“To seek beauty is a more worthy aim than to display luxury” René Lalique
The Art Nouveau period, which flourished from the 1890s to the 1910s, brought whimsical and avant-garde designs to the world of art, architecture and jewelry. A response to increasing industrialization and mass production, this period, although short, produced some of the most revered designers of the 20th century. René Lalique became — and remains — one of the most well-known designers and craftsmen to emerge from this time. Best known for the naturalistic style of his French Art Nouveau period jewelry, his designs and use of innovative materials captured the grace of the organic world. Follow along as we take an adventure through the life and essence of René Lalique’s jewelry.
René Lalique began his artistic career in 1876 when he apprenticed to the Parisian goldsmith Louis Aucoc at the age of 16. While he enjoyed the trade, Lalique was much more interested in the arts and enrolled at L’École des Arts Décoratifs. Following this, he traveled to London where he attended the School of Art at Sydenham. After returning to Paris, Lalique studied sculpture with Justin Lequien and shortly thereafter began to design and manufacture jewelry for firms like Cartier, Destape and Boucheron. This training gave Lalique a highly versatile skill set in jewelry making, metalworking and design for which he is best known.
René Lalique opened the doors to his own Parisian storefront in 1885 after taking over the Place Gaillon workshops of Jules Destape. Here his designs blossomed, and his distinct style began to emerge. In 1888, Lalique registered the stamp “RL” in order to mark his creations that were growing in popularity. By 1890, he moved twice to bigger quarters as the buzz of his designs grew among his fashionable clientele.
In 1905, Lalique opened a new storefront at Place Vendôme, where he debuted glassworks as well as his famed jewelry designs. By using glasswork and special techniques of enameling, Lalique was able to produce jewelry less centered around gemstones and jewels and instead, utilizing form and natural influences from metals, mother-of-pearl, ivory and horn.
Rene Lalique and other Art Nouveau artists of his time were inspired by the changing world around them. Japanese art was starting to be shown in Parisian exhibitions, which contrasted greatly with the previous, traditional fashions; it was minimalistic and focused on organic features and motifs. This, and the advent of Impressionist art, helped to influence the highly stylized forms of Art Nouveau and Lalique’s designs. As a rebellious response to the typical designs of the “safe” Victorian era, designers around the turn of the century like Lalique were inclined to explore using the organic as inspiration.
Also captivated by the beauty of the female form, René Lalique’s designs often took the form of nymphs or maidens. The faces and bodies of young women became the centerpieces of many of his most coveted jewels, their arms and hair often merging to become various flora and fauna. The use of branches, vines and flowers was typical of the period, but Lalique embellished the designs with an enameling process called plique-à-jour, which allowed light to shine through transparent layers of glass.
This revolutionary design caught the eye of critics and consumers alike. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle, critics unanimously praised his jewelry. Even Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, the famed British-Armenian businessman, adored Lalique’s genius and commissioned over 140 works over the span of decades from Lalique’s workshop.
This “Fall of the Damned” pendant is a rare masterpiece of Art Nouveau jewelry design.
Lalique created larger and more decorative pieces of objet d’art as time went on. Additionally, he became highly involved in the Parisian perfume world as he created decorative and desirable perfume bottles. Vases, glassware and tableware also became a serious focus. However, there is no denying the power and influence Lalique’s skill had on the jewelry world. Signed pieces of jewelry by Lalique are highly coveted and bring in collectors from all over the world. In 1922, Lalique moved his workshop to Verrerie d’Alsace glassworks at Wingen-sur-Moder in Alsace — where the Lalique factory still lives today.