10 jewellery designers you really need to know about
Marie-Cécile Cisamolo, Associate Specialist in the Christie's Jewellery department in Geneva, takes us on a tour of the storied houses that produced the world’s most coveted Art Nouveau, Art Deco and post-war jewels
Wolfers Frères was founded in 1834 by Louis Wolfers, a Belgian goldsmith. His son Philippe joined the workshop in Brussels in 1875, producing designs that were initially in the Rococo style. By 1890, however, he had begun to subscribe to the aesthetic of Art Nouveau.
Philippe Wolfers’ creations between 1897 and 1905 are stamped ‘ex[emplaire] unique’, to differentiate them from the pieces made by the Wolfers Company. He created only 131 unique pieces in the most elegant Art Nouveau style, inspired by nature as well as Japanese art. In 1908, Philippe halted his jewellery production to become a sculptor. His jewels rarely appear at auction, and are highly sought after by collectors.
Ernest Vever left his native Metz in 1871 to establish a jewellery firm in Paris. Three years later his two sons, Paul and Henri, joined the firm, and the House of Vever began producing objects in the Renaissance Revival and Oriental styles. With the Art Nouveau movement at its peak in 1900, Vever won the Grand Prix of the Paris World Fair with jewels featuring flowers and animals in enamel, and very few gemstones.
Carried forward by heavyweights such as Antoni Gaudí and René Lalique, the Art Nouveau movement extended from architecture into fashion, jewellery and sculpture — and Henri Vever was one of its masters, a fact reflected by the prices his jewels fetch at auction.
In 1921 Vever handed the business over to his nephews, deciding instead to focus on collecting Japanese art, as well as the writing of his three-volume La Bijouterie Francaise au XIXe Siècle (1906-1908), an invaluable reference work on the history of jewellery from the Empire to the Art Nouveau styles.
Paul-Emile Brandt was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland in 1883. After moving to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century he started his own business, creating jewellery in the Art Nouveau style, using several techniques in naturalistic designs.
After the First World War he turned to Art Deco, and the jewels and cigarette cases he created during this period are now among his most in-demand pieces at auction. With their distinctive bold colours and geometrical shapes in lacquer, his Art Deco designs embody 1920s style.
Brandt stopped making jewellery after the Second World War, moving into tinware. He died in Paris in 1952.
In 1885, Paul Templier succeeded his father, Charles, and his uncle Louis at the helm of the family firm, which had been established in Paris in 1848. He would go on to become an important figure in the Parisian jewellery trade, and was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1938.
Paul’s son, Raymond, entered the business in 1919 and immediately decided to create a different style of jewellery, almost totally free of decorative ornamentation. Inspired by the modern, industrial world of automobiles and towering buildings, he used slick and polished metals associated with black lacquer or enamel, and only a few diamonds or coloured stones.
As a leading designer of the Art Deco period, Raymond Templier was also a founding member of the French Union of Modern Artists, a collective that also included Charlotte Perriand, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Eileen Gray and Sonia Delaunay.
Lacloche Frères was founded in Madrid in 1875 by four brothers — Fernand, Jules, Leopold and Jacques. During the 1920s and 1930s they became highly successful, designing pieces decorated with multicoloured enamels as well as carved gemstones inspired by the East.
The house became synonymous with the Art Deco style, especially through its vanity cases. During the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Arts in Paris, where the Art Deco aesthetic was defined, Lacloche Frères won a Grand Prix for its jewels illustrating the fables of La Fontaine.
Lacloche was asked to create jewels for the likes of Edward VII, Grace Kelly and Queen Victoria of Spain. Sadly, the firm was forced to file for bankruptcy after the 1929 stock market crash. Jacques Lacloche reopened in 1936 and continued to create fashionable jewellery until the 1960s.
Acknowledged as one of the best makers of Art Deco jewellery and famously associated with Van Cleef & Arpels, Rubel Frères was a Parisian manufacturing firm that also worked with other well-known companies on the Place Vendôme in Paris, including Ostertag.
