Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gifts of Grandeur: The Philippe Wolfers Hair Ornament, 1905-1907

Hair Ornament
Philippe Wolfers
Belgium 1905-1907
Gold, Diamonds, Enamel
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The four petals of this orchid of gold, plique-a-jour enamel, diamonds and rubies radiate from the large central diamond, catching the light both from the front and from behind and offering a mesmerizing, exotic shine and sparkle.

The work of Beglian jeweler Philippe Wolfers, this hair ornament was created between 1905 and 1907 in the extremely technically difficult art of plique-à-jour (French, "letting in daylight"). This is a a technique of vitreous enameling in which the enamel is applied in cells. In this respect, it is similar to cloisonné. However, the similarity ends there. Where the cells of enamel in cloisonné enamel are backed in metal, in plique-à-jour, the backing is removed once the work is finished. In a similar concept to stained glass, this allows light to pass through the transparent or translucent enamel. This technique is difficult to master and is only successfully seen in a few surviving pieces.

Philippe Wolfers was one of the few to truly conquer the technique. He was the most prestigious of the Art Nouveau jewelers working in Brussels. He shared stylistic tendencies with his French counterpart René Lalique. Both men were heavily influenced by the nature and both often incorporated orchids into their designs. You see, orchids symbolized the Art Nouveau movement and served as a visual means of communicating the movement’s fascination with nature and sensuality.

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