Rene Lalique

Jewellery and Glass Master

Rene Lalique (1860-1945) was one of the leaders of the Art Nouveau movement and revolutionised the French jewellery market by turning jewellery into an art form. He proved there was no need to rely on large quantities of precious materials to create stunning works of art.

Lalique was apprenticed to a Parisian jeweller in 1874 and opened his own business in the city in 1885. He soon began to experiment, mixing precious materials with non-precious, believing that the artistic value of a piece was more important than that of its constituent parts. Lalique’s jewellery from this period mixed materials such as horn with diamonds, silver, gold and plique-a-jour enamel. The enamel was used to add depth and translucency to the design.

He was inspired by the natural world – and was one of the first jewellers to use motifs such as thistles, dandelions, poppies, dragonflies, sycamore seeds, butterflies and snakes. His designs could be naturalistic, mystical or symbolic.

Lalique designed dramatic stage jewellery for the actress Sarah Bernhardt – the woman who personified the Art Nouveau movement – and similarly decadent pieces for fashionable and wealthy women.

In 1897 he was awarded the Croix de la Legion d’Honneur for the jewellery he exhibited at the Brussels World Fair. However, the pinnacle of this stage of his career was the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle where he received the Grand Prix. His stand featured sculptures of naked winged women, and among his exhibit was a horn and diamond tiara in the form of a wreath of autumn leaves.

Jeweller Roger Vever recorded the shock of new visitors when they saw Lalique’s work at the exhibition: “You thought you were dreaming when you saw these beautiful things. A cockerel holding an enormous yellow diamond in its beak; a huge dragonfly with a woman’s head and diaphanous wings; enamelled country scenes sparkling with diamond dew-drops; ornaments like pine cones.”

However, a combination of frustration at the way his work was being copied and a fascination with glass led to him exhibiting his final jewellery collection in 1912.
Within two years he was working exclusively in art glass.

In 1921 he opened his own glassworks and began designing iridescent glass necklaces and bracelets, the glass set on silk cords. Soon he was also designing pendants, brooches and rings with a Japanese influence, and featuring the naturalistic and feminine motifs also seen on his vases and other glassware.

His Cabochon ring, using 14 shades of glass, continues to be a bestseller for the Lalique company.