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Parisian jewelry and American patrons, real and fictional

April 1, 1992  |  By SHIRLEY BURY; from The Magazine ANTIQUES, April 1992.

The formidable skill of Parisian jewelers in interpreting the work of innovative designers was the prime cause of their international popularity. Although craftsmen elsewhere practiced the late eighteenth-century technique of open-backed, or à jour, setting, which allowed light to refract and reflect through the stones, greatly enhancing their brilliance, the contrast between the delicate French mounts and the geometrical shapes of the stones was particularly striking (see Pl. III).

The replacement of the Bourbon monarchy by the imperial regime of Napoléon I (1769-1821) did nothing to dim the reputation of the jewelers of Paris, whom the women of the Bonaparte family patronized before and after the overthrow of Napoléon at Waterloo in 1815 (see Pls. I, III, and Fig. 3).[1] At a ball Napoléon III (1808-1873) gave in 1868, for example, his empress, Eugénie, a celebrated beauty, wore "green velvet, with a crown of emeralds and diamonds, spiked with pearls."[2] Eugénie owned a crown, but she is more likely to have worn a diadem or circlet, although none of them had a pearl crest. Her earliest circlet, commissioned by Louis XVIII and made by the firm of Bapst-Ménière in 1819-1820, was one of the empress's favorite head ornaments (Pl. III).[3] Another circlet (see Fig. 1) was made for her in 1858 by Eugéne Fontenay.[4]

Present at the imperial ball was Clara, or Clarita, Jerome, the eldest daughter of the American financier Leonard Jerome, who toiled on Wall Street while his family had taken up residence in Paris. The Jeromes were among a growing number of Americans rich enough to make the grand tour of Europe, invariably passing through Paris, some to stay permanently. On occasion their daughters reinvigorated the stock and finances of old European families until some, like Madame Merle in Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, asserted that people like her, neither truly American nor European, were without "feet in the soil."[5]

Mrs. Leonard Jerome prudently removed herself and her daughters to England on the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Three years later Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), the third son of the seventh duke of Marlborough, encountered Jennie Jerome (1854-1921), the second daughter, and determined to marry her. Despite initial parental opposition on both sides, reinforced by the Jerome family's strategic return to France, the wedding took place in Paris on April 15, 1874. Leonard Jerome's wedding present to Jennie was a pearl necklace, doubtless purchased from a fashionable Parisian jeweler.[6]

The ninth duke of Marlborough also took an American bride, Consuelo Vanderbilt, in an arranged marriage that ended in divorce. Jewelry was an essential component of the trousseau she acquired in Paris while on her honeymoon. Her father gave her a diamond tiara crested with pearls, and the duke gave her a diamond belt. Her pearls came from her mother, to whom her father had given them. They included two strings, which had belonged respectively to the Empress Catherine (1729-1796) of Russia and the Empress Eugénie, as well as a sautoir. Another new acquisition was a choker composed of nineteen rows of pearls attached to diamond stays, which was subsequently cut down to fifteen rows (see Fig. 4) because it chafed the duchess's slender neck.[7]

The Vanderbilts were not the only people to appreciate the historical associations of their jewels. The American-born heroine of Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country received as a wedding present a "necklace and tiara of pigeon-blood rubies belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette" from her husband, Elmer Moffatt, a renowned American collector.[8] This must have been based on Mrs. Wharton's knowledge of a parure listed in a French royal inventory of 1774. In 1785 Louis XVI (1754-1793) gave the parure to his wife, Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), who had it altered and enlarged. It eventually passed to her daughter Marie Thérèse (1778-1851), who sold it to Francis I of Austria (1768-1835). It was completely reconstructed in 1854 by the emperor Francis Joseph I (1830-1916) for his bride, Elisabeth. On the fall of the Austrian empire in 1918, five years after the appearance of Edith Wharton's novel, the deposed Hapsburgs took the parure with them into exile and apparently disposed of it.[9]

Mrs. Wharton also wrote knowledgeably about a necklace that Elmer Moffatt gave his wife for Christmas comprising five hundred "perfectly matched pearls that took thirty years to collect." She wrote that dealers estimated "that since Mr Moffatt began to buy the price of pearls has gone up over fifty per cent."[10] Indeed, pearls had outstripped diamonds in value after the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the late 1860's had glutted the market and precipitated a dramatic fall in diamond prices in the 1880's. By establishing De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1888 Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) and others managed to arrest the decline and promote a slow recovery in diamond prices.[11] Meanwhile, the rich signaled their status by investing in long ropes of pearls (see Fig. 2), which in turn began to lose their value after Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954) of Japan perfected the production of spherical cultured pearls and patented his invention in 1910.[12]

The young American brides of European husbands typified the independence of manner displayed by female expatriates that both alarmed and charmed European society. However raffish European men and certain married women might be, European girls of marriageable age were carefully shielded from everything that might corrupt their innocence. The equal innocence of their more confident American counterparts was conveniently overlooked. Thus, there is a hint of malice in a report in The Englishwomen's Domestic Magazine in 1875 that, with scant justification, ascribes to young American women the introduction into Paris of "the unutterable [false] chignon under the fantastic bonnet" as well as "ear-drops in the form of steam-engines, steeples, steamers, omnibuses and such like," all very much at variance with the delicate sensibilities of many of Henry James's heroines.[13] Three years later another English magazine, The Ladies' Treasury, took a similar but more sophisticated line. "American girls," it declared, "are very plentiful in Paris at the present moment, and are greatly sought after both on account of their beauty and their wealth." However, "they wear a little too much jewellery. They even wear diamonds, which only married ladies of many years' standing wear in France. But they look so lovely with their diamonds shining like dew-drops in their golden hair that no one can complain."[14]

The elegant, unmarked gold parure shown in Plate IX is said to have belonged to a member of the Adams family, and Marian Adams, the wife of the historian Henry Adams, is a likely candidate. The parure, designed to receive and enhance a collection of antique Greek coins, is attributed in a German periodical of 1883 to Frédéric Boucheron of Paris.[15] Mrs. Adams did visit Paris but failed to mention whether she patronized Boucheron.[16] There is also the possibility that the Parure found its way to New York City through Gideon F. Reed (1817-1892) of Tiffany's Paris branch, Tiffany, Reed and Company, which was founded in 1850.[17] He is known to have drawn the attention of visiting Americans to the work of outstanding French jewelers, with Boucheron a particular favorite.

The United States had long been a profitable market for French jewelers who manufactured in quantity, such as Hippolyte Téterger of Paris, who did much fine work for his better-known French contemporaries.[18] But the traffic was by no means one way. American manufacturers of mass-produced trinkets seized on inventions by their compatriots (casein, for example), and sought promising materials abroad.[19] One of these was aluminum, classed as a precious metal at the outset because of its scarcity. Aluminum was first successfully produced in commercial quantities in Paris by Henri Sainte Claire Deville (1818-1881) with the help of funds authorized by Napoléon III. Deville published his results in 1854, and the following year a few aluminum articles were produced, including a rattle for the emperor's son, the prince imperial. Within a few years aluminum lost its novelty value, but during its brief period of glory, distinguished French designers and craftsmen incorporated it into a small number of articles that bear comparison with some of the best goldsmiths' work of the time. Indeed, gold was an essential component, forming the carcass to which cast and chased aluminum elements were riveted, to circumvent the difficulty of soldering the new metal (see Pl. IV). International interest in aluminum jewelry extended to Queen Victoria (1819-1901), who owned a specimen.

Cheap aluminum jewelry was turned out in several countries within a decade or so, with gilt metal replacing gold. An electrolytic reduction process for making aluminum was patented in 1886-1887 by Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914) in the United States and Paul Héroult (1863-1914) in France. American aluminum goods, including buckles and decorative hairpins, were offered for sale in London in the late 1890's by Louis Leakey of Farringdon Road.[20]

Several ephemeral fashions in jewelry appear to have spontaneously combusted in Europe and America at more or less the same time, among them trinkets made of South American hummingbirds (Pl. VI). Popular in the late 1860's and early 1870's, examples were shown at the London International Exhibition of 1872. Jewelry incorporating dried South American beetles was also internationally popular from the late 1860's to the 1880's.[21]

Improved communications encouraged truly international exhibitions, and for those unable to visit them, illustrated catalogues and periodicals were available. The great French art nouveau jeweler René Jules Lalique, for example, acquired one of his major clients not in Paris but at the Saint Louis World's Fair of 1904. Henry Walters purchased nine objects from Lalique's display, among them the pendant and tiara comb shown in Plates V and VII, and a necklace of enameled gold with pendants of prowling tigers alternating with animal incisors, both carved in horn.[22] Even Lalique, an acknowledged genius in his own day, occasionally borrowed and improved: at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 Henri Vever (1854-1942) of Paris had shown as "Assyrian" necklace hung with prowling lions, bulls, and other animals.[23]

Reworking old motifs was a common occurrence among both avant-garde and trade jewelers. A favorite device was the peacock feather, which had been very fashionable in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The jewelry firm Mellerio (known in France as Meller) wrapped a feather in a hinged circle to make a stylish diamond choker with a bright enameled eye (Pl. VIII). This striking ornament, more original than the chokers owned by Mrs. Gould and the duchess of Marlborough, graced the neck of a colorful American expatriate in Paris, Natalie Clifford Barney. She was the daughter of the painter Alice Pike Barney (1860-1931), who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually settled in France. The family's collection was, appropriately, returned to America in the keeping of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.[24]

Shirley Bury, the former keeper of the department of metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is the author of Jewellery 1789-1910: The International Era, published in 1991 by the Antique Collectors' Club.

[1] See Shirley Bury, Jewellery 1789-1910: The International Era (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, 1991), vol. 1, p. 110. Ornaments classed as crown jewels were returned to the chief treasurer of the crown by Napoléon and his empress, Marie Louise (1791-1847), after the emperor's forced abdication in 1814. Napoléon's first empress, Joséphine, was allowed to retain her personal jewels on the dissolution of their marriage in 1809, as was Marie Louise in 1814. [2] Anita Leslie, The Fabulous Leonard Jerome (London, 1954), p. 126. [3] Illustrated in Henri Vever, La Bijouterie française au XIXe Siècle, 3 Vols. (Paris, 1906-1908), vol. 1, p. 123. See also Bernard Morel, The French Crown Jewels, trans. Elsie Callander, Margaret Curran, and Agnes Hall (Antwerp, Belgium, 1988), pp. 316, 318, 339. [4] When she was exiled to England after the Franco-Prussian was of 1870-1871, Eugénie consigned the Fontenay circlet and some of her other jewels to Christie's, which auctioned them on June 24, 1872. The Bapst-Ménière circlet and a suite of diamond currant ornaments were sold by order of the French government in Paris in 1887 with other French crown jewels. Tiffany and Company made extensive purchases at the sale, and the provenance of its acquisitions was an invaluable inducement to its clients. See Morel, French Crown Jewels, pp. 341-343, 355, 377-378 (No. 27), 379 (No. 40), 380. [5] (London, 1881). [6] Leslie, Leonard Jerome, p. 187. [7] Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold (New York, 1952), pp. 33, 53-54. [8] (New York, 1913). [9] Morel, French Crown Jewels, pp. 204, 211. [10] Wharton, Custom of the Country. The Queen magazine, vol. 71 (1882), p. 51, cited recent purchases in Paris of fine Oriental pearl necklaces ranging from 300,000 to 1,200,000 francs. [11] Bury, Jewellery, vol. 1, p. 122. [12] Ibid., p. 259. [13] Vol. 19 (1875), p. 82. [14] 1878, p. 406. [15] Gewerbehalle, vol. 21 (1883), Pl. 60. [16] The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, 1865-1883, ed. Ward Thoron (London, New York, and Toronto, 1937). [17] Tiffany's had considerable experience of importing French jewelry before it established a Paris branch in the middle of the nineteenth century (see the advertisement in Tiffany, Young and Ellis in Sheldon and Company's Business Directory [New York, 1845]). [18] Téterger's productions were very popular in Vienna, London, and many American cities according to Emile Bergérat, Les Chefs-d'Oeuvre d'Art à l'Exposition Universelle, 1878 (Paris, 1878-1879), vol. 2, p. 190. For more information about the Téterger family see Vever, La Bijouterie française, vol. 2, p. 28; vol. 3, pp. 46, 645, 762. [19] See Bury, Jewellery, vol. 1, p. 380. [20] Ibid., p. 353. [21] See ibid., vol. 2, p. 482, Pl. 113; Art Journal, 1873, p. 346; and Artist, vol. 3 (1882), p. 119. [22] Illustrated in Jewelry, Ancient to Modern (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, 1980), p. 253, No. 714. [23] Illustrated in Bergérat, Les Chefs-d'Oeuvre, vol. 2, p. 47. [24] For information about the Barney collection as the Smithsonian I am grateful to Donald McLelland of the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, D.C.

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