Lalique – The First Master Jeweler?

More than just a designer, René Lalique transformed fine jewelry from the realm of ornamentation to the province of true art. Born in 1860 at Ay, on the Marne, Lalique was recognized for his tremendous versatility and imagination. Before becoming an independent jeweler, Lalique worked as a freelance designer for well-known houses such as Cartier, Boucheron, and Vever. His first eponymous showing at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Francais, was a outstanding triumph.

A recognized master, Lalique became famous for his use of strong sculptural elements within the sinuous tapestry that characterized Art Nouveau. Precious and non-precious materials of all kinds were experimented with in surprising and unprecedented new ways. Whatever was used (whether it be diamonds or baroque pearls, carved ivory or shells), the items always served the ultimate aim of overall composition and final artistic value. A lover of nature, with an acute eye for detail, Lalique’s dragonflies, butterflies, plants, and flowers sparked a rage of similar designs. Yet none could rival those of the original master.

Always inventive, Lalique often combined the female form with his nature motifs. Nude and draped figures were wreathed in flowers or billowing long hair. Others were fluidly morphed into new creatures with butterfly wings. In the mid-1890s, his notoriety increased as he began creating large, flamboyant stage jewelry for the infamous tragic actress Sarah Bernhardt. As always, imitators followed Lalique in whichever design direction he went, selling inferior copies of his work seemingly everywhere. Disgusted by it all, Lalique retreated to glassmaking in his latter years.