On The Rocks Magazine


A Comfortable Living


Art Moderne Silver and Black lacquer bracelet by Jean Després, Paris 1931

Lee Siegelson, celebrated for his
ultra-refined eye, presents a curated selection
of outstanding Art Deco and Moderne
masterpieces from his inimitable collection

As the famed dealer and connoisseur wows visitors to Design Miami with a display of unparalleled jewels, we revisit Mary Kaye Schilling’s brilliant profile of Lee Siegelson in issue 5 of On The Rocks, for which he discussed a selection of exceptional Art Moderne and Deco pieces from his collection. 

“Like many Art Moderne pieces, this bold and weighty bracelet [above] needs to be tried on to fully appreciate it; it’s much lighter feeling and more elegant on the wrist than you might suspect by looking at a photograph. Jean Després’ aesthetic – called “bijoux-moteurs,” or motor jewellery – was shaped by his time as a draftsman of airplane engines during World War I, and this was inspired by an engine gear. Someone on the street might not understand what you’re wearing, but if you wore this to the Met Gala or a museum opening, curators would know exactly what it is – a masterpiece by the top jewellery designer of Art Moderne.”

“I love rock crystal jewellery – the floating diamond effect. It’s definitely avant-garde for a lot of people. Juliette Moutard, unlike Suzanne Belperron, worked for Boivin her entire career, and her pieces tended to be extremely original and feminine. This bangle has all the characteristics of Moderne – it’s bold, sleek, sculptural and large scale – but the variation of square and cut stones (there are a total of 157 diamonds) is very unique. In certain light, the carved flutes in the band enhance the light, giving a feeling of movement.”

“This Després necklace is super avant-garde, and it’s pretty rare to find two of them [Siegelson owns a pair, the other in silver and blood jasper]. When I first bought them, I had them sitting on my desk – they were such beautiful objects, weighty and tactile like sculpture. There’s no gem stone value here, but there’s a real marketplace value for Després, and it never really goes down. He was widely collected in his lifetime – Josephine Baker loved his jewellery – and Andy Warhol and Michael Chow both bought his work. He made everything by hand, and what I love is that you can literally see his hand – his hammer marks – in the silver balls.”

“At this point, in the late 30s, the Great Depression had hit and clothing was getting more conservative. Art Moderne jewellery like this would have had to work with more tailored clothing and conservative necklines. This kind of piece was great because it was so versatile, moving easily from day to night; the diamond clips can be removed to wear as brooches on a neckline or as accessories in your hair. The pattern of the clips is geometric and strong, but the diamonds make it more feminine. I like diamonds, but there has to be a sense of design, and the craftsmanship here is amazing. I think this looks as chic and young and wearable as it did in 1936.”

“Bangles are one of my favourite shapes because they’re strong and sculptural and have a real weight to them. This one is a total work of art – Art Deco with a hint of Art Moderne. The lacquer base was being used by the great furniture makers of the time, like Jean Dunand, and this would be Cartier being aware of that. It’s also loosely influenced by Indian design, particularly the emeralds and the three-leafed diamond foliate forms. The best of Cartier is when they step into someone else’s world or culture and do it in the French style. A lot of houses did that but no one did it as well as they did – no one brought the same depth of craftsmanship or delicacy of design or overall refinement. Note the thoughtful engineering – the two terminals with button-shaped pearls that flip back, making it easier for a woman to slip it on her wrist. Providing this fits you, it’s an incredibly wearable piece. I don’t think you’ll find anyone, in culture, design or art who would look at this and say, ‘I don’t like your bracelet.’”

“Després was part of the Union des Artistes Modernes, created in 1929. It numbered about 20 artists, including jewellers Raymond Templier, Jean Dunand, Gérard Sandoz and Georges and Jean Fouquet. They produced conceptual jewellery with modest materials, like this necklace, with its machine-inspired geometric links mounted in silver. Després preferred to work in silver, and I love how the oxidised and polished areas play off each other, creating volume and contrast. The necklace – complex, pure and perfect in terms of metal work – is so sculptural that, in the wrong context, it might confuse people. It’s so important the way things are shown and put together; I see this with a very simple black gown or even a motorcycle jacket.”

“There are wonderful examples of American Art Deco jewellery, but the design could be rigid. The French had a softness that I find very appealing, which you can see in these earrings. In one sense they are quite simple, but the proportions are spectacular. Proportion is so important, and there has to be a harmony to it, whether you are talking about furniture, architecture, clothing or jewellery. The sensual briolette-shaped lapis lazuli stone combined with the diamonds is a very Art Deco style. Boucheron was a smaller atelier than Cartier, working at the same time. This is an example of when they got it just right.”

“Jeanne Boivin was the sister of the fashion designer Paul Poiret, and she is famous for bold, sculptural work. She hired many female designers, among them Suzanne Belperron, who would go on to have an amazing career of her own, becoming a favourite of some of the most discerning jewellery lovers of the time – the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes and Diana Vreeland. This is a collaboration between the two, and the curves are what attract me; its roundness screams Art Moderne. Maybe, too, the curvaceousness has to do with two women designing it. Boivin looked at jewellery as art, and the story goes that this tranche was inspired by a slice of melon she was eating, with the circular discs of gold suggesting the texture of the rind.” 

All jewellery at Siegelson, New York. Siegleson is at Design Miami, stand G34. 

Photography Assistants

Karl Leitz and Jess Kirkham


Anonymous Retouch


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