From 1860 until 1936, three successive generations of Fouquet would make a considerable contribution to the world of fine jewellery – each creating spectacular pieces representative of their respective eras.
The story begins with Alphonse Fouquet (1828-1911) who began his apprenticeship to a manufacturing jeweller in Paris when he was just 11 years old. After training for five years he was free to pursue other opportunities and thereafter sought work and experience with a number of different craftsmen including Alexis Falize. In 1860 he set up his own business, initially in a partnership but after two years he was independent and focused on creating jewellery that showcased fine quality goldwork coupled with engraved gems, cameos and miniatures and that were set with a variety of gems including onyx, turquoise, diamonds and pearls. He employed about thirty people and many of the pieces they made were for export to other European countries as well as further flung destinations such as South America.
The 1878 Exposition Universelle marked a turning point for Fouquet and his success there enabled him to leave the Marais district and move to more prestigious premises at 35 Avenue de l’Opera. He designed many pieces of figurative jewellery from chatelaines, brooches and cufflinks to tiaras featuring the female form as well as a range of mythical animals. Alongside this were the naturalistic floral diamond set jewels popular of the period and which Fouquet was designing right up until 1895 when he handed over the running of the business to his son Georges.
Georges Fouquet (1862-1957) had started working for his father in 1880 so by the time he succeeded him he had a sound knowledge of both the craft and the business. The Art Nouveau aesthetic was really coming into its own and Georges was hugely influenced by the movement and its aspirations. He presented his first collections in 1898 which included jewelled orchids and butterflies, and by the time of the 1900 Exposition Universelle he was able to present a spectacular display. Many of the pieces, as well as the display cabinets themselves, had been designed in collaboration with the artist Alphonse Mucha. Possibly introduced by the actress Sarah Bernhardt who asked Fouquet to make a bracelet for her from a design by Mucha, the two men went on to create a range of quintessential Art Nouveau jewellery together. Favoured motifs included the female form, whiplash lines, flora and fauna in its infinite variety and the use of enamel and chased gold was widespread along with gems such as opals, pearls and horn. Mucha would even design the new shop premises that the Maison Fouquet moved to on the rue Royal at the beginning of the new century.
By 1910 fashions were changing and the Art Nouveau style was being superseded by a more modern aesthetic. Additionally the types of jewellery women were wearing were changing and as the decade progressed necklaces lengthened, as did earrings and headbands became increasingly popular. A 1912 advert showing a wonderful array of Fouquet diamond-set hair ornaments embellished with feathers would, within 10 years, seem hugely outdated as hair was cut short and jewelled bandeaus worn straight across the forehead became de rigueur. Georges responded to the zeitgeist and his jewels took on a bolder and more geometric appearance with black onyx and diamonds a favoured combination and influences from the Far East and Africa present in the motifs he employed.
In preparation for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs he encouraged his contemporaries to approach their work with a new freshness and in his role as President of the jewellery section he invited them to show “only pieces of genuine originality, drawing on new sources of inspiration”.
Georges’ son Jean (1899-1961) had joined the family business and exhibited his own pieces for the first time at the 1925 fair for which he was awarded a medal. He went on to become one of the key innovators of the Art Moderne style and created some of the periods most striking and audacious jewels. Strong geometric lines, abstract, industrial motifs, black and white colourways often combined with just one other primary colour and minimal use of precious gems typify his work. Bold cuffs, wide bangles, asymmetric pendants and striking cocktail rings which looked chic and modern were his signature styles and his work is still highly sought after today. The Maison closed its doors in 1936 after a challenging few years in the wake of the 1929 crash. However Jean continued to work independently, taking on private commissions and working with a select group of craftsmen whom he relied upon to realise his creative vision. In 1952 he became a lecturer at L’École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs and in 1961 the Victorian and Albert Museum in London included works by both Jean and his father Georges in their ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961’. Sadly Jean didn’t live to see the exhibition as he passed away the same year but like his father and grandfather before him he left a legacy of jewelled creativity that we are still admiring and appreciating today.