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Jewellery Gallery - Expo Paris 1889

Jewellery Gallery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

Jewellery is the art of working with gold, silver and other precious metals, as others are becoming available.

Jewellery is the art of setting precious stones in silver or gold, or in any other setting you choose. Jewellery includes: fine jewellery, high-grade gold, low-grade gold and imitation jewellery. Jewellery includes fine jewellery and imitation jewellery.

These five subdivisions of class 37, with the developments and small ancillary industries they comprise, occupy the first gallery on the left in the main body of the Palais des Expositions diverses. It is easy to understand what a wealth of material is assembled in such an exhibition.

It seems that there are more than sixty million stones, pearls and jewels in these showcases. Each exhibitor has only taken up a very small amount of space, but it is easy to fit a million diamonds into a space as large as your hand.

The layout of the gallery is severe but rich. Two rows of Louis XV oak display cases, very simple in their ornamentation, occupy the entire length of the bay. All around is a display case, interspersed here and there with loaves of luxurious benches or statues.

Above the display cabinets the walls are lined with a beautiful green cloth with gold stamps. One feels that one is in the home of people who have the bag and who are not afraid to show it.

Fine jewellery, even more than jewellery, is an essentially French and essentially Parisian art. It can almost be considered an industry, an artistic industry, a state industry. Not so long ago, our jewellers were not allowed to make any jewellery below 700 thousandths fine. Low gold, as the lower grades are called, was made exclusively abroad: Switzerland and Germany were the leaders in this respect. It so happened that in order to match the labour and the material, our jewellers had to constantly attach jealous care to the artistic execution of their jewellery. This is how our jewellery has retained its purity of taste and the supreme elegance of its designs. When, for economic reasons, it was necessary to allow the manufacture of low gold in France and only for export, the right decision was made and our cheap jewellery is as elegant as our fine jewellery. The fact had already occurred for the double and the fake, it is long since that a jewel of simple gilded copper manufactured in Paris has three times more artistic merit than a jewel in real coming from Germany.

To be sure of the taste that presides even over the manufacture of imitations, it is sufficient to go through the series of showcases that occupy the end of the gallery and that contain only imitation jewellery. There are some real marvels there. What can be said of fine jewellery, which adds to perfect workmanship the price of a precious raw material?

And yet, despite the purity of its productions, jewellery is in the doldrums today. It is because the public is abandoning it and going to diamonds and precious stones.

There are many reasons for this. One of them is very immediate. Since Cape Town diamonds came onto the market, the price of gemstones has dropped considerably, which has made it possible to have a set of jewellery that looks better than a jewel of the same price for less money. Moreover, diamonds do not wear out or go out of fashion. If fashion changes, it only affects the arrangement, which can be changed. The most beautiful gold jewel once hammered to give it another shape, will be worth 40 to 50 francs, if it is heavy enough for that.

But the most serious reason, the one that is not admitted and which nevertheless determined all the malaise of the jewellery trade, is that the time that is running is that of excessively unstable fortunes. Someone who buys 100,000 francs worth of jewellery today to put in a wedding basket is already calculating what he will get for his 100,000 francs if a crash forces him to wash his wife's jewellery. And since it is easier to monetise intrinsic value than artistic value, diamonds are preferred to jewellery.

It is not that diamonds are not very interesting in themselves. On the contrary, and I have no hatred for them. French jewellers know how to take advantage of them admirably; they know how to give a piece of enormous value a discreet tone which means that a woman can adorn herself with the most beautiful necklace made in Paris without it shouting out: "Don't you see that I have 200,000 francs' worth around my neck? This discretion is no small thing.

Let's go around the gallery, if you like, starting at the entrance with the showcases leaning against the wall. These showcases are occupied by imitation jewellery, black silver jewellery which is beginning to come back into fashion, the empress of Russia having shown the way. Here are stretch jewels, rings, brooches, necklaces, tiaras.

The setting is arranged in such a way that it can fit any finger, any neck, any head.

Next to these jewels we find a first series of imitations of the great historical diamonds: Kohinoor. Grand Mogol, Regent, Sancy, etc.. This collection is repeated at least twenty times in the various showcases and we will not return to it more than to the reproductions of the Eiffel Tower, of which one can find, with a little attention, at least one hundred different models.

Solid silver and solid gold seem to be very fashionable. And this is partly due to the reasons I gave above. One tends to make a valuable piece of jewellery without much work. Nevertheless, this very little work can be exquisite.

This does not mean that finished pieces cannot be found. On the contrary, there are masterpieces of the genre, including a Louis XV silver chased mirror and a Renaissance nightlight that are to be knelt over.

Another example of a finished work, but a mechanical one, is the jewellery primers. In the past, primers were only used for fake jewellery. They were die-cut pieces, blanks of rings, hoops, earrings, which only had to be assembled, polished and finished. All this was rather crude and left a lot of work.

Nowadays, the pieces of jewellery come out of the cutting machine almost completely finished, they only need to be polished and they are ready to be mounted. The fine jewellery industry has not hesitated to ask for pieces that used to have to be made in the workshop.

Jet has been somewhat neglected. This is also its fault. It has never been very cheerful and a woman has to be admirably beautiful not to be crushed under the inelegance of a jet adornment. In spite of this, the few pieces exhibited in class 37, try to keep up the struggle and would perhaps succeed in bringing jet back into fashion if we were not inundated with German imitations, which even more than the real jet, have contributed to the decline of this kind of ornament.

The same is true of coloured pearls, which constitute one of the most inferior parts of the imitation... This type of jewellery, which is almost not jewellery at all, has no other claim than to provide ornamental motifs for the toilet. It is, however, an article of significant manufacture, but it is so lacking in elegance that it is understandable that this manufacture is entirely or almost entirely reserved for export. However, from an industrial point of view, coloured beads are an interesting curiosity. They used to be made of glass, but now they are made of metal, mainly steel, which has made it possible to make them much lighter. It has been possible to obtain all colours in steel, except black. So there is a fortune to be made for the inventor of the black pearl, in steel. Notice to amateurs.

Fine pearls have lost none of their vogue, if they are truly fine pearls and the most beautiful. But imitation pearls have become so popular that jewellers nowadays ask questions like the following:
There are six fake pearls and six fine pearls in this bracelet. Find the six fine pearls. These sort of cat-and-mouse games are repeated seven or eight times in the shop windows. There is even a pearl oyster shell, in which a false pearl has been joined to two fine pearls, which it owed to nature. In front of me a jeweller, who was not the exhibitor, said that it was impossible to recognise the fake pearl.

The coral has a very small place. It is a dead thing. We don't wear them at all any more, and that doesn't seem to me to be a pity, as coral has always seemed to me to be a wild jewel, which only looks good on tattooed skin and accompanied by a varied garment.

Enamels, on the other hand, are alive and well; they are a great success. Our Slavophile tendencies have brought us back - we don't know why - to Byzantine art, form and colour. Religious jewellery, in particular, has gone down this road. All crosses are Byzantine and most are enamelled.

It is worth mentioning, as a very French product, the magnificent enamels from Bresse exhibited by a company from Bourg.

All these exhibitions occupy the whole of the gallery, and they are very interesting; it is however in the middle of the gallery that the public is drawn. It is there, indeed, that the jeweller's art bursts forth in all its richness. The Palais-Royal and the Rue de la Paix have been stripped of their magnificent finery. Rivers of diamonds sparkle in mirific cascades, ideal brooches, flowering branches that come from the land of dreams; the satisfaction of the most demanding art and the price of all virtues is held there, in a space of twenty-five paces in square.

The freshness and nature of the fashionable frames should be noted. Jewellery has broken with the grand siècle and Empire tradition of majestic, geometrical, compact forms. Today, it seeks inspiration from nature.

This is a happy current derived from Japonism, that precious source of true art and return to the truth. It is to branches, flowers and leaves that most of these models have been asked.

And nature, which is always an indulgent mother, has divinely inspired the artists. We must also do justice to these artists, that they have worked hard. There are as many observations in a brooch as big as a finger as in a French landscape; the attitude of a leaf is studied with the same meticulous care that the Japanese take to copy the attitude of a grasshopper. And this, come on, is French art. The workers of these superb works are born in the soil of Paris. It is the children of its suburbs who become the great artists of French jewellery. In the morning you meet the apprentice, this high, carrying his locked box in which there is perhaps a fortune. He is a slightly ill-bred kid, the gossipy tiercelet of the Parisian bell towers. Tonight at the professional school, he will pick out a detail, draw a rebellious branch twenty times, prepare the wonders you see here.

It is impossible to detail everything about this superb exhibition, impossible also to name all the competitors. However, we must mention one of them, because the name of this one cannot make anyone jealous. It is the house of Bapst.

It exhibited enamels of great beauty and reproductions of some historical jewels, made by the Bapsts of yesteryear, for the queens of France. But as you pass by their showcase, if you don't admire what they contain, nevertheless look at it respectfully. It represents to you the oldest trading house in Paris, perhaps in France and perhaps in the whole world.

And now, to finish, here is the wealth of riches, the imperial diamond.

In the centre of the room, a small showcase has been set up for it. And there, in a glass cage, turns a large carafe stopper... It is the god... It takes a certain amount of goodwill to be able to declare that this is beautiful of all beauties. It's a diamond decanter stopper, beautiful, but it's only a decanter stopper.

But it is worth so much money that one can only respectfully adore the largest diamond known.

It weighs 180 carats, you know, 74 more than the Kohinoor and 44 more than the Regent.

The Prince of Wales himself was its godfather and exclaimed on seeing it: "It's an imperial diamond", and the name has stuck.

It comes from Cape Town and is the property of a syndicate, - no more and no less, - no jeweller having been able to buy it on his own.
It was cut in Amsterdam, and the Queen of Holland was kind enough to honour with her presence, the setting... the cutting I mean, of the first facet. She did not attend all the cutting operations, which lasted eighteen months.

These operations brought to 180 carats the diamond which weighed 457 carats in its rough state. It is true that we were able to remove some very suitable diamonds from the debris.

Now, under its showcase at the Exhibition, the Imperial is waiting for a buyer.

At what price will you say? Well, we don't know. There is no term of comparison that would allow us to set a price. We will wait for offers.

The buyers are, of course, not a dime a dozen.

Perhaps the Queen of England will want to buy it, in which case it would be a good deal.

Perhaps the Shah of Persia will want it, in which case it would be a bad deal. For the king of kings is hard on rules.

As for private individuals, there are few who can afford this fantasy, and besides, what use would it be to any gentleman to possess such a diamond?

These decanter stoppers are only glorious with a crown underneath.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.