If you have been reading my blog for some time, you know that I have a thing for Epoque Fine Jewels, a Belgian family business specialising in rare and exquisite pieces by famous jewellers like René Lalique, Philippe Wolfers, Georges Fouquet and Tiffany. Epoque Fine Jewels was founded in 1958 by Mrs. Nicole Verschuere and is today one of the leading companies dealing in high quality antique and period jewellery. Patricia De Wit, second generation in the family business, is always kind enough to share her latest discoveries with me. And during the BRAFA in January, she already showed me what she was planning to reveal at TEFAF Maastricht…
Art Nouveau Choker ‘Glycines’ by Philippe Wolfers
In two days, TEFAF Maastricht will open its doors. And during the event Epoque Fine Jewels will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. On that special occasion they’ll display a breathtaking piece of Belgian heritage, the Art Nouveau choker ‘Glycines’ (Wisteria) by Philippe Wolfers.
This choker is one of the most impressive pieces of jewellery ever designed by Philippe Wolfers. It is composed of five alternating wisteria sets with carved watermelon tourmaline and carved opal, between purple and green plique-à-jour enamel leaf clusters, within a scrolling garnet and ruby frame of the familiar Art Nouveau whiplash design.
The exceptional quality of this piece lies mainly in its artistic quality. Philippe Wolfers loved the use of carved gemstones in his creations. Here in particular he uses carved watermelon tourmalines which display green and pink colors all within the same crystal (hence the name ‘watermelon’). He also uses carved opals, one of Wolfers favorite stones, for their delicate play of color and semi-transparency. The green and purple plique-à-jour enamel leafs, that delicate and translucent style of enameling Art Nouveau jewelers made famous, are in perfect harmony with the pastel colors of the wisteria.
The reverse surface of the necklace bears the monogram PW for Philippe Wolfers and mentions ‘Ex:unique’ which means that the work is a unique piece (Exemplaire unique). Unique pieces were marked “Ex:unique” to distinguish them from jewellery made by the family firm Wolfers Frères. Each unique piece was written down in a register, the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’, a very valuable register which originally served for Philippe Wolfers personal use. The ‘Glycines’ necklace is number 126 of the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’. The piece was designed between 28/8/1900 and 19/07/1901 and executed before 18/01/1902. It is numbers 108 and 111 of the workshop archive. I have tried to locate a digital version of this ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’ but without any luck so far.
It is thanks to these unique jewellery creations though, that Philippe Wolfers is considered one of the finest independent craftsmen designing jewellery in the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century. Of the approximately 130 unique pieces of jewellery Philippe Wolfers designed under his own name (1897-1907), very few pieces are still around. The elaborate pieces often served to promote more affordable pieces of jewellery made by the Wolfers Frères company, of which Philippe Wolfers was the artistic director. It was often the case that, after being shown at various exhibitions all over Europe, these ‘unique’ pieces were taken apart(!), which explains why they are so rare today.
What fascinates me is the fact that Sophie Willstädter, Philippe Wolfers’ wife, is mentioned in the company archives as the ‘buyer’. She also bought several other pieces designed by her husband, such as the ‘Libellules’ Ring and the ‘Cygne et Serpents’ pendant. I learned that Sophie was the daughter of one of Philippe’s customers from Mannheim. She was very well-to-do and brought in a huge dowry which was invested partially into her husband’s company. By purchasing his jewellery, she made sure his best pieces could remain in the family.
The ‘Glycines’ choker later appeared in the collection of the Wittamer–De Camps family, who owned a renowned ‘haute-couture’ business on the Avenue Louise in Brussels (1933-1976). They had an extensive art collection and a passionate relationship with Art Nouveau which led to the meticulous restoration of the House Solvay, built by Victor Horta. They were important collectors and promoters of artistic jewellery and probably the first to start collecting Art Nouveau jewellery in Belgium.
In May 2016, the ‘Glycines’ choker was auctioned at Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels for a whopping € 220k.
The Nikè (Goddess of Victory) pendant by Philippe Wolfers
Another famous piece that Epoque Fine Jewels will display at TEFAF 2018, is the Nikè (Goddess of Victory) pendant by Philippe Wolfers, from 1902. The Nikè is a magnificent Art Nouveau gold, enamel, ruby, sapphire and diamond pendant. It’s centered around the face of a women, carved in opal and surrounded by purple and orange plique-à-jour enamel tresses. The pendant is enhanced with old European-cut diamonds, a round cut sapphire and a rectangular-cut ruby, suspending a diamond and pearl drop. The wings have feathers in green and orange enamel, and blue-white plique-à-jour enamel feathers with multi coloured plique-à-jour enamel tips. The Nikè hangs from a rectangular ruby flanked by round cut sapphires and sculpted gold scrollwork, suspended by two rose-cut diamond link chains to a pearl, mounted in 18 karat gold.
Art Nouveau Jewellery
These two pieces of jewellery perfectly demonstrate how the Art Nouveau period brought a stylistic revolution to the jewellery industry. During the previous two centuries, the emphasis in fine jewellery had been on creating dramatic settings for diamonds. During the reign of Art Nouveau though, diamonds only played a supporting role. Jewellers applied a wide variety of other stones, such as agate, garnet, opal, moonstone, aquamarine and other (semi-) precious stones. They also experimented with new techniques, like enameling, and new materials, including horn, molded glass, and ivory. Design and craftmanship were now valued higher than the accumulated value of the ‘ingredients’ of a piece of jewellery.
Art Nouveau Master Philippe Wolfers – The Jewelry Loupe
Art Nouveau Silver Design – The Wolfers Collection
Christies Collecting Guide – Art Nouveau Jewellery
Christies – Geneva Magnificent Jewels
Epoque Fine Jewels
Kunstbus – Philippe Wolfers
Philippe and Marcel Wolfers Collection