Alain Cartier buys and sells vintage desk accessories which correspond to a style from a historical period in the decorative arts of the 20th century. I concentrate in French-made objets, mostly signed by the creator such as Cartier or by the retail shop who sold the item.
The first two decades of the 20th century – the Edwardian or Belle Epoque – were dominated by the use of guilloché patterns on the silver or gold surface of the objet upon which transparent colored enamel was applied. This was also true for items made in the neo-Louis XVI or neo-classical styles of the first decade. Towards the end of the decade and in the second decade opaque enamel was applied all over the item, or straight thin parallel ‘mille raies’ lines, or slightly wider ‘Pekin’ lines inspired from the surface effect of wall textiles.
The Art Deco of the 1920s was richer in decoration. The enamel was applied in repeated geometric patterns called ‘jeux de fond’ some of which were inspired from the orient or from applied arts in the west. Some designs filled with champlevé enamel transposed an oriental scenery. Some models were applied with a an antique piece from a faraway culture – Egyptian talisman, 19th century Chinese mother of pearl laque burgauté or carved jade, Chinese porcelain, Persian talisman turquoise, Indian multi-colored enamel plaques, or Chinese ivory plaques.
Artists like Vladimir Makovsky constructed oriental sceneries with multi-colored hardstones applied onto an ivory, mother-of-pearl or tortoiseshell ground which were then placed by the jewellers onto table powder boxes or other items.
The Art Deco period saw the use of hardstones – rock crystal, rose quartz, aventurine, lapis lazuli, agate, onyx, jade, nephrite, coral, mother of pearl, amber, tortoiseshell – , either carved out of a single piece or cut into plaques mounted ‘à cage’, thus exhibiting a festival of colors underlined by enamel and the use of small precious stones, some even carved in India – sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds and pearls.
In addition to Cartier and the workshops which supplied it according to Cartier’s drawings, many specialist workshops such as Verger Frères and Strauss, Allard et Meyer supplied retailers like Van Cleef and Arpels, Boucheron, Mauboussin, Lacloche, Janesich, Ostertag, Linzeler et Marchak in Paris, and in the USA – Charlton, Black Starr and Frost, Tiffany, Brock, Blum’s Vogue…
In addition to smoking articles and make-up related accessories, jewellers made all sorts of objects that could be used or were simply decorative. Flower studies or potted plants and hardstone animals were decorative and inspired by the success of Fabergé’s production. More utilitarian were, for the automobile combination clock/barometer/thermometer sometimes with a St Christopher medal, St. Christopher statuettes; for reading and writing page-markers, bookmarks and paper cutters or paperknives some with clocks in the handle, pens and their stands, inkwells and ink stands with clocks, pencil holders, wax holders, seals, glue pots, stamp or finger moisteners, fountain pens, mechanical pencils, propelling pencils, some of these writing instruments with perpetual calendars or lighters or flashlights incorporated, magnifying glasses, paperweights, ink blotters, pin trays, scissors at times combined with a paper cutter in a set, paper clips, notebook covers with mechanical pencils, pencil sharpeners; for the weather conscious individual thermometers and barometers, calendars, trump markers and bridge cases for card players; individual vases or in pairs, bonbonnières large and small, frames for photographs or miniatures, opera glasses, table bells, bowls, lidded jars, travel cases with toiletries, picnic sets, travel bar kits, silver shakers, thermos containers, bottle openers, pocket perpetual calendars, Buddhas, telephone dialer and timers, champagne swizzle sticks, coaster sets sometimes combined with a clock, cigarette stubbers, menu holders, candlesticks, candle holders, tea caddies, cigarette pots, crystal balls, etc…
The ‘Moderne Style’ of the 1930s, especially at Cartier, used lacquer and mirrored glass decoration with coral or lapis accents. Larger nécessaires, lacquered for the most part, could be placed on a table as well as taken on an evening out. They contained more and larger compartments, a long comb, and some compartments could contain a clip to hold bills or a lighter.
Towards 1935 when gold came back in favour and until the 1960s, the silver or the gold surface of the item or of the mount was worked with a design pattern often reminiscent of past guillochés, with ‘pointe de diamant’ (pyramidal cabochons) design, with ‘godrons’ (slightly bombé parallel lines) or even with a wicker basket design. There was very little utilisation of other decoration.