Masterpieces of French Jewelry Exhibit at the Legion of Honor 2008

 Cartier & America at the Legion of Honor

In 2008 the Legion of Honor in San Francisco held an exhibition of some ofthe most important works by French Jewelers and objects d’art called “Masterpieces of French Jewelry.”  This exhibit was put together by the National Jewelry Institute.

The collection spanned over a century;  beginning with the Art Nouveau period followed by the Edwardian, Art Deco, Post War and ending  with some of today’s current modern French jewelers.

The term Art Nouveau is derived from Samuel Bing’s gallery which he called “Salon de l’Art Nouveau” for the exposition in 1895 held in Paris.  Mr. Bing wanted to show a “new type of art” style and invited dynamic artists to exhibit in his salon. The artists who participated were Auguste Rodin, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Emile Galle & Rene Lalique—the “new” art styles that they introduced created an entire movement throughout the world.

The entrance for the exhibit at the Legion of Honor opened with the large bronze Nouveau female statue gates. Originally designed by Lalique for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, gauze fabric was stretched between the wings and jewelry was pinned on the fabric for display.  These imposing gates were a perfect introduction to the art nouveau style.  The Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris show cased work from all over the world.  An estimated 51 million visitors lined the banks of the Seine to view the “Art Noveau”  in all things created at the height of the style.


 This new art style was inspired by nature and mythological motifs, often combining all the forms with long sinuous flowing and sensual curves incorporating designs of peacock feathers, flowers, insects and women.The art forms changed from the symmetrical and controlled shapes to an asymmetry style which was derived from the Japanese influence that was introduced to Europe in 1858.

Jewelers began creating wearable art incorporating different types of stones such as ivory, horn, glass, turquoise, enamels, coral, green garnets, opals, pearls, moonstones and aquamarines.



Rene Lalique became one of France’s leading jewelers in the art nouveau style. He designed very ornate jewelry and headdresses for the actress Sarah Bernhardt.  She wore his jewelry on stage as costumes and off stage as her own personal collection.

Lalique designed one of his most famous and incredible necklace for the Parisian exposition.  Handcrafted in gold with nine nude female figurines standing on amethyst stones with black swans on each side of her feet, in between the figures are round opals all suspended from an ornately curved enameled neck ring.

George Fouquet, a major designer of art nouveau jewelry designed ornate motifs using carved hard stones as in his “Birth of Venus Pendant” he utilized coral, ivory & pearls.

Fouquet inlaid opals and enameling for the desired look of bright colorful shapes. This winged chimera brooch by Fouquet in 1902 depicts a mixture of enamels, gemstones & pearls is a perfect example of his work.

Established in 1858, Boucheron became one of the most famous  French Jewelers who designed jewelry in a classical style.  Boucheron employed some of the best craftsmen from all over Europe.  M. Bordinckx, a Dutchman with a rare talent for engraving diamonds manufactured the large flat incredibly detailed butterfly wings on this famous brooch. The butterfly’s body is a large perfectly red, clear Burma ruby.

All of Paris fell in love with the Art Nouveau style which is still present today in buildings, balconies and the Metro entrances.

Janet Deleuse,    All rights reserved

Information and image credit:
Masterpieces of French Jewelry, Judith Price, Running Press, Philadelphia 2006

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