Few names conjure the all-enveloping opulence of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Belle Époque design better than French icon René Lalique. Most collectors will know the breadth of Lalique’s sumptuous glass forms, from streamlined Art Deco car mascots to delicate Art Nouveau-inspired perfume bottles. The sophisticated connoisseur, however, will know that before he mastered glass, René Lalique excelled in the art of jewelry design. Equally compelling and conjured in opulent materials, Lalique jewelry rivaled the major jewelry houses from the turn of the century for their elegance and exceptional beauty. Prepare to be dazzled as we explore a bit of Lalique jewelry history and take a tour of the most collectible creations from the house of Lalique.
A diamond in the rough: From Lalique jewelry to glass
Lalique’s love of jewelry may have begun during his first apprenticeship as a student in Paris with jeweler, Louis Aucoc. Aucoc was expert at pairing delicate elements borrowed from nature in the Art Nouveau style in his gem-laden pendants and brooches. Lalique followed suit and developed a similar style full of Art Nouveau appeal. His success with these designs afforded him roles with the biggest jewelry houses in history, including Cartier. It also led to the launch of his studio in the 1880s, where the elegance of Art Nouveau forms – from alighting dragonflies to whimsical nymphs – reigned supreme in his designs.
By the early years of the twentieth century, however, Lalique began to shift from jewelry design to focus more solidly on glass works. These ranged from compact perfume bottles to the colossal 45-foot tall glass fountain he crafted for the Decorative Arts Exhibition – the namesake for the “Art Deco” movement – in 1925. Throughout this era, Lalique continued to create jewelry but primarily in the medium of glass. Lalique continued to dazzle fans of his work with daring forms and cutting-edge colored glass until the 1940s, when wartime brought an end to an era of design brilliance. René Lalique died at the age of 85. The company was taken over by René’s son, Marc, who sought out new direction for Lalique – this time in crystal.
Lalique’s wares are universally celebrated on the market today, but his early jewelry pieces are rarer, and most perk up collectors. Let’s take a look at some of the most sought-after styles of Lalique jewelry.
Lalique pendants and necklaces
Pendants that borrowed forms from nature, accented with brilliant enamel and dripping in gems. Lalique pendants and necklaces were so popular towards the end of the nineteenth century that clientele included famed actress Sarah Bernhardt. These often achieve high hammer prices, which can reach even higher for Lalique parure sets. But for those seeking a lower price point, the glass necklace of the 1920s and 1930s make a wonderful entry point.
Lalique brooches and pendant watches
Perhaps the most evocative of Lalique jewelry offerings, the brooches and pendants designed by the artist reflect the ultimate combination of delicate details and luxurious materials. Lalique brooches often capture flora and fauna with such precision that it is as if butterflies and blossoms were simply plucked from nature and immortalized in bejeweled forms. Some Lalique brooches also bridged beauty and function with an added pendant watch.
Lalique bracelets and rings
For those seeking a smaller accent of Lalique jewelry for the hand or wrist, Lalique bracelets and rings are equally compelling. Many Lalique bracelets feature the “plique-a-jour” enameling technique that comprises the enameling of glass powder in cells or spaces without backing. This gives these enameled accents a translucent color akin to stained glass and thus perhaps makes Lalique jewelry with this technique a fitting reminder of Lalique’s mastery of glass.
Looking for vintage Lalique jewelry
Typically, the tell-tale Art Nouveau aesthetic of Lalique jewelry will be give you a clue from afar, but if you are uncertain about the authenticity of a piece, here are some tips to boost your confidence.
Run from “René”
While many pieces of Lalique jewelry will come with an identifying mark (although it changed over time), Lalique never included his first name, “René”, on any of his pieces. If you see the full name “René”, you’ve probably found a replica or copycat artist. Instead, during his lifetime, Lalique’s pieces did often include his initial “R”.
Look for permanent branding
Copies of Lalique pieces will often have paper labels indicating the name. True Lalique will always bear the mark permanently, such as through carving, moulding, or intaglio.
Move away from modern materials
Lalique jewelry incorporates a wide variety of precious and semi-precious materials to evoke such striking natural forms. That being said, keep an eye out for materials that seem anachronistic or of lesser quality (plastic would be an obvious one!)
Luxuriate with Lalique Jewelry
Endlessly elegant and expertly crafted, each piece of Lalique jewelry offers a reminder of the innovative brilliance of one of the turn-of-the-century’s most significant designers. Use this guide as your springboard to collecting can set you on course to finding the Lalique jewelry that speaks to your style and taste.