Ernesto Pierret was born in Paris in 1824 but moved to Rome as a young man where he trained as a goldsmith. It has been suggested that he may have been an apprentice or at least spent some time in the workshop of Castellani due to the similarity in style and mastery of technique both firms display.
In 1846 he opened his own shop and worked at building a reputation for his beautifully executed jewellery. In 1853 Murray’s ‘Handbook to Central Italy and Rome’ describes him as being ‘now one of the first artists in Rome for Etruscan jewellery’. At this time he was located at 31 Piazza di Firenze where he remained for many years. However, following his marriage to Virginia Crespi, the daughter of a papal lawyer, he found himself in a position to be able to move to the very heart of the jewellery and artist quarter. He bought a beautiful Renaissance palazzo at number 20 Piazza di Spagna right by the famous Spanish Steps and moved both his family and his business here. He made various alterations to the palace including the addition of a fourth floor and a panoramic terrace. Today it is a national monument and regarded as one of the most important historic buildings in Rome, his name can still be seen above the entrance and it is now called Palazzo Pierret in his honour.
His work is of very high quality and often features micromosaics, cameos and intaglios as well as ancient artefacts such as Egyptian scarabs and Roman coins. These are all set within wonderful, sometimes highly ornate, goldwork with typical Archaeological and Etruscan revivalist motifs. Parallels have frequently been drawn between his work and Castellani’s, however Pierret focused less on reproducing individual ancient jewels and more on interpreting their general aesthetic. However he never achieved the international recognition of his competitor. He exhibited far less widely, rarely outside Italy and his prices were noted as being ‘more moderate’ than Castellani’s which ironically may have worked against him as a jewellers status was directly linked to the wealth of his patrons. His pieces are marked either with a monogram or signature, both of which are applied to the piece on a small gold plaque or tab.
As well as producing jewels to sell in his shop he also made bespoke pieces for clients, some of whom brought both their own gems and designs to Pierret. William Buffum was one such client, he was an expert in and collector of amber and he designed two demi-parures in which to set some of his Sicilian amber specimens. One of these was commissioned from Castellani and the other from Pierret which would indicate that in Buffum’s mind at least, these great jewellers were viewed as similarly talented.
By the early 1880’s the business had been taken over by Luigi Pierret, probably Ernesto’s son. He exhibited at the Turin International fair in 1884 with a display of archaeological-style jewellery together with pieces set with cameos by craftsmen such as Morelli and Girometti. An 1896 advertisement for the company refers to itself as a being founded in Rome in 1846 but gives an address in Florence at Via Tornabuoni. We know from contemporary literature that they were no longer in the Piazza di Spagna so it seems likely that Luigi moved to Florence and established the company there. The advert also tells us that they are now jewellers to the Queen of Italy and describe themselves as goldsmiths specialising in Etruscan, Byzantine, Renaissance and modern style jewels.
Revivalist jewellery remains very popular today and Pierret undoubtedly produced some wonderful examples of the style which are both highly wearable and collectable.