The final stop of my two months of travel, Maastricht promised to be the cherry on top of all the destinations. In this pastoral town nestled between Belgium and Germany in the southeast of the Netherlands, Maastricht is widely known for the treaty that takes its name, which ultimately gave birth to the European Union, European citizenship and the Euro. But, for a select few, Maastricht is synonymous with TEFAF, the most prestigious of all the art and antiques fairs in the world.
Attending TEFAF is a true privilege, and my second visit reminded me just how special it really is. There are many world-class fine art and antiques fairs throughout the year, but none are as revered as TEFAF – by dealers and collectors alike. For starters, it is the only fair not located in a major city, which renders TEFAF the main attraction. Loyal visitors, most of whom are serious collectors and museum curators, happily make the pilgrimage to the fair each year and parlay the trip into a peaceful getaway amidst the picturesque country-side and the quaint town of Maastricht itself. Each March, roughly 75,000 visitors trek to Maastricht for the ten-day fair.
The quiet setting outside makes the overwhelming amount of museum-worthy objects inside the fair a little easier to absorb at day’s end. Within the MECC (Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre) complex, 270 dealers display their rarefied wares in exceptionally designed navigated by luscious flower-filled aisles, transforming the cavernous warehouse into a serene luxury museum-cum-bazaar.
Over 35,000 works of art, spanning 7,000 years of art history, are rigorously vetted by a committee of 170 experts. Old Masters, for which the fair originally began in 1975, remain a major draw, particularly for museum representatives in search of potential acquisitions. This year, a newly identified Rembrandt, “The Unconscious Patient,” also known as “Smell,” painted around 1624-25, at Paris-based gallery Talabardon & Gautier generated plenty of interest throughout the fair. Another major highlight, that also demonstrates the impressive breadth of the fair’s offerings, was a Japanese porcelain of a life-sized deer at rest, made in the late 17th or early 18th century, at Jorge Welsh, specialist in Chinese export objects.
While there is plenty of art and antiques for collectors to ogle over and perhaps acquire, there is a growing appreciation for the precious masterpieces you can wear. The handful of antique jewelry dealers and high jewelry houses that exhibit at TEFAF demonstrate the artistic importance of jewelry in the realm of collectible fine art. None established the notion of jewelry as fine art more brilliantly than the German jewelry house Hemmerle, who debuted a new stand as well as a new collection at this year’s fair.
Designed by Dutch architect Tom Postma, the new stand evoked a zen-like aura, a contemplative space to truly appreciate the artistry and mastery of the jewels on display. The three-dimensional lattice-work walls of American walnut suspended from the ceiling created an airy, open yet intimate setting as well as a brilliantly striking contrast to the solid walls of the surround stands. While the stand alone set Hemmerle apart from all the rest, it was the firm’s aluminum masterpieces, from the collection cleverly named The [AL] Project, that raised the proverbial bar.
Photos hardly capture the beauty and unparalleled workmanship of this series of unique pieces, particularly those inspired by nature. The realism, dimensionality and inherent delicacy of the floral jewels left me speechless, jewelry so exquisite they speak for themselves. In true Hemmerle fashion, the firm’s jewelers pushed the conventional boundaries of metallurgy with their aluminum creations.
At the beginning of the project, “we were told anodized aluminum could express just five colors,” Christian Hemmerle shared with me. As the collection attests, Hemmerle’s jewelers moonlight as metal-coloring magicians, advancing the aluminum anodizing processes to achieve nearly every color of the rainbow. The tireless experimentation resulted in a breathtaking collection of featherweight works of wearable art in colors ranging from a dewy light pink to an iridescent bronze to a brilliant electric blue.
Across the intersection from Hemmerle was Van Cleef & Arpels, whose booth was filled with pieces from the brand’s Heritage Collection as well as a few newer creations. My favorite was this yellow gold, diamond and sapphire floral necklace, circa 1970, that transformed into two bracelets.
Next to Van Cleef & Arpels was newcomer Belperron/Verdura, who was exhibiting for the first time at TEFAF. On display was a selection of vintage Belperron and Verdura as well as new creations from both.
With the antique jewelry dealers, only a handful of pieces debuted at TEFAF. At Hancock’s, highlights were led by ‘Les Ferrets De La Reine’ – an emerald and diamond devant de corsage, by Fulco di Verdura, Paris circa 1958, that was commissioned by Baron Alain de Rothschild for his wife Mary. Verdura found inspiration for the jewelry from the story of the Queen’s diamond studs from the legendary tale of The Three Musketeers. Other highlights included an elegant diamond necklace by Sterlé elicited the sophisticated style of the 1950s; the necklace cleverly converting into two bracelets as well as a bandeau or tiara.
Wartski also brought several new jewels to TEFAF, my favorite being a sapphire and diamond ‘Flame’ ring by Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1950s. Other favorites from Wartski was a gold and amber cuff bracelet by Tony Duquette, a gem-set brooch featuring a pair of fighting cockerels by Cartier, and a pair of ornately decorated opera glasses.
S.J. Phillips had an unbelievable stand full of antique jewelry as well as important 20th century pieces by Cartier, Mauboussin and Raymond Yard:
More snapshots of jewelry from TEFAF: