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November 1999

From the Vault

Fruitful Fantasies

Fascination with India leads to a new jewelry style

The image of India as a land of legendary gems and fabulous treasures developed in the mind of western civilization after 1876, when Britain assumed control and supremely wealthy Indian princes began to travel the world on diplomatic visits and lavishly entertained visiting European dignitaries. The West was entranced by the masses of jewelry Indian potentates wore to show their wealth: ropes of pearls, jeweled turban ornaments, gemstone tassels, gem-studded arm bands and vast necklaces of rubies, emeralds and diamonds with pearls in enameled gold.

In Europe, Indian princes became acquainted with Parisian jewelry design and commissioned leading French jewelers to reset their jewels in the modern style with platinum and faceted diamonds. The beauty of these traditional Indian jewels set with cabochon or tumbled rubies, emeralds and sapphires was an inspiration for French jewelers. In their eyes, these pieces had a barbaric splendor that was exotic and untamed.

Blazing Colors

This attraction for the exotic was fueled by the Ballets Russes production of Scheherezade that took Paris by storm in 1910. The audience was electrified by the rich, primary colors of the sets and costumes. Designers quickly introduced harem dresses, harem pants and turbans. Jewelry designs took longer to evolve. Though Indian and other oriental motifs began to appear around 1910, the use of colored gems in strong contrast didn't take full effect until the 1920s.

Jacques Cartier was one of the first European jewelers to visit India to buy gems. He developed a rapport with wealthy Indian maharajas, many of whom sold a few exceptional gems from their private collections. Cartier obtained a select inventory of gems, including antique engraved emeralds and carved emerald beads from the Mughal period.

Buying gems on the open market was a different story. Fine-quality gems were very expensive and hard to obtain, but lower-grade rubies, emeralds and sapphires were readily available. Cartier recognized an untapped potential. Using the antique engraved emeralds of Mughal India as inspiration, he had these low-quality but richly colored gems carved into stylized leaves and fruit and incorporated them into modern jewelry set with diamonds in platinum.

As this fashion for "multigem" jewels in the Indian style caught on, other jewelers followed Cartier's lead. Strap bracelets incorporating the vine motif seen in Persian and Indian art were very popular. Other fast favorites were brooches and clips designed as little bowls of fruit, vases of flowers and potted plants known as giardinetti, or little gardens. Carved gems were set in long necklaces with tassel pendants, in the straps and around the tiny faces of narrow bracelet watches, in the frames and clasps of dressy handbags, and in a wide variety of earrings and rings.

Many of these creations incorporated gem beads as well. Antique emerald beads were the most sought after, strung with pearls in long sautoirs and tassels. Contemporary carved beads of ruby, sapphire and black onyx were set on platinum posts and capped by small diamonds to hold them firmly in place. Set with carved leaves and flowers, these beads gave the effect of luscious fruit.
This style faded in the early 1930s when "all white" jewelry became popular. Today, we know these Indian-inspired jewels as "fruit salad" or "tutti-frutti" jewelry, terms recently applied by auction houses. Quintessentially Art Deco in style, fruit salad jewels are eagerly sought by collectors, perfectly demonstrating how a clever use of lesser gems can create a jewel of extraordinary value.

by Elise B. Misiorowski

A carved sapphire bird sings atop a branch with carved emerald leaves and sapphire and ruby berries set with diamonds and platinum in a jabot brooch of Indian inspiration. Cartier circa 1925. Courtesy of a private collection.



Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.



 

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