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NEW YORK — In a world of opulence, craftsmanship and ingenuity count most.
That is the message in estate and contemporary jeweler Fred Leighton’s exhibit of Art Deco jewels and objects, “Timeless Glamour,” which opened Thursday night with a private party at Leighton’s Madison Avenue flagship here.
“Fred Leighton has always had a strong Art Deco presence with jewelry pieces and jeweled objects,” said Leighton chairman Ralph Esmerian. “Art Deco is the zenith of great workmanship in jewelry when the world was coming out of its cocoon. The world had developed into a material paradise.”
Art Deco flourished in between the world wars from 1920 to 1939 and was prevalent in Paris, London, Rome and New York. Society was fixated on industry, building skyscrapers and ocean liners, and the techniques that brought such revolutionary concepts to fruition.
Jewelers were no exception. Houses such as Cartier experimented with techniques such as enameling and lacquer in vibrant colors and plique-à-jour, a decorative technique in which enamel is placed in between the metal rather than on top of it, for a luminous appearance. The museum clock was invented in the period. The style was to set a clock almost invisibly into a gemstone, such as a large citrine or aquamarine, so only the hands would be visible. Eighty such clocks were made in the period. One is on display in the exhibit.
Other styles popularized in the period include jewelry using nonprecious materials such as wood — inspired by African art — and a mosaic-type setting for gemstones, including rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Leading jewelers of the movement were Cartier, Boucheron, Fouquet, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels and Mauboussin, most of which had offices in New York. Examples of all are displayed in the store.
Esmerian said the level of craftsmanship is brilliant in Art Deco, which is one reason jewelry and objects from the era have long been drawing big numbers at auction.
Everything in the exhibit is for sale. Some outstanding pieces include a white gold cuff with insets of rock crystal and pavé diamonds and a cage for a Maharaja’s tree frog made of jade, gold and other precious materials.
“It’s skilled work that we’ll never see again,” Esmerian said. “What is done today is copies.”