"By seven o'clock the orchestra had arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and picolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colours, and hair bobbed in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile."
- Excerpt from "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Art Deco period was a time of near universal elation, most often referred to as the Roaring Twenties. World War I was over, and in spite of the incredible suffering that all had undergone, entire populations went on a celebratory binge. Nowhere was this more evident than in France and America. Even in Berlin, capital of a defeated Germany, a frenetic search for amusement was underway. The cabarets seemed to take on a life of their own. The general mood at the time was immortalized by such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald in "The Great Gatsby" and Victor Marguerite in "La Garonne".
The energy of the period was infectious, overflowing into all fields of the fine and decorative arts. In the jewellery field, it led to an unprecedented level of creativity, resulting in pieces that represented an important break with the past and which to this day remain timeless and wearable. Several examples of the novel ideas of the time are present in this sale.
The majority of the important jewellery houses demonstrated a fascination with India which lasted throughout the Deco period. In 1901, Cartier was commissioned to re-set some of the British Monarchy's jewels into a necklace for Queen Alexandra who had been sent three Indian gowns by Lady Curzon, wife of the Viceroy. Dazzled by the beautiful pieces in the Royal collection, many of which had been presents from official visits and which dated to the 18th Century, Jacques Cartier, head of the firm's London branch, began a lifelong love affair with India. He was not alone in that pursuit.
During the interwar period, not only Cartier, but also Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron, were all active both in re-setting and valuing the caskets of the Maharajahs, many of whom had developed a penchant for European jewellery fashions. The influence was, nonetheless, reciprocal as many of the European houses began to incorporate Indian carved rubies, sapphires and emeralds into their creations. To imagine how striking the bold colour combinations must have initially appeared, one must refer to the shock produced by the colour juxtapositions created by the Fauve painters at the beginning of the century. They differed dramatically from the soft colour combinations of the Belle Epoque.
As a whole, previous perceptions of which colours should be paired together altered during the period. Coral was set with onyx, and as mentioned above, sapphires with emeralds, a colour combination most probably inspired by the enamels of Lucknow. A beautiful example, a pendant watch with calibr-cut sapphire and emerald flowers, can be found in the sale (lot 338).
During the Deco years, technology was constantly advancing. Cars and trains were faster. Electricity lit up the Eiffel Tower. The sky seemed the limit. This was contagious and the creators of the period grew fascinated by innovative gadgets. Cartier pushed their Mystery Clocks to new levels of sophistication. On a smaller scale, a travelling clock by Van Cleef & Arpels, lot 335, is a perfect illustration of this desire to innovate. Triangular in form and made from rock crystal, it cleverly swivels in its fitted case, the bottom of which is a mirror. When the dial is face down, one can observe the movement. As soon as it is rotated, and one sees the dial, the two back facets become mirrored, similar in concept to Cartier's prism clocks.