In celebration of France’s national holiday, we are marking the occasion with a selection of our finest French jewellery. The birthplace of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, and home to illustrious firms such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, the exceptional quality and craftsmanship of French jewellery has long established its reputation amongst collectors and connoisseurs.
A fortress-prison in central Paris, the Bastille symbolised the absolutism of the monarchy to the French people. On the 14th of July 1789, hordes of angry protesters stormed the prison, freeing the inmates and gaining control of the cache of ammunition and gunpowder housed within. A pivotal event in French history, the Storming of the Bastille would subsequently lead to the abolition of feudalism, and to the passing of the ‘Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen’ by the National Assembly in August 1789. This culminated in the declaration of the First Republic in 1792, and in the executions of King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette during the following year.
The French Revolution plunged the country in to political turmoil, with constant upheavals and conflicts resulting in numerous regime changes which lasted for most of the nineteenth century. In 1870, the foundation of the Third Republic restored stability to France, and heralded a period of peace and prosperity under which the arts flourished. A new class of affluent industrialists and bourgeoisie provided plentiful patrons, creating the perfect conditions under which the jewellery industry could thrive. It is therefore no coincidence that numerous firms rose to prominence during this period, including Boucheron and Cartier. Alongside these larger houses, a new breed of jewellers emerged, who saw themselves as artists rather than craftsmen or merchants. Prioritising the visual merit of the materials over their intrinsic values, these makers established the Art Nouveau style which came to prominence in the 1890s. Characterised by sinuous, free-flowing lines and asymmetry, makers such as René Lalique and Georges Fouquet are synonymous with this movement.
Simultaneously, the Belle Époque style was developed, gaining popularity in the 1890s and continuing in to the 1900s. Incorporating bows, foliage and garlands, inspiration for these pieces was drawn from the eighteenth-century court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Technological innovations meant that platinum replaced gold and silver as the metal of choice for these designs – the supreme strength of the metal allowing jewellers to experiment with intricate settings, its whiteness perfectly accentuating the brilliance of diamonds.
Taking its name from the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ of 1925, the Art Deco period was characterised by new and daring forms which reflected the societal changes that had occurred during and in the wake of the Great War. In the 1920s and 30s, Paris stood at the epicentre of artistic inspiration, and was at the forefront of this new design movement. A bold and architectural style, Art Deco designers found inspiration in modern innovations and technologies (including aeroplanes and skyscrapers), whilst ancient and tribal art forms were also a strong influence. Paris’s Place Vendôme was alive during this period, with firms such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels becoming synonymous with innovative design and exquisite craftsmanship, whilst fashions were transformed by couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, who advocated the gamine look of shorter hemlines and cropped hair. Sautoirs, line bracelets and clip brooches were the accessories of choice for the newly emancipated woman.
The onset of the Second World War and the subsequent rationing of metals meant that that the jewellery industry slowed during the 1940s. Following the liberation, French jewellery designers explored whimsical themes and natural motifs to invoke the jubilant mood of the post-war era. Statement cocktail jewellery complimented Dior’s feminine ‘New Look’ fashions - a refreshing contrast to the severity of war-time apparel. During the 1960s and 70s, as the jewellery industry turned increasingly to mass-production, French workshops safeguarded the craft by continuing to uphold traditional manufacturing methods. This was recognised by international firms such as Tiffany & Co., who outsourced work to French makers, thereby acknowledging their exceptional skill.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, French jewellers have remained at the forefront of their craft by producing avant-garde designs of superior quality. Explore French design through the ages by browsing our extensive collection online or by visiting us in store.