before gracing the hallowed halls of Tiffany & Co. in 1965. There, in collaboration with the legendary Jean Schlumberger, he spearheaded a new era of haute joaillerie, setting the stage for a wave of sophisticated design that would captivate the world’s elite.

Donald Claflin, Tiffany & Co., Coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli and diamond earrings. Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 29 July 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Claflin’s unparalleled genius found expression in his whimsical interpretations of the natural world, breathing life into creatures both real and mythical with his masterful creations. Yet, it was his enchanting series inspired by beloved children’s tales like Alice in Wonderland and Stuart Little that truly set him apart, weaving a narrative of wonder and delight into each exquisite piece.

Following his triumphant tenure at Tiffany & Co., Claflin ascended to the pinnacle of the jewellery world as a principal designer for Bulgari, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of high fashion. Though his untimely passing in 1979 left a void in the industry, his legacy endures as a testament to the enduring power of imagination and innovation.

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Aldo Cipullo

Aldo Cipullo emerged as a luminary in the realm of haute joaillerie, steeped in a tradition passed down from his father, a maestro of costume jewellery. Venturing across the Atlantic to the land of opportunity, he found his métier in the hallowed halls of David Webb and Tiffany & Co., where his prodigious talents were swiftly recognized and celebrated.

Aldo Cipullo for Cartier, rock crystal and lapis lazuli ear clips, circa 1970. Sold for $6,875 on 16 June 2015 at Christie’s in New York

Drawing inspiration from the storied legacy of medieval goldsmiths, Cipullo imbued his creations with a bold, avant-garde spirit, juxtaposing sumptuous hardstones like lapis lazuli and turquoise against lustrous gold mountings. His daring designs captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s, captivating the hearts of women with their audacious allure.

In a moment of serendipity, Cipullo found his apotheosis at Cartier’s illustrious maison in New York in 1969, where he etched his name into the annals of history with iconic creations such as the legendary ‘Love’ bracelet and the groundbreaking ‘Juste un Clou’ collection. A testament to his singular vision, he was granted the rare honor of affixing his signature to Cartier jewels, a mark of his unparalleled artistry.

Yet, true to his restless spirit, Cipullo bid adieu to Cartier in 1974, returning to his roots in costume and men’s jewellery, where he continued to push the boundaries of design until his untimely passing in 1984. Though he may have departed this world, his legacy endures as a beacon of creativity and innovation, forever immortalized in the timeless beauty of his creations.

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