The Exposition Universelle des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes has gone down in history as the event that introduced Art Deco and modernist design to the world. Held in Paris from April to October 1925, the fair brought together 15,000 exhibitors. Among them was a young Parisian designer called Jean Fouquet (1899-1984), whose jewellery rejected the ornamentation of the past.
Fouquet took his cue from Cubism, Constructivism and Futurism, favouring jewellery that was bold and geometrical — such as the necklace pictured below, which sold for €980,000 at Christie’s Paris last year.
This summer’s Joaillerie Paris sale puts this extraordinary necklace in context, presenting 22 pieces from three generations of the Fouquet dynasty. Running online until 7 July, it also features exceptional Art Deco jewellery given to the photographer June Newton by her husband Helmut, an iconic Zip necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels, and a rare collaboration between René Lalique and Louis Cartier.
Together, the 295 lots trace the history of jewellery from Art Nouveau to the ‘new vintage’ styles of the 1980s and 1990s, says Violaine d’Astorg, Head of Jewellery at Christie’s Paris — ‘pieces that are still available at accessible prices, but likely to appreciate in value’.
The Jean Fouquet Collection
The Fouquet story begins with Jean’s grandfather, Alphonse (1828-1911), who opened his own boutique in 1860 on rue du Temple in Paris. The elder Fouquet took inspiration from the fantastical beasts of the Renaissance, before later embracing Art Nouveau, creating whimsical jewels such as the brooches pictured below.
His son Georges (1862-1957) started working for his father in 1891. He also collaborated with the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), from whom he commissioned a spectacular Art Nouveau interior for a new Fouquet boutique on rue Royale, which opened in 1901 and has since been relocated to the Musée Carnavalet.
He later swapped the poetry of Art Nouveau for the drama of Art Deco, paving the way for the designs of his son Jean.
Jean hadn’t planned to become a jeweller: he studied literature, became friends with the poets Paul Éluard (1895-1952) and Louis Aragon (1897-1982), and contributed to L’Esprit Nouveau, the magazine co-founded by the architect Le Corbusier.
However, he eventually joined the family business and exhibited at the 1925 Expo, the salons of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1926 and 1928, and the later exhibitions of the Union des Artistes Modernes. His love of ideas and revolutionary vision soon established his reputation as a designer. In translating the modern age into his jewellery, says d’Astorg, his genius lay in creating pieces that were ‘not only strong and powerful, but beautiful and feminine as well’.
After the Second World War, Fouquet remained at the cutting edge. In 1958, when he made the necklace pictured below, he received a gold medal at the Brussels World Fair. ‘His jewellery was still startlingly modern,’ says d’Astorg. ‘You still find similar designs today.’
The June Newton Collection
The collection of June Newton (1923-2021), now owned by the Helmut Newton Foundation, is similarly notable for its striking, modernist pieces — this time by the innovative French designers René Boivin (1864-1917), Suzanne Belperron (1900-83) and Raymond Templier (1891-1968).
The widow of the fashion photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004), June has been described as her husband’s ‘superpower’: she was a model and actress when the couple met in Melbourne in 1947, and only switched to photography in 1970 after stepping in for her husband on a Paris shoot. Adopting the pseudonym Alice Springs, she later focused on portraiture, creating intimate black-and-white portraits of celebrities such as Charlotte Rampling and Catherine Deneuve.
Her Art Deco jewellery collection is exceptional, says d’Astorg. It showcases her passion for daring monochrome design and her love for her husband, who bought many of the pieces for her. ‘That’s what I like most about it,’ she adds. ‘It shows their shared vision.’
Iconic and unique pieces
One of the most notable pieces in the sale is a rare Zip necklace created in 1964 by Renée Puissant, daughter of Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels and creative director of the company from 1926 to 1942. Invited by the Duchess of Windsor to create a jewel inspired by the zip, Puissant patented the design in 1938, but only unveiled the first Zip necklace — an ingenious design that could be reassembled to form a bracelet — in 1951. Van Cleef & Arpels made few such necklaces, so they are highly sought after, says d’Astorg, and this one is unusually opulent.
Another outstanding highlight of the sale is a rock crystal brooch illustrating the Jean de la Fontaine fable The Fox and the Stork, finely engraved by René Lalique (1860-1945), and mounted on platinum in a slim frame of diamonds and sapphires by Louis Cartier (1875-1942).
‘It’s really tiny,’ says d'Astorg. ‘Lalique used a process that allowed him to create the original design on a larger scale and then miniaturise it. But collaborations between these two masters are rare. And this one has a lot of charm and poetry.’