Precious Art Deco Objects from an Important Private Collection

Understanding Jewellery is advising the owner of an important collection of precious Art Deco objects, consigned to Phillips for auction in Geneva this November.

Entitled Precious Art Deco Objects from an Important Private Collection, this exceptional group of 126 items comprises jewelled vanity cases, lighters and cigarette cases by the great Maisons, notably Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Boucheron, Janesich and Lacloche Frères, not forgetting a fine group of seven desk clocks, two of them stunning examples by Tiffany & Co. It also includes several fascinating examples of Art Moderne cases by makers such as Brandt, Dunand, Sandoz and Templier. The sheer range of forms, colours, materials, techniques and makers position this group as a study collection for 20th century jewellery design enthusiasts.

We both feel closely connected to the collection and  we very well recall our first encounter with these precious objects in the owner’s home.  It was clear to us that they were very much part of the collector’s life – displayed under the glass tops of coffee tables, rather than in cabinets –  and surrounded by exquisite English furniture from the 18th century, and  fine examples of Chinese and Meissen porcelain. As with all collections, it was fascinating and insightful to hear from the owner about his motivations, especially since  he had started to form it  during  the very early stages of the market for Art Deco. One of the catalysts was the purchase, in the  1980s, of a cigarette case by Janesich  dating from the 1920s. Crafted in lapis lazuli, amethyst, onyx, moonstone and diamonds, this mysterious creation – a true masterpiece of the genre –  depicts the full moon against a rich, deep blue night sky, seen through the flowering branches of a prunus tree. Further discoveries were made in London, Paris and New York over the following years.

In exploring the individual pieces we were reunited with several which had previously passed through our hands – indeed some had featured in the first edition of our work, Understanding Jewellery, which was published in 1989. It is remarkable to consider that, at that time, collecting Art Deco jewels was still a new phenomenon. The Art Moderne designs by Templier, Brandt and Dunand meanwhile were not yet generating  much interest outside a very sophisticated élite of jewellery collectors.

We have chosen to illustrate here three items  which we believe are representative of the collection and which we find particularly interesting.


We are not the only ones to have admired this chic cigarette case by Jean Dunand for its simple but extremely effective decoration in a lacquer technique mastered by the artist. Indeed it was discovered among the personal effects of Andy Warhol and was included in his posthumous sale in New York in 1988.

Fascinated by lacquered metalwork from Asia, Dunand experimented and became famous for his work with coquille d’œuf – or eggshell lacquer. Originally an ancient Japanese technique, the painstaking process involved meticulously embedding tiny particles of crushed eggshell, piece by piece,  into a layer of fresh lacquer. The effect is a dramatic contrast between the sheer shiny surface of the lacquer and the splintered, irregular outlines of the eggshell fragments. Both the inside and the outside of the eggshell were used in order to achieve different  patterns, often shading between deep brown and cream to create  three-dimensional effects. Dunand’s eggshell lacquer objects became so much in demand that he is said to have maintained his own flock of chickens to provide material of suitable quality and colour.



Of the many influences in Art Deco, japonisme is among the most ubiquitous. In this very colourful and luxurious timepiece made by Tiffany & Co. one of the most iconic images in all Japanese art – Mount Fuji – is combined with Japanese numerals and a traditional flowering prunus. The similarity to the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and Utagawa (illustrated below) is striking. What is interesting is that the clock is placed on a rock crystal and onyx pedestal recalling architectural forms of the period and is surmounted by a charming jadeite carving of an elephant – hardly an animal associated with Japan and therefore somehow incongruous – but which is in line with the oriental mood of the creation.

Left: Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849): Fuji from Gotenyama, at Shinagawa on the Tōkaidō - detail | Right: "Old Man's Tea Shop at Meguro, 100 Famous Views of Edo" by Hiroshige Utagawa (1797–1858)


The influence here seems to us to be clearly industrial and makes references, with its multi-layered construction, to cooling elements used in the automobile industry. The chromatic combination of white chalcedony, black onyx and red coral is extremely chic and typical of the Art Deco period. The gold cabochons and the coral lugs are at once decorative and functional, in line with the overall mechanical feel of this highly desirable sculpture. This is a superb example of the many objects created by jewellers to fulfill the demand for luxurious paraphernalia surrounding the obsession with smoking that had taken hold of society in the years after the First World War.


Auction: 6th November 2023 | Viewing: 31st October-5th November 2023 | View the exhibition and auction information here |

Highlights from the collection can be viewed on an extensive international exhibition tour this Autumn accompanied by talks given by David and Daniela. Further details of the itinerary will be published soon.

Find out more: Read the Financial Times article | Read the Phillips’ Press Release