It took a long time, but I grew to love Paris. I can’t remember how often I’ve been there, but it’s a beautiful city, especially when you luck out with good weather.
In my opinion, there is nothing to compete with French jewelry. Inventiveness, fabulous design, elegance and workmanship are all qualities that we find in French jewelry more than in jewelry from any other country.
The French love the word ‘chic’. Oh, you come from Hong Kong. Tres chic!! There is a lot of truth to the jokes about how important appearances and looks are to the French. I cannot think of another nation who took such pride in the jewelry they produced as the French in the 19th century. On many an occasion, a manufacturer made no profit on an item, but making it to perfection was his primary goal. The money came later.
Much of the French standard of perfection is the result of an old system of apprenticeship that existed long ago in the jewelry trade. Starting off by sweeping the floor that he slept on at night, the apprentice slowly worked his way through a host of technical skills until he mastered each and every one of them. He ultimately took great pride in his art and with total justification. The competition was enormous and not everyone could work his way up the ladder to the status of a master.
One of the most enormous books I own is a translated copy of Henry Vever’s book on French jewelers of the 19th century. Names like Bapst, Froment-Maurice, Falize, Wiese and Boucheron, just to begin with. Later even more familiar names like Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels leave no doubt as to the supremacy of French jewelry. Perhaps the ultimate artist-craftsman was Renee Lalique whose magnificent jewelry perhaps surpasses all other.
French jewelry was lucky to have at least two enormous sources of encouragement: Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew, Napoleon III. Not only did both of these set a great example by smothering their wives with wonderful jewelry, which everyone at court had to emulate, but they did a lot to encourage the growth of the jewelry trade. It is not well-known that Bonaparte opened a school for cameo carving. All of the carvers were deaf mutes.
The Art Nouveau movement existed primarily in France. True, its sources may have been elsewhere and there were comparable movements elsewhere, but it is the French love of the elegant and the chic, the feminine and the flowing that matched perfectly with this unique movement in Art.
Among the great qualities of French jewelry is the fact that it is nearly always hallmarked. In my experience, if it isn’t marked, it isn’t French. This helps us to date pieces and assure us that what we are buying is correct in the metal purity. We can know the origin of a French jewel as opposed to one that was made out of the country or is of unknown origin.
Yes, I have been to Paris many times. I go to Paris to hunt for the wonderful jewelry that on rare occasions a French woman will give up for sale. Today, many French women prefer to hold onto their jewelry than to sell it and finding great pieces is not always as easy as it once was. Hard as it has become, I’m sure you will agree that the result is well worth the effort of finding these pieces.