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The Parisian jewellery firm of Fontana was founded in 1840 by Thomas Fontana (1813-1861) who had moved to Paris from Switzerland. He opened a modest workshop in an arcade inside the Galerie Beaujolais near the Palais Royale. His reputation for fine quality work soon spread and business flourished meaning that he was able to expand his premises and eventually take over the entire building.
When Thomas passed away in 1861 his son Charles was not old enough to assume leadership of the firm so control passed to his nephew Joseph Fontana and nephew by marriage Alexandre Templier. They exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle where they showcased a wide range of pieces including a series of unusual jewels in the Chinese style decorated with enamelled gods and goddesses sumptuously dressed and hung with tiny platinum bells. That same year Charles joined the business and took over four years later in 1871, at which point he re-named it Ch. Fontana & Cie. He continued to work alongside his cousins for another ten years continuing his father’s legacy of beautiful design and fine craftsmanship. Together they ensured the continued growth and success of the business which was described by Vever as “one of the most famous in Paris”.
In 1881 the company split and Joseph left to form Fontana Frères with his brother Giacomo establishing new premises at 7 rue de la Paix. This left Charles to run the original business which in 1896 relocated to spacious new premises at 13 rue Royale. He continued to attract a loyal clientele for his gem-set jewellery, predominantly designed in the traditional taste, which appealed to the Parisian bourgeoisie. In 1900 the firm exhibited at the Exposition Universelle with a display of Art Nouveau designs which combined gemstones and beautiful enamel work to great effect. The firm continued throughout the Art Deco period producing fashionable items such as sautoirs and diamond clips.