Jewelry In Focus

From the Ancient Nile to Now: Egyptian Revival Revisited

JIF

For centuries, Ancient Egypt has held the fascination of the public and continues to inspire artists and designers alike.  With the discoveries of Egyptian tombs, and the treasures within, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the exotically opulent lives of the Pharaohs were beyond anyone’s imagination.  Of all the precious objects unearthed in the tombs, the lavish jewels were perhaps the most fascinating for their extravagance and never-before-seen symbolism.

Pectoral decorated with the winged scarab protected by Isis and Nephthys, from the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC), Egypt

Pectoral decorated with the winged scarab protected by Isis and Nephthys, from the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC), Egypt

Egypt first caught Europe’s attention when Napoleon Bonaparte launched his Egyptian campaign in 1798, aiming to decisively weaken England’s colonial position in the region.  Despite the campaign’s catastrophic defeat for France, the effort was successful in its scientific endeavors – the first topography of Egypt.  The gates to this ancient civilization were finally opened, and, under Napoloen’s command, Egyptian décor infiltrated the decorative arts, first in the design of furniture and the art of bronze and porcelain.

Falcon collar of Princess Neferuptah Twelfth Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat III, 1831-1786 BC - gold, carnelian, feldspar - The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Falcon collar of Princess Neferuptah Twelfth Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat III, 1831-1786 BC – gold, carnelian, feldspar – The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Ancient Egyptian fever was further spurred following the translation of the hieroglyphic band on the Rosetta Stone by Jean-François Champollion from 1822 to 1824.  When the now iconic obelisk, requested by Louis XVIII, was erected in 1831 in Paris’s Place de la Concorde, the wave of Egyptian influence on decorative arts and, in particular, jewelry could be seen everywhere.  Most notably, French and English jewelry during the mid- to late 19th century almost routinely incorporated exotic Egyptian motifs alongside romantic themes of the Middle Ages.

A COLLECTION OF EGYPTIAN AMULETS

A COLLECTION OF EGYPTIAN AMULETS
MIDDLE KINGDOM TO PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, 2040-30 B.C.
Including fourteen scarabs of steatite, faience, amethyst, rock crystal, lapis lazuli and carnelian, some with motifs on the undersides; together with a red steatite, black steatite and a glass heart amulet; one lapis lazuli and two carnelian djed-pillars; a lapis lazuli four-headed ram; a lapis lazuli lotus-seed pendant; and a lapis lazuli ibis-headed Thoth; all mounted together as a necklace in a modern Egyptian revival gold, enamel and gem stone setting
21½ in. (54.6 cm.) long
Photo courtesy of Christie’s

Adding to the Egyptian fashion furor was the building of the Suez Canal by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps.  The jewelers Mellerio, Boucheron and Baugrand, inspired by the pioneering achievement, created Egyptian jewels in homage to their countryman’s efforts in North Africa.  Four years after the Suez Canal opened in 1867, the first performance of Verdi’s Aida at the inauguration of the Cairo opera house sparked even more interest in Egyptian-inspired fashions, particularly following the eight years the opera toured Milan, New York, London and Paris.

AN EGYPTIAN-REVIVAL MULTI-GEM 'PHARAOH' BROOCH, BY GUSTAVE BAUGRAND  Designed as an oval rock crystal bombé plaque set with an applied orangy-brown enamel pharaoh, with a rose-cut diamond and vari-cut emerald and ruby headdress and decoration, within a similarly-set frame, enhanced by emerald scarabs and pearls, to the calibré-cut ruby pendant hoop, mounted in gold, circa 1897 Signed Baugrand for Gustave Baugrand

AN EGYPTIAN-REVIVAL MULTI-GEM ‘PHARAOH’ BROOCH, BY GUSTAVE BAUGRAND
Designed as an oval rock crystal bombé plaque set with an applied orangy-brown enamel pharaoh, with a rose-cut diamond and vari-cut emerald and ruby headdress and decoration, within a similarly-set frame, enhanced by emerald scarabs and pearls, to the calibré-cut ruby pendant hoop, mounted in gold, circa 1897
Signed Baugrand for Gustave Baugrand
Photo courtesy of Christie’s

By the late 19th century, Europe’s finest jewelers, including Giuliano, Castellani, Fontenay and Cartier, were beginning to experiment with the various Egyptian symbols and motifs in their jewelry.  Scarabs, pharaohs, sphinxes, snakes and lotus blossoms proliferated in embossed gold jewels, with smatterings of turquoise, cabochon garnets, carnelian and lapis lazuli.  Hieroglyphs were also frequently used in jewelry designs in the 1870s and 80s.

Italian Nineteenth Century Egyptian Revival Pharaohs Gold Suite - DK Bressler

Italian Nineteenth Century Egyptian Revival Gold Necklace and Earrings
The gold hand carved of portraits of Egyptian Pharaohs and Royal Cobra symbols
Original Box
Italian
Circa 1860
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

As Art Nouveau became ever more popular at the turn of the century, Egyptian symbols and motifs still lingered in the ornate nature-inspired designs.  Carved hardstone scarabs were flanked with plique-a-jour wings in vibrant rays of color, striking interpretations of Egyptian Revival merged with the organic Art Nouveau style. Meanwhile, lotus blossoms and papyrus were more than mere embellishments, their curved forms were often integral parts of a jewel’s design; and motifs of the Egyptian goddess Isis perfectly conformed with female form-friendly jewels of the Art Nouveau period.

Magnificent French Belle Epoque Egyptian Revival Plique-A-Jour Brooch - DK Bressler

Magnificent French Belle Epoque Egyptian Revival Plique-A-Jour Brooch designed with an ancient Egyptian scarab as the centrepiece with outspread wings of diamond set turquoise and green Translucent Plique a Jour Enameling
French
Circa 1900
Included in the Egyptian Revival Exhibition at SJ Shrubsole
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

18 KARAT GOLD, COLORED STONE, DIAMOND AND ENAMEL PENDANT-BROOCH, GEORGES FOUQUET, CIRCA 1910

18 KARAT GOLD, COLORED STONE, DIAMOND AND ENAMEL PENDANT-BROOCH, GEORGES FOUQUET, CIRCA 1910
Set in the center with an egg-shaped cabochon turquoise, framed by fan-shaped lotuses applied with turquoise-colored, green, black and white enamel, accented by rectangular-shaped and fancy-shaped topazes, and white opal segments, supporting a pear-shaped white opal pendant, the top framed by small rose-cut diamonds, signed G. Fouquet, numbered 2349. With rose-colored leather, silk and velvet box signed G. Fouquet, 6. Rue Royale, Paris.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

When archaeologist Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, the Egyptian craze reached soaring heights.  The wholly intact tomb revealed a complete glimpse into the opulent afterlives anticipated of the Egyptian pharoahs, as well as the immense wealth of the Egyptian empire.  With even more examples to draw inspiration from, European decorative arts and jewelry were prolifically designed in the Egyptian Revival style.  Soon, silhouettes of sphinxes, obelisks and pyramids would come to define an entire culture.

TutPectoral

This piece of Egyptian jewelry is from the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun (Tutankhamun).
A scarab of lapis lazuli with falcon wings, supporting a red disk of the new-born sun.

The Roaring Twenties and the period’s Art Deco jewelry embraced the vivid contrasting colors, motifs, and symbols more daringly than ever before.  Whether the jewels were complete, faithful reproductions or real artifacts preciously decorated in similar style, the Egyptian Revival jewelry during the Art Deco era is the most lavish and magnificent.

Van Cleef & Arpels Egyptian Bracelet (1924)

Van Cleef & Arpels Egyptian Bracelet (1924)
Photo courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Carved coral starkly set against black onyx and cool blue lapis lazuli would become one of the favorite color schemes of Art Deco Egyptian Revival jewels, often sprinkled with diamonds and other calibré-cut gemstones.  From brooches and bracelets to clocks and cigarette cases, no precious object was outside of Egyptomania’s grasp.

Rare Egyptian-Revival Faience and Jeweled Brooch, Cartier, London, 1923

Rare Egyptian-Revival Faience and Jeweled Brooch, Cartier, London, 1923
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Cartier Egyptian Revival Cases

‘Sarcophagus’ vanity case, Cartier Paris, 1925. Enamelled gold, bone, emeralds, onyx and diamonds set in platinum. Curved bone lid carved with female figure and tulip, framed by emerald, onyx, and pave-set diamond columns with carved emerald palm-leaf capitals. At each end a sphinx with carved emerald face and paws, wearing a sapphire headdress.
Vanity Case, Cartier Paris, 1927. Enamelled gold, coral, lapis lazuli, emeralds and diamonds set in platinum with an engraved Egyptian calcite plaque on each side. On the front, Horus as a youth carries a scorpion and a lion.
Photo courtesy of Cartier

The famous French jewelry maisons Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels were praised for their Egyptian-inspired jewelry.  Arguably, Cartier championed the motif best of all, astutely collecting Ancient Egyptian artifacts for decades which he often incorporated into brilliantly designed pieces.  The year of the Cairo exhibition in 1929 saw the climax of this highly creative phase, with the style still enjoying a certain vogue up to the outbreak of World War II.

Egyptienne chiming clock, Cartier Paris, 1927. Gold, vermeil, hieroglyphic-engraved mother of pearl veneer, coral rings and edging, lapis lazuli, polychrome and white enamel. Egyptian deity picked out in emerald, cornaline and enamel. Sold to Mrs. Blumenthal. N.Welsh, Collection Cartier © Cartier.

Egyptienne chiming clock, Cartier Paris, 1927. Gold, vermeil, hieroglyphic-engraved mother of pearl veneer, coral rings and edging, lapis lazuli, polychrome and white enamel. Egyptian deity picked out in emerald, cornaline and enamel. Sold to Mrs. Blumenthal. N.Welsh, Collection Cartier © Cartier.

With Ronald Kawitzky of DK Bressler‘s current exhibition of Egyptian Revival jewelry, ‘From Here to Antiquity,’ at S.J. Shrubsole in New York, a collection of 100 pieces that spans nearly 200 years, the emblematic Egyptian style is remembered and revered for its historic importance and everlasting influence in jewelry design, from the times of Ancient Egypt’s Nile to now.

The following pieces from DK Bressler’s exhibition are also available for purchase on 1stdibs.

Rare 1870s Egyptian Revival Pharaoh Micro Mosaic Bracelet - DK Bressler

Egyptian Revival Micro Mosaic Bracelet depicting the portrait of Pharaoh embellished with stylized Roman flower vases
Italian
Circa 1870
Made in the Vatican Workshops Rome
Included in the Egyptian Revival Exhibition at SJ Shrubsole
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

From the exhibition:

“During the 1880s and 90’s, the Roman mosaic was adapted to include Egyptian imagery on brooches and suites, set in classic style gold mounts. According to Vivienne Becker in Antique and Twentieth Century Jewellery, “The idea of mosaics was seen as a way of capturing the color and richness of original jewels.”  The mosaics had uneven surfaces, usually with white backgrounds, while the images were depicted in red, royal blue and turquoise. Often, a pharaoh’s head would adorn the center of a pendant or bracelet.

On the pendant, the pharaoh is flanked on either side by sphinxes, the mythical creatures with the body of a lion and a human head. The wings are adaptations from the Greek interpretation of the sphinx. On the bracelet, a pharaoh’s head graces the center flanked by non-Egyptian images of urns with flowers. Gold rope twist frames the pharaoh’s head, emphasizing his importance.”

Egyptian Revival Roman 1870s Pharaoh Micro Mosaic Gold Necklace - DK Bressler

Egyptian Revival Pharaoh and Winged Griffins Micro Mosaic Gold Necklace
Italian Rome Vatican State Workshops
Circa 1870
Included in the Egyptian Revival Exhibition at SJ Shrubsole
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

Superb Victorian Italian Egyptian Revival Coral Suite - DK Bressler

Egyptian Revival Coral Necklace and Earrings
Rare Italian Victorian Egyptian Revival Coral Suite, the corals carved as triptych portraits of Pharaoh, scarabs and Royal sarcophagi. Such as set is rarely seen to have survived.
Italian
Circa 1850
Included in the Egyptian Revival Exhibition at SJ Shrubsole
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

From the exhibition catalog:

“Coral was popular in the mid nineteenth century and, then, in the 1920s. Coral is the skeleton of a marine animal, the coral polyp (Corallicum), a jelly-like mass that attaches itself to rocks where a hard skeleton-like deposit is formed on the outer part of the animal’s body. The rose-pink color was the most desired coral and could be carved into shapes and figures such as the pharaoh, scarab and stele on this necklace. A pair of pendant earrings, each with a pharaoh’s head, accompanies the necklace.”

Egyptian Revival Amethyst Gold Enamel Brooch Circa 1900 - DK Bressler

Egyptian Revival Amethyst, Lotus Leaf Motif Enamel and Gold Brooch
American
Circa 1900
Included in the Egyptian Revival Exhibition at SJ Shrubsole
Photo courtesy of DK Bressler via 1stdibs

For further reading of the exhibition, please refer to the 1stdibs Introspective on Egyptian Revival Jewelry.  To see more Egyptian-inspired pieces, check out my earlier post Egyptomania.

Cover photo credit for the bottom scarab brooch, which is currently on loan from Siegelson to Inventing the Modern World at the Mint Museum with the accompanying bracelet:

The Cole Porter Scarab:  An Art Deco Egyptian Faience, Black Enamel, Sapphire, and Diamond Belt Buckle Brooch by Cartier, Paris, 1926

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