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Wolfers, Philippe

1852--1929

Philippe Wolfers was the son of gold and silversmith Louis Wolfers who opened his business in Brussels in 1850.  Phillipe studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels before joining his father’s business as an apprentice. 

Under his father’s tutelage he learnt not only the artistic techniques and craftsmanship necessary to follow in his footsteps but also the administrative side to running a business.

He began to design silverware and jewellery circa 1880 and worked firstly in a Rococo-revivalist style. However, his travels abroad - particularly to France and Germany - exposed him to the influence of Japanese art and naturalism and to the beginnings of the stylistic movement that swept Europe towards the end of the 19th century.  His work began to reflect the sinuous lines and the flora and fauna imagery that is now synonymous with the Art Nouveau period.  In 1892 his father passed away and Philippe became the artistic director of Wolfers.  Two years later in 1894 he made his artistic debut under his own name at the Exposition Universelle d’Anvers where he exhibited jewellery and objets made of ivory.  Over the next ten years or so he produced some of the most beautiful jewels of the period and became recognised as the leading Art Nouveau jeweller working in Belgium.  Whilst he did not reach the heights of fame afforded to his Parisian counterpart Lalique, the beauty and quality of his jewels (if not the quantity of his output) is believed by some to have been on a par.  He specialised in plique-a-jour enamel work and carved gems such as ivory, opal and horn and the 109 unique jewels (the moulds were broken after each was completed so as never to be repeated) that he created during this time were all marked with his initials PW and the words “ex unique”.  Particularly fine examples include his beautiful wisteria choker that sold at auction in 2016 for over $250,000, the exquisite orchid hair ornament on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum and the magnificent pendant of the goddess Nike that recently won best in show at London’s Masterpiece Fair.

In 1908 Philippe turned his attention from jewellery to sculpture and he spent most of his time exploring this new medium. However he continued to do some design work for the business and he was instrumetal in moving the business into the Art Deco era and ensuring the designs were in keeping with this new style.  By this time he had handed over the running of the business to his son Marcel who had joined the firm as an apprentice in 1902.  Philippe passed away in 1929 leaving behind a collection of beautifully realised Art Nouveau jewels amongst a larger oeuvre that included silverware, vases and sculpture.