Lalique masterpiece valued at €450,000 at Timeless fair

Rare ‘museum quality’ piece by the celebrated art nouveau jeweller and glassmaker to feature at the RDS

A memento of secret love, crafted by master jeweller René Lalique and valued at €450,000, is set to feature alongside lots of classic pieces at the annual showcase for Ireland’s antique dealers, Timeless.

Lalique’s pendants, brooches and necklaces are some of the most representative examples of art nouveau bijoux, and Emile Gallé, the renowned French glassmaker, ceramicist and cabinetmaker, called him “the inventor of modern jewellery”.

The piece, a corsage ornament showing the faces of two women in 18ct gold and carved chalcedony, were worn side by side, attached to fabric via small eyelets to the reverse.

The French craftsman was often referred to as “the genius of the jewellery world”, not just for introducing new materials and subjects into jewellery design, but also for how he revolutionised the technology of glassmaking, patenting 16 techniques. He worked as a freelance designer for French jewellery houses Cartier and Boucheron after his education at the Parisian School of Decorative Arts and the Crystal Palace Art School in London. By the time of his death in 1945, he had become one of the foremost glassmakers in the world, in addition to being a celebrated jeweller.


Essentially his works were landscapes and portraits with art nouveau-style nubile young women, birds and exotic flora embellished with semi-precious stones, diamonds and pearls.

Actress Sara Bernhardt, at the zenith of her fame, was his foremost customer, helping to launch his career. There is rarely a photograph of her without his signature tiaras or hair-combs — especially in the stage costume of Cleopatra, which he created.

The piece at Timeless was created for Alice Ledru, Lalique’s lover and muse who he would eventually leave his wife for. The piece is said to be loaded with symbolism. While the blue cornflowers suggest secret love, her flowing locks — the antithesis of taut matronly Victorian buns — are said to represent liberated female sexuality, synonymous with the “nouvelle femme” of the art nouveau movement.

Describing it as “the best single piece of jewellery I have come across”, and “of museum quality” the president of the Irish Antiques Dealers Association, Garret Weldon, said: “One cannot think of this piece without using the word masterpiece. It has never been on display and has been in the same private collection for the best part of 130 years. Typically these pieces don’t come to market and much of Lalique’s work is displayed in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, so to be able to bring it to the Irish public is special.”

Timeless will run at the RDS in Dublin, September 23rd-25th, offering a blend of contemporary and antique-focused exhibitors. In addition to the Lalique jewellery, interesting lots include an original Brionvega RR126 record player — like the one favoured by David Bowie — and old master paintings to mid-century pieces.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables