René Lalique: ultimate art jeweler

René Lalique was born 150 years ago this month, yet even now many designers and jewelry artists still consider him the ultimate art jeweler. British designer Stephen Webster is one.

Lalique horn and diamond diadem (Christie's Images)

Lalique began anonymously enough, designing commercial jewelry for firms like Boucheron. But after he began ornamenting Sarah Bernhardt for the stage in 1894, he became a household name – at least in Paris.

It’s hard to imagine an ordinary woman wearing some of the jewelry Lalique created, although it’s fun to fantasize about turning up at a party wearing one of those massive tiaras shaped like peacocks or mermaids. In fact, much of lalique’s jewelry never served as such but was collected as art. Calouste Gulbenkian alone bought 145 pieces, and eventually displayed them in his museum in Lisbon.

Lilacs brooch by René Lalique (Christie's Images)

There were a lot of talented Art Nouveau designers but Lalique was both a brilliant artist and a savvy businessman. At a time when few jewelry firms acknowledged individual designers, he signed every piece and made his presentation as artful as his product.

Paper knife of antique silver, gold, amethyst, jade and horn (siegelson.com)

At salon and tradefair exhibits, he drew crowds not only with his jewelry but with the stage sets he designed to showcase it.

His booth at the 1900 Exposition, where he scored the Grand Prix, featured grillwork sculpted with winged female nudes and suspended black velvet bats – a reflection of the jewelry inside.

“You thought you were dreaming when you saw these beautiful things,” wrote jeweler Henri Vever of Lalique’s display. “A cockerel holding an enormous yellow diamond in its beak; a huge dragonfly with a woman’s head and diaphanous wings; enameled country scenes sparkling with diamond dew-drops; ornaments like pine cones.”

Many other designers were working with similar themes at the turn of the century – peacocks, bats and dragonflies, often merging with humans. Jewelry pictured in catalogs from that era was often downright creepy. “Some of the these people seem to be trying to be as bizarre as they could,” says Joan Rosasco, who coordinated the Jewels of Lalique exhibit that toured in 1998.

Lalique, on the other hand, could depict a woman emerging from the mouth of an insect and portray, instead of horror, a sense of metamorphosis and dreamlike mysticism. “Lalique always had good taste,” Rosasco says. “There was a poetry and elegance to his work.”

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5 comments for “René Lalique: ultimate art jeweler

  1. May 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    A genius in a dream of creativity,rivaled only by Faberge

  2. September 27, 2011 at 9:22 am

    As a silversmith myself, I would have loved to have met Rene Lalique – I’m looking forward to visiting the Lalique Museum next year !
    Keith

  3. Monika Bienkoska
    October 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

    i am doing higher art and studies part of my design unit i am looking into Laliques designs god ther are so amazing just wondering what he was inspired by xxxxxxxx

  4. Robin Meadows
    October 10, 2013 at 5:09 am

    Please- is there anyone out there that can lead me in the right direction to get some kind of paperwork and authentication on an early Lalique brooch? It was passed down from my great, great grandmother to my Mother(who is now 82 yrs. old), and now the brooch has been passed to me. It is a beauty and is no doubt authentic because of it’s lineage. Unfortunately, we keep coming to dead ends and cannot get in contact with anyone who has a clue about this piece of art history.
    I wish I could post an image here for all the Rene Lalique fans.

    If anyone has an idea of where to start, I would appreciate some solid advice.

  5. August 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    An inspiring page, thank you. I’m fascinated by the way the vintage jewellery trend is still going strong and evolves, particularly sixties looks right now – taking a cue from that era that was about breaking the rules when art, music and fashion turned tradition on its head and psychedelic prints, neon colours and haphazard patterns were the main focus. As with many things sartorial what goes around comes around so it’s no surprise that we are seeing the age old trends reinvent themselves today in the world of jewellery.

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