Over the next few weeks London Jewellery specialist, Kate Flitcroft, will be taking a closer look at some feature lots in the forthcoming auction of Select Jewellery & Watches taking place in London on 15th November. In the first in the series Kate will explore the use of wood in the jewellery of Van Cleef & Arpels and other French makers throughout the 20th century.
This pair of graduated bangles by Van Cleef & Arpels (lot 102) and pair of earrings (lot 101) are part of a long tradition of the firm’s use of wood in jewellery, and part of an even longer ritual of using talismans for good luck.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, Van Cleef & Arpels launched a line of jewellery called Touch Wood including four ring designs in various woods. A 1919 advertisement stated that the pieces were "mounted with precious gemstones on platinum and gold." The firm’s advertisements capitalised on the use of jewellery as a talisman, or good luck charm. The rings were of bombé rounded design, some with gold bezel mounts set flush to the surface of the wood, similar to the inlaid gold in the present lots (101 and 102). Jewellery historians believe that the impetus of this design was due to war-time scarcity.
For the World Expo in Osaka in 1970 Van Cleef & Arpels revived the use of wood for a line of jewellery using gold inlaid on wood, including a ring, two pendants and bracelet (exhibited, Van Cleef & Arpels: The High Art of Jewellery, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 20 September 2012 - 10 February 2013, and illustrated, Van Cleef & Arpels, Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 2012, p. 206). In 2012, coinciding with the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris, the firm introduced the use of wood into its iconic Alhambra line.
Other jewellers embraced the use of wood in jewellery as well, such as A. Péry et Cie who produced this wood and gold link bracelet (lot 97). The firm were responsible for making some of the most iconic jewels for Van Cleef & Arpels, including the Ludo bracelet, the Zip necklace, the animal brooches and the 'passe-partout' jewels. This bracelet exemplifies the flow of ideas between designer and producer.
The diamond-set wood dress ring (lot 95) by Oromalia and the carved flower brooch (lot 96) incorporate the use of animalier and natural motifs that fit so well with this organic material.