Undoubtedly best known for their Art Nouveau jewels, Vever created some of the finest pieces of this highly decorative style including the famous ‘Sylvia’ which is now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris
The Maison was founded in 1821 by Pierre Vever (1795-1853) in the town centre of Metz in north-east France in a building that combined both a shop and workshop which had been “painstakingly installed”. Pierre’s extensive knowledge and renowned discretion and integrity meant that he was soon attracting a range of clients from both the town and wider surrounding areas. He regularly supported apprentices looking to learn from master craftsmen in a well respected workshop and he trained them up to become skilled craftspeople in their own right. His son Ernest (1823-1884) demonstrated an artistic nature early on, with a particular aptitude for drawing, and when he left school he undertook an apprenticeship before joining his father’s workshop in 1841. After a year or so he decided to travel to Germany and Austria to learn more about gem setting as these areas were renowned as being particularly highly skilled in this art. Much of 1842 and 1843 was spent abroad, visiting the main manufacturing centres and improving his techniques, before returning to Metz and the Maison Vever. He took an increasingly active role in the business, taking over from his father in 1848, the same year he married.
The business expanded considerably over the following years and the workshop, which now employed many former apprentices, was highly skilled in all manner of jewellery and goldsmithing techniques including engraving, chasing, casting and enamelling. In 1861 an International Exhibition was organised in Metz and Vever exhibited a collection of wonderfully varied pieces, all of Ernest’s own original design and made in the workshop. It attracted a wide audience and enabled the Maison to extend its reach and client base, whilst simultaneously securing the continued admiration of those familiar with their work.
After the Siege of Metz and its annex to Germany, Ernest was forced to leave with his family and relocate the business to Paris where he arrived in 1871. He bought the business of Baugrand and established himself and his workshop at 19, Rue de la Paix. His two sons Paul (1850-1915) and Henri (1854-1942) joined their father in the family firm in 1874 after respective studies with the Ecole Polytechnique and apprenticeships with both the Loguet and Hallet jewellery workshops. Alongside his training, Henri had also studied technical drawing, modelling and design at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. The brothers registered the Maison’s mark in 1876 and began to contribute increasingly to both the creative and business aspects of the firm, so that by the Paris Exposition two years later, many of the works displayed showcased their skill and influence.
Paul Vever became his father’s official business partner in 1880 upon his marriage and the following year when Henri also married, Ernest retired leaving his two sons as partners and successors. They focused their complimentary skills on fuelling the business and driving it towards even greater recognition and success. Their efforts were rewarded and the importance and variety of their pieces were widely regarded, winning them one of only two Grand Prix given for gem-set jewellery at the 1889 Exposition. Coloured diamonds, large pearls and exquisite enamelling were combined with exceptional craftsmanship and refined designs leading one reporter to comment… “The art of the jeweller is also demonstrated in his juxtaposition of contrasting stones. Such an array of diamonds, as rare for their variety of colours as their flawlessness, requires of the jeweller total restraint in the ornamentation of their setting. MM. Vever’s display offers an exquisite illustration of this precept…”
They contributed significantly to Exhibitions including Moscow, Chicago and Brussels during the final decade of the 19th century and as the Art Nouveau style took hold their jewellery began to reflect this new aesthetic with its fondness for sinuous lines, nature inspired motifs and enamel coupled with a rejection of large gems and over reliance on diamonds. At the 1900 World’s Fair their display was met with a unanimously positive response, drawing praise from visitors, fellow exhibitors and the press alike. One of their most recognisable works was created at this time; the beautiful ‘Sylvia’ embodied the essence of the Art Nouveau aesthetic in its depiction of a winged female figure with antennae in carved agate, enamel, diamonds and rubies.
At the beginning of the new century the Maison moved to No. 14 Rue de la Paix into purpose built premises that allowed them once again to combine the shop and workshops in the same location as they had done back in Metz. Henri began the vast undertaking of writing a three volume work on 19th century jewellery ‘La Bijouterie Française au XIXe Siècle’, an invaluable reference book on the history of French jewellery from the Empire to the Art Nouveau. Paul passed away in 1915 and in 1921 Henri handed the business to his nephews, Paul’s sons André and Pierre Vever. Henri focused on his art collection which contained many pieces of European, Asian and Islamic work, he had a special interest in Japanese art and the influence it exercised over western art and especially jewellery design. He died in 1942 leaving behind a body of work both jewelled and literary that changed the face of French jewellery and our understating of it forever.