Originally from Budapest, Jean (later John) and Robert Rubel were highly skilled jewellery designers whose claims to fame included two identical diamond and emerald cuffs designed in 1928 and purchased by Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes; and the Grand Prix-winning Egyptian Revival bracelet for Van Cleef & Arpels, which was created for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Arts in Paris.
Later, the brothers became known for their ‘Dancers’ series. After moving the business to the US in 1939, John Rubel was rumoured to have found inspiration for his first dancer brooch while sitting in a Latino dance club in New York.
In 1943 the brothers’ affiliation with Van Cleef & Arpels was dissolved, and Jean Rubel opened a branch in New York under his Americanised name, John Rubel Co. Branches later opened in London and Paris, although sadly the company did not survive the Second World War.
Born in 1900 in eastern France, Suzanne Belperron studied drawing and jewellery, worked under her mentor Jeanne Boivin, then designed exclusively for Bernard Herz under the name of Herz and Herz-Belperron. From her roots in the Art Deco period, she pioneered new ways to carve crystals into sensuous shapes and for these forms to then be set in precious and semi-precious stones.
Congolese tribal jewellery, Brutalist architecture and Japanese sakura (cherry blossom) were all translated by Belperron into cutting-edge designs, often created to reflect the personality of a particular client. Fashion innovator Elsa Schiaparelli championed Belperron, whose clientele included European royalty and Hollywood luminaries.
An intensely private individual, Belperron never signed her work, insisting ‘my style is my signature’. It was not until the 1980s, and especially the auction of jewels owned by the Duchess of Windsor, including many of Belperron’s creations, that interest in her work was reignited.
New York-based jewellers Ward and Nico Landrigan, owners of Verdura, purchased the Belperron name and archives in 1999, and published an illustrated biography in 2016.
After his father’s death during World War I, Pierre Sterlé was placed under the guardianship of his jeweller uncle, who taught him the trade. His designs were highly recognisable, chiefly because he imagined his jewels as paintings worn on the lapels of dresses or jackets. He was particularly famous for his depictions of birds and feathers.
Between the 1950s and the 1970s, Sterlé was regarded as one of the finest jewellery designers in France, using gems such as turquoise or amethyst alongside diamonds and precious stones. He soon gained a loyal following of artists and wealthy clients from the haute couture maisons of the Faubourg Saint Honoré. Indeed, Sterlé preferred to be known as ‘a jewellery couturier’ rather than a jewellery maker.
His notable achievements include creating the crown of Queen Narriman, wife of King Farouk of Egypt, as well as jewels for the Begum Aga Khan and the Maharani of Baroda. Pierre Sterlé remained open until 1976 when Chaumet bought the stock and hired its founder as an artistic advisor.
American-born designer Donald Claflin initially worked for David Webb and Van Cleef & Arpels, before joining Tiffany & Co. in 1965. There, along with Jean Schlumberger, he paved the way for a new kind of sophisticated jewellery that other designers were quick to emulate.
Most famous for his whimsical renderings of animals and mythical creatures, Claffin also created a series of jewels inspired by children’s stories such as Alice in Wonderland and Stuart Little.
Following his highly successful years with Tiffany & Co., he became a major designer for Bulgari before his untimely death in 1979.
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Born in Italy in 1936, Aldo Cipullo developed his craft alongside his father, a maker of costume jewellery. After emigrating to the US, he was hired by David Webb as well as by Tiffany & Co., with both companies being quick to recognise his creative genius.
Cipullo’s jewellery was inspired by medieval goldsmiths, and features hardstones such as lapis lazuli or turquoise in gold mountings. Bold and modern, his creations were adored by the women of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1969 Cipullo joined Cartier in New York, famously designing the ‘Love’ bracelet as well as the ‘Juste un Clou’ collection. He was the only designer at the company at the time who was permitted to have his signature on a Cartier jewel.
Cipullo left Cartier in 1974 to return to his first loves: costume jewellery and men’s jewellery. He passed away in 1984.