East Meets West -Jewelled Splendours of the Art Deco Era
The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum
At Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum, some 2,000 exhibits illustrate the art of jewellery-making over a period of five millennia, from antiquity to the present day. These include superlative creations from Persia and Egypt, artistically and delicately crafted Etruscan jewellery, lavishly sumptuous specimens from the Baroque period, outstanding pieces from the Art Nouveau period, as well as a renowned collection of modern jewellery.
The exhibition has been running since May 5, to great attendance and runs to January, 2019, The Aga Kahn collection is being shown for the first time in its entirety in Europe at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum; before travelling on to Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris later in 2019. Since classical antiquity, the mutual fascination between the Orient and the Occident has repeatedly brought about new art forms. In the Art Deco period, for example, the ornamental exoticism of Persian miniatures or Japanese prints, of Chinese or Middle Eastern decorative arts, lent themselves perfectly to fulfilling people’s desire for decorative and unusual luxury.
The 1920s were characterised by technological progress and rapid societal change, both of which were reflected in the jewellery and arts of that era in the shape of flamboyant motifs and colours wedded to clear-cut shapes and austere materials. The vanity and cigarette cases, clocks and watches from the Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection bear eloquent witness to this. “Having the privilege to showcase these resplendent pieces, created by the most prestigious Parisian jewellers, here at the Jewellery Museum before they travel on to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is a very special honour,” says Cornelie Holzach, the museum’s director.
How the collection evolved
The collection originated when, on Christmas Eve in 1972, Prince Sadruddin gave his wife a superbly ornamented case by Cartier as a gift. This was the beginning of what evolved, until his death in 2003, into the largest single collection, comprising 116 items of Art Deco cases and timepieces. Most of them were made by Cartier, but they also include a number of creations by Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Bulgari. They were all personal gifts that Princess Catherine received from her husband Sadruddin “representing the sweetness of their more than thirty-year marriage and their famed reputation for collecting important art”, as Sarah Davis writes in the book about the collection.
In terms of their motifs, they constitute reified manifestations of the lively cultural exchanges between the East and West, a dialogue that Sadruddin Aga Khan himself embodied, having grown up in France and the Middle East, and worked for the UN later on. Back in the 1950s, he had started to collect Oriental miniatures. And since their motifs were also being adopted by jewellers, they can be found on many of these cases as well, thus constituting a connecting link between the prince’s two collections. His favourite themes were gardens, flowers, hunting and animals, particularly big cats.
One striking example is the Panther vanity case created by Cartier in 1925, displaying a panther against a backdrop of cypresses, the most prevalent trees in Persian miniature landscapes, and crafted from enamel, mother-of-pearl, rubies, turquoise, onyx and diamonds. The panther might have also been inspired by the drawings of Paul Jouve, who had illustrated Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Compared to jewellery, vanity and other kinds of cases provided larger surfaces to accommodate reinterpretations of such exotic motifs. This masterpiece was showcased at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925.
Accessories for modern women
The 1920s and 1930s were characterized by profound societal change, not least with regard to the position of women, who were now responsible for creating their own image. Consequently, they wore dresses in lengths that they desired and kept their hair rather short and thus easy to style. Bejewelled cigarette and vanity cases were indispensable accessories for complementing the social elite’s outfits for their nightlife activities, to be ostentatiously flaunted at glamorous dinner parties in exotically decorated apartments or smoky nightclubs. They served as status symbols demonstrating both their owners’ good taste and sense of fashion. They had room for all the essential accoutrements, such as rouge, perfume, a lipstick or cigarettes, with the latter becoming a symbol of women’s emancipation and modernity.
The spirit of the times is also reflected in a lapis lazuli case created by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1928. It features a rock crystal triangle reminiscent of runway tracks. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris after completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight. This achievement is evoked by the decoration’s dynamically streamlined design against the lapis-lazuli-blue sky. In addition to cigarette and vanity cases, the Aga Khan Collection also comprises timepieces that incorporate masterfully crafted movements in exquisitely extravagant cases.
At Cartier, for example, superbly skilled watchmakers collaborated with exceptionally talented designers. One impressive example of their work is a Mystery Clock complemented with an imperial guardian lion. Its dial, in front of which the hands perform their circular motion seemingly without being connected to the movement, is supported by a lion carved in jade from the 19th century. According to traditional Chinese beliefs, the lion was a guardian of Buddhism, watching over houses and temples, usually in the shape of pairs of guardian lion statues flanking the entrances. This clock was depicted in Vogue magazine in 1930 under the headline “Gifts with a Princely Gesture”, discreetly alluding to the fact that such magnificent treasures, characterised by consummate designs and superlative hand craftsmanship, were created for Cartier’s most prestigious clients like the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan.
The collection was shown in its entirety for the first time in 2017 at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. Before being showcased in Pforzheim, it will be on display at Van Cleef & Arpels’ School of Jewelry Arts in Paris and can afterwards be admired at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A magnificent book about the collection was published by Thames & Hudson in 2017 under the title “Jewelled Splendours of the Art Deco Era. The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection”.
The Reuchlinhaus, home to Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum, can be rented for events. The auditorium accommodates about 200 chairs, or 160 when tables are also provided. It is also possible to rent the entrance hall, as well as the foyer and kitchen. In addition to comprehensive event technology, catering services and guided tours through the Jewellery Museum can be booked to complement an event.
Panther vanity case
Enamel, rubies, mother-of-pearl, turquoise, onyx, diamonds
Chrysanthemum vanity case
Rubies, amethyst, sapphire, onyx, emerald, diamonds, gold
Signed Lacloche Frères
Manufactured by Strauss, Allard & Meyer
Paris, about 1928
Lapis lazuli, diamonds, rock crystal, jadeite, gold
Van Cleef & Arpels
Manufactured by Allard & Meyer
Imperial Guardian Lion Mystery Clock
Nephrite, enamel, emeralds, rubies, citrine, diamonds, pearls, coral, gold, platinum
Manufactured by Maurice Couet
Movement European Watch & Clock Co.
Cloud Retrograde Clock
Rock crystal, diamonds, onyx
Movement by Vacheron Constantin
Signed Verger Frères