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A DELICATE BELLE EPOQUE SEED PEARL AND DIAMOND HANDBAG, BY VAN CLEEF & ARPELS The seed pearl bag with hoop fringe and central rose-cut diamond detail of Oriental motif to the circular-cut diamond and triangular-shaped black onyx frame with a twin pearl fastener and chain-link handle, circa 1905, with French assay mark (repair work evident) Signed Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris, no. 24671

Lot Essay


The beginning of the 20th Century brought a revolution in fashion. In the late 1800s only the suffragettes wore trousers. Their numbers were limited and the new clothing form did not catch on immediately. The advent of Coco Chanel (1883-1971) was to permanently change this. With the French designer, casual chic was born and style mores for women changed dramatically. She took materials until then consecrated to menswear - wool, tweed and jersey, for example - and created trousers, inspired by sailor's bell-bottoms, as well as twin sets, blazers and cardigans. The new style demanded and allowed for adapted accessories.

The wristwatch came into vogue at the turn of the century. In 1899, Louis Cartier, newly associated with his father, began a serious study of the future potential for the marketing of the wristwatch, a watch form in which he truly believed. In spite of the existence and popularity of pendant watches during the first half of the 1900s, wristwatches nonetheless consistently gained in popularity throughout the century: with the Belle Epoque came delicate diamonds and seed pearls, the Art Deco brought onyx and diamonds and the Retro style revealed large gold surfaces.

Brooches as well underwent a transformation. Instead of the weighty corsage ornaments so fashionable at the end of the 19th Century, smaller, more wearable models became " la mode". Though some longer, more complicated paulettes and pendent brooches were created, most were smaller and could be used for both day and evening wear.

During the Belle Epoque, handbag designs were suited to the delicacy of the moment. Lovely examples in seed pearls and diamonds were created and vanity cases began their rise. Usually created for use at the numerous balls of the time, the latter most often consisted of a gold and enamel rectangular, hexagonal or cylindrical container with two chains leading to a finger ring, developed so that they could be worn while dancing.

Subsequent to the First World War, the cosmetics business became increasingly important. Hence, more women had access to make-up, creating a need for cases to fit their lifestyles. The lapis and turquoise vanity case in the collection, created by Cartier during the Deco period, is a beautiful example of those pieces produced for the most elegant of women.

The apoge of the vanity case was reached when Van Cleef & Arpels designed their "minaudire": a larger vanity case, the size of a handbag. The idea was inspired by one of Charles Arpels' most important clients, Florence Gould. During a visit with her, he noticed that she was using a tin Lucky Strike cigarette box (for fifty cigarettes) as a handbag. He soon produced his first such bag - capable of holding a woman's every cosmetic need - in precious metal and stones.


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