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The Maison Gustave Sanzdoz was a family affair led by three successive generations all of whom were prominent and active members of the jewellery profession in their own times. It was founded in 1861 by Gustave Sandoz (1836-1891) who was descended from a long line of clockmakers and he continued in this tradition whilst simultaneously branching into jewellery. He was heavily involved in the organization of the Expositions Universelles as well as being an exhibitor and was chairman of the trade organisation which represented the jewellers of the Palais-Royal where he had established premises in 1865.
His son Gustave-Roger (1867-1942) took the helm in 1891 and strengthened the companies focus on jewellery, particularly gold work and gem set pieces for which it quickly developed a reputation. By 1895 the Maison had adopted and embraced the Art Nouveau style and were producing beautiful pieces with a variety of gems and coloured enamels featuring a range of motifs synonymous with the aesthetic. Like his father before him, Gustave-Roger was active in various societies and promoted and exhibited at Paris’s fairs.
When Gérard (1902-1995) joined his father in the business in 1920 their style had already evolved to keep pace with the increasingly modern times. Gérard had been interested in art and design from a very young age and had studied under a variety of artists including his uncle who was a sculptor and interior designer. He now began designing jewellery and silverware alongside his other artistic pursuits such as painting and designing advertising posters for which he was well regarded.
By the time of the Exposition Internationale des Art Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925, of which Gustave-Roger was one of the most committed and vocal promoters, Gérard was already gaining recognition for his bold, geometric pieces. He placed supreme value on design and craftsmanship (rather than materials and gems) a belief which was in keeping with the Art Nouveau jewellers of his fathers generation. Stylistically however, his work could not have been more different from theirs as he and his contemporaries reacted against what they considered to be an overly ornate and excessively decorative approach. His comment that “Today, a piece of jewellery, inspired directly by our contemporary aesthetic, must be simple, severe and constructed without superfluous ornament” neatly sums up his attitude to design.
Consequently, his jewellery is characterised by strong shapes, bold lines, clean surfaces, angles and volume and he favoured combinations of different coloured metals with both polished and matt or textured finishes juxtaposed with predominantly opaque, ornamental gemstones such as onyx, lapis lazuli, hematite and coral. Described by one critic as bringing a “spirit of innovation” to his pieces, Gérard is now regarded as one of the pre-eminent avant-garde designers of the 1920’s and the style that came to be known as Art Deco. Despite the level of recognition and success he attained, his career was relatively short lived. His father had sold the business in the late 1920’s to Georges L’Enfant, the workshop responsible for making Sandoz jewellery and whilst Gérard initially continued in his role as artistic director, the early 1930’s saw him turn his back on jewellery to pursue an interest in filmmaking and the company was dissolved soon after.
The story doesn’t quite end there though as decades later Gérard made a brief reappearance in the jewellery world when he created a new collection of pendants and brooches based on original designs which were shown at a gallery in Paris in 1985. His comment at the time “it’s a jolly way to celebrate being an octogenarian” was typical of this bright, passionate, creative man whose jewellery remains as modern looking today as it did almost a century ago.