Lacaze, René Sim

1901 - 2000

René Sim Lacaze was one of the most important jewellery designers of the twentieth century.  His creative talents were employed most famously by Van Cleef & Arpels and Mauboussin where he was responsible for creating some of the most iconic jewels of the period. 

He was born René Lacaze in Paris in the summer of 1901 and developed a keen awareness and appreciation of artistic beauty from a young age.  His mother ran a dressmaking studio where he spent a lot of time as a young boy and his Uncle would regularly take him to visit the many museums of Paris to admire the countless works of art therein.  A friend of the family worked in the jewellery trade and would regale the young René with stories of sparkling gems and beautiful jewels.  René felt inexorably drawn to the profession and found himself a position working for the Atelier Mentel which served him well as it exposed him to a wide number of people within the trade. In 1921 he left to complete his military service with the Air Force where his talent with a pencil was recognised and he was put to work as a cartographer. 

He retuned to Paris two years later and immediately re-immersed himself in the world of Haute Joaillerie.  He applied to, and was accepted by, Van Cleef & Arpels in 1923 and he established himself very quickly rising to the position of artistic and design director in 1926. Significantly this was a position he held jointly with Renée Rachel Puissant, the daughter of Alfred Van Cleef.  Together they formed a powerful creative force, their complimentary talents and personalities driving Van Cleef & Arpels to the very forefront of French fine jewellery.  Their thirteen year collaboration produced some truly exceptional designs and many of VCA’s most iconic pieces originated from this wonderfully fruitful time including the Ludo bracelet, the Pylones suite, the Zip necklace (which was designed and patented in 1938) and of course many wonderful pieces designed to show off the innovative Serti Mystérieux. 

René met his wife Simone in 1926 and they married two years later after he had proposed with a 1.51ct diamond ring, which he had no doubt designed himself, and was made by Van Cleef & Arpels.  In honour of his new wife, René decided to add the first syllable of her name to his own, creating the name René Sim Lacaze by which he was known from then on. The couple went on to have four children together and remained devoted to each other all their lives.

His artistic talents can be appreciated not only in the jewellery he designed but also the renderings that survive and the beautiful print advertisements he drew.  After leaving Van Cleef in 1939 at the outset of Word War II, he later joined Mauboussin with whom he would collaborate for many years on both jewellery design and print advertisements which are wonderfully stylish and evocative of the 1940s. He also set up his own design studio through which he was commissioned by a number of fine jewellery houses such as Cartier, Harry Winston and Sterlé to design elegant jewels for a wide range of clients including some of the most glamorous women of the 20th Century. 

He retired in 1968 devoting himself entirely to his family and to pursuing his love of painting, particularly watercolours which he exhibited and sold successfully through a number of galleries.  He passed away in January 2000, aged 99 leaving behind a wealth of creativity and beauty that continues to be admired and appreciated today.