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MONUMENTAL was this editing project, consolidating into one book of 1000-plus pages and 1400 illustrations Vever’s three original volumes of La Bijouterie Française au XIXe Siècle published from 1906-1908 and written by jeweller extraordinaire Henri Vever, who gave himself the equally monumental task of gathering together every single piece of information he could unearth on the careers of both the humblest and the most famous of his competitors.

A collector of jewellery and a man of passion for the jewels created in the 19th century workshops of Paris, Vever offers some wonderful anecdotal stories in this masterly survey; by identifying unrecorded craftsmen he makes this book a unique document. Just reading the contents list offers gem-like tasters of the jewels to follow.

Volume I includes the Consulate and the Empire, a style that represented “a discipline taken to the lengths of Caesarism” with stories of the great goldsmiths, August, Odiot and Biennais, the Emperor’s important commissions, including his chased gold double-edged sword, while the Empress Josephine’s jewellery excesses, some Fr25m in six years, greatly added to the prosperity of France’s finest jewellers. The Restoration was all solemnity, dignity and austerity, when a passion for everything Gothic developed. The story of the Bapst family of jewellers, the oldest in Paris today, going back to 1725, makes riveting reading, while the sight of the Duchesse de Berry wearing the fashionable large silver ears of wheat in her hair at right angles to her head, all topped with a gem-set tiara, ornamental hairpins and a huge mass of feathers, would be one never forgotten.

The Second Empire is the subject for Volume II; the 1855 and 1867 Expositions, the jewellers Massin, Boucheron, the beauteous works of Falize, and the jewellery worn by that most glittering of the demi-mondaines, Cora Pearl, who once appeared as Cupid in Offenbach’s comic opera Orphée aux Enfers, naked save for a pair of boots on which the buttons were huge diamonds and the soles likewise. After the performance an anonymous count offered Fr50,000 for the boots, double that if Cora was inside them.

This highly readable unique account ends with Volume III, the Third Republic and another stream of jewellers and designers… Fouquet, Mucha, Gaillard, the incomparable Lalique and the master chasers, Rault and Brateau. Henri Vever’s conclusions on the transformation of French jewellery during the 19th century are apposite: “The way is clear for those dedicated artists who rejected insipid copies, preferring the challenges and rewards of their own creativity… it is to these brave and persistent few that we feel the future belongs.”

Mighty cumbersome to use and one hopes the spine is up to it, the book has a 116-page list of illustrations and it is worth noting that a number of the pieces come from the Vever collection in Paris’ Musée des Arts Decoratif, including some of the 136 new pictures for this English edition.
An essential reference for anyone involved with jewellery, a valuable survey of 19th century jewellery and an important piece of social history.