René Lalique: The Master of Art Nouveau Jewellery

When thinking about jewellery, as I often do, my mind wanders to the nineteenth century legends. Famous jewellers such as Cartier, Fabergé and Bvlgari all rose to prominence in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. As the decades passed, each of these jewellery houses consistently reimagined the classic designs synonymous with its reputation (the panthère, the egg and the snake, respectively). However, another house also gained fame in the nineteenth century: Lalique. Founded in 1888 by René Lalique, the house created immensely popular jewellery throughout the end of the nineteenth century, as customers were drawn to Lalique’s novel approach to the relationship between the individual and nature.

Lalique had an extraordinary ability to render pieces with complimentary elements of naturalism and mysticism while also daring to create with materials no one else saw fit to use. However, though Lalique was both a jeweller and a glassmaker, his glassware technique remains far more recognized today than his jewellery. While the house still creates some jewellery, the pieces Lalique conceived in the late-nineteenth century are infinitely more iconic.

Born in 1860 in Aÿ-en-Champagne in the Marne region of France, Lalique spent his childhood in the countryside, an element of his life that inspired the naturalistic elements of his jewellery designs. He then studied at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs de Paris, after which he became a freelance jewellery designer for famous houses such as Cartier, Boucheron and Gariod. By the 1880s, Lalique had catapulted to the forefront of the jewellery industry. Considered the master of the Art Nouveau style, René Lalique revolutionized jewellery design in his use of unconventional materials and the intricate patterns of his creations.


The style of Art Nouveau gained popularity in the late 1800s. Concurrently, this time period saw a rise in demand for elaborate jewellery and pieces in ‘The Garland Style,’ a technique that emphasised natural motifs and delicate, flowing lines. The graceful, sweeping designs aimed to compliment fashions of the time. Necklaces rose in favour, particularly chokers layered atop longer necklaces, such as strands of pearls, égligé pendants, or lavalieres. Brooches, corsages and tiaras were often designed to look like floral bouquets or vines of foliage.

Lalique took these trends a step further and incorporated elements of the mythical into his naturalistic designs. He frequently used motifs of the female figure, flora, and fauna in his creations; his favourite motifs included women with dragonfly wings and women’s faces imposed on varieties of flowers.

René Lalique, ‘Dragonfly-woman’ corsage ornament, c. 1897-98, Founder’s Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.


René Lalique, ‘Woman’s face’ pendant, c. 1898–1900. Founder’s Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.

He also made use of materials previously unused in the jewellery industry, including horn, semi-precious stones, enamel, ivory and glass. Rather than using large diamonds to pull focus, as was popular at the time, Lalique preferred stones such as cornelian, tourmaline, bloodstone, chrysoberyl, coral and ivory. He designed many pieces for actress Sarah Bernhardt. In the photograph below she wears a stunning headdress with jewelled flowers on either side of a large crown. Many of the pieces he designed for Bernhardt were stage jewellery, and she eventually became one of his patrons. Lalique became known for arranging his materials in patterns that favoured originality over outright ostentation.

Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Melissinde ‘La Princesse Lointaine’ or Faraway Princess by Edmond Rostand, Theatre de la Renaissance 1895. (Photo by APIC/Getty Images).

Though he had used glass in his jewellery designs, Lalique eventually shifted his focus entirely to glass at the turn of the twentieth century, creating works in the novel, more minimalist Art Deco style. He partnered with perfumer François Coty, creating beautiful perfume bottles, before turning his attention to industrial glassware with the outbreak of World War I. Although its production of jewellery has dwindled, the house of Lalique is still renowned worldwide for its glassware.


By Genevieve Davis



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