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Maker and Muse (Part 1)


Over the weekend, I had the immense pleasure to view Maker and Muse, the new exhibit on Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry at the Richard Driehaus Museum.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was.  The words sumptuous and gorgeous, among many superlatives come to mind when trying to describe the 250 pieces of Art jewelry that is on display.  The exhibit is spread out over 5 rooms in the museum (which by the way, merits a separate visit) and is divided into 5 themes–British Arts and Crafts, American Art Jewelry represented by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jewelry as Art in Germany and Austria represented by the Jugendstil movement, French Art Nouveau and Chicago Arts and Crafts Jewelry.  These different movements were unified in their rejection of  industrialization and their desire to return to the artisan and the handmade.  More importantly, they made extensive use of materials like silver, semi-precious stones and enamel that were previously considered not good enough for fine jewelry.

The exhibit is particularly resonant for me because it celebrates the work of some of the first women to work in the field of jewelry.  Prior to the early 20th century, making jewelry wasn’t considered proper work for women.  It took a significant cultural shift before it became acceptable for women to work in this field. As a jewelry designer, I owe a great deal to these pioneers.

Fortunately for us, the Museum allows photos to be taken as long as it is without flash so I can share with you some of the highlights.  The exhibit will run until 2016 so if you have the chance, to see it, I highly recommend that you do so, you will not regret it.

Here now are some of the pieces on display. As this is a picture heavy post, please read on after the page break…

From the British Arts and Crafts Movement

A gold, pearl and aquamarine necklace by Charlotte Newman.  These aquamarines are really gorgeous and their brilliant faceting captures the light even through the glass case.  And the gold, pearl and enamel hairpin with it, while less flashy is no less beautiful.


Then we have these two beautiful sautoir style necklaces of silver and chalcedony, amethyst and pearls by Sybil Dunlop.



At that time, a good number of women designers worked closely with their husbands in the business. One of the best known of these couples is Edith and Nelson Dawson. This stunning 1904 necklace of gold, star sapphire, blue enamel and chrysoberyl is one example of their work.


And because the Arts and Crafts movement was closely allied to the Suffragist movement, a good number of jewelry reflected their colors of white, green and violet. One stunning example is this necklace of gold, Russian amethyst, pearl and diamond.


From the British Arts and Crafts movement, we move across the chanel to France where the Art Nouveau movement was gathering momentum. Art Nouveau is probably one of the most recognizable jewelry designs in the world. It is characterized by sensuous curving flowing lines and some of the most wonderful enamel work in jewelry came from this period. Unlike their British counterparts however, there were hardly any French women jewelry designers. Because the French system, which still involved apprenticeship was closed to women, there was no way for women to learn the craft. And while there were hardly any women working in jewelry, they were nonetheless very present in the actual jewelry of this period. Women were most often depicted as fantastical creatures, even appearing as hybrid with wings or twined with flowers and leaves.  This reflected the French male perception of women as sensuous, unknowable and mysterious creatures.

French Art Nouveau

This extraordinary pendant from Joë Descomps is a good example of Art Nouveau jewelry as it features plique-a-jour enamel (this is a type of enamel whereby the back of the piece is removed allowing light to pass through it; giving it a striking luminescence. The French were renowned for this kind of enamel work.), diamond, pearl and three sensuous women, which are for the first time depicted au naturel.


Another beautiful example is this striking ivory, enamel and diamond face pendant by Leon Gariod.



Of course this section wouldn’t be complete without Rene Lalique, arguably the most famous of the Art Nouveau jewelry designers.  Lalique was actually a classically trained fine jewelry but his wholehearted adoption of the Art Nouveau style gave rise to some of his most striking work.

Just look at this chrysanthemum pendant brooch dating back to 1900.  It is made of gold, enamel, glass, diamond and baroque pearl.  My picture doesn’t do it justice, but if you look closely, Lalique depicted the flower in various stages of its life. The leftmost blossom features the flower at an early stage where its still quite small and the petals are still closed. The second blossom to the right is in a more mature stage, it has more petals and is more open. The last blossom on the bottom is the flower in the later stages of life–its is completely open now and has even started to lose some of its petals.  It really is quite extraordinary.


IMG_8149Another beautiful Lalique piece is his Moth necklace composed of pate de verre, enamel, amethyst and gold.  The play of light on this piece is phenomenal and I’m just sad that this photo cannot capture its brilliance.

But  if we want to talk about statement necklaces, just look at this one by Charles Boutet de Monvel …


Not only is this beauty made of 18K gold, silver, opal, glass,ruby, pearl and diamond, it is also a rare piece en tremblant , which means it moves when you wear it.  Sigh.  I’m told the lucky owner wears this everywhere, even to do the grocery shopping!

This is but a small fraction of the jewels on display at the Maker and Muse exhibit. Next post, I want to share with you jewelry from the Jugendstil school and the American jewelry designers.  Stay tuned!



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