This incredible ‘devant-de-corsage’ brooch is an extraordinary example of the magnificence of the Belle Époque. Made-to-order for Solomon Barnato Joel in 1912, who provided Cartier with his four best diamonds, it is an incredible combination of top diamonds, a delicate design, remarkable make and famous provenance.
Born in England in 1865, Solomon Barnato Joel made his fortune in the South African diamond mines within less than ten years. Together with his two brothers Jack and Woolf, Solomon had joined his uncle, Barney Barnato, on the Kimberley diamond fields and they were the first to reach the Rand mines after the discovery of gold. Upon his uncle’s passing in 1897, ‘Solly’, as he was known in the family, succeeded him as a director of Barnato Brothers as well as of De Beers Consolidated Diamonds Mines, for nearly 30 years. His influence on the diamond and gold industry at the beginning of the 20th Century was significant and he retained his fascination with diamonds throughout his long career.
Upon his return to England, ‘Solly’ Joel was described as ‘a sportsman and a lavish host, a patron of the theater, owner of yachts, racing stables, and the Maiden Erleigh stud farm’. Renowned for being a very generous man, he purchased the first motorised ambulance for the Royal Berkshire Hospital and gave the Sol Joel Park, in Earley, to the Corporation of Reading in 1927.
His vast wealth, generosity, passion for diamonds, horse races and theatre built his legend and the present ‘devant-de-corsage’ brooch embodies his love for exceptional jewels.
The brooch is a great example of the subtle and delicate ‘serti muguet’ (Lily-of-the-Valley setting) used by Cartier at the time and mastered by their famous workshop ‘Atelier Henri Picq’. It is unmistakably one of the most stunning jewels of the Belle Époque period.