During the latter half of the nineteenth-century, goldsmiths turned increasingly towards the past, sourcing inspiration from ancient and medieval artefacts and reviving age-old techniques which had been lost over time. In France, the Neo-Gothic and Renaissance Revival tastes were particularly popular and became known as the style cathédrale.
At the forefront of this design movement was Jules Wièse (1818-1890), who came to Paris from Berlin in 1839 to begin a career at the atelier of renowned jeweller and silversmith, Froment-Meurice. The ambitious young craftsman quickly climbed the ranks to become workshop manager in 1844, before establishing his own workshop at 7 rue Jean-Pain-Mollet the following year. Wièse soon developed a distinctive style, specialising in chased jewellery and objets in silver and gold, for which he received accolades at the Exposition Industrielle of 1849 and a first class medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1855. Commenting on his work at the 1855 exposition, a critic remarked – ‘the importance of his pieces and his brave experiments reveal, even in the most modest work, an awareness of art and beauty which deserves to be encouraged by the jury.’ The immense skill and originality of Wièse’s creations subsequently gained international recognition when he was awarded a medal of honour at the Great London Exhibition of 1862.
Combining medieval motifs with traditional manufacturing methods, Wièse drew inspiration from the Arthurian Legend and other chivalric tales, as well as Gothic architecture and art forms. Mercury oxide was often applied to his silver jewels to achieve an aged, blackened look, and jeweller’s rouge was sometimes used to give gold pieces the appearance of having been recently unearthed.
In 1880, Jules Wièse retired and control of the workshop was transferred to his son Louis. In Vever’s words, ‘an exceptionally modest and truly talented artist’, Louis continued to produce jewellery in the Revivalist manner until the firm closed its doors in 1923.
Charmingly eccentric and exquisitely modelled, Wièse jewellery is highly collectable and widely sought-after by enthusiasts and connoisseurs. Pieces by Wièse can be found in the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
Keen to learn more about this most-esteemed maker? Browse our collection of Wièse jewellery online or visit us in store.
Henri Vever, Katherine Purcell (trans.), French Jewellery of the Nineteenth Century, London: Thames & Hudson, 2001.
John Benjamin, Starting to Collect Antique Jewellery, London: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2005.