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Couture CocoChanel Byzantine ThePurpleHeart PearlAmethystQuartz GoldMedallion

About the Item

During the ArtDeco period when Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was at her peak as a Parisian couture fashion-designer in the early 1930s, this antique one-of-a-kind handcrafted gem-fringed and gilt-chain medallion brooch with trombone clasp was commissioned to accessorize one of her clothing designs. Marked only "FRANCE" like some early 1930s Chanel couture jewelry (without a brand stamp until the 1950s), its artistic origin is most likely from ornate organic-form sketches by her favorite parurier Fulco di Verdura. The Sicilian duke began creating fabric patterns for Chanel in 1927, which shortly expanded to fine jewelry beginning with custom pieces for herself. These include the iconic Byzantine-influenced gem-adorned cuffs referencing the Maltese military-cross, which the French designer can often be seen wearing in circa-1930s photos. This bright yellow-gold brooch suits goldsmith Verdura's early anti-Art-Deco aesthetic that was considered a radical departure from 1920s silver-tone jewelry, which otherwise featured linear geometric designs or figurative representation. The softly-shaped deconstructed gem-bouquet mixes amethyst and rose-quartz beads with natural Keshi pearls and intricate tiny gilt leaves, which are wired to a Baroque-motif open-work frame that dangles another gem surrounded by a thick gilt-rope halo. Notably, Verdura is credited with re-introducing since Victorian times the rope motif to jewelry. Since 1930, Verdura's unique style was influenced by travels with Chanel to explore Byzantine art, Baroque architecture, and exotic flora-and-fauna among his native Italian aristocratic estate. The legendary fashion-editor Diane Vreeland and American entertainment-stars were among the first Chanel clients to acquire couture real-gem-adorned jewelry made by Verdura, while one of the two brooches treasured by Vreeland was titled "Theodora". See our photo of the Byzantine mosaic of Empress Theodora, whose image wearing many teardrop pearls above her chest and surrounded by a golden halo seems to be the inspiration for this brooch. As one of the most important modern-design collaborations, Chanel's close relationship with Verdura lasted largely-undocumented years in Paris, until he launched his first outside jewelry venture with a Hollywood designer-boutique after emigrating to the United States in 1934. By 1939 as a financially-backed in-demand goldsmith, he founded the namesake jewelry-company Verdura in NYC. After he retired in 1973, the brand continued to operate without him with different owners. Given the duo's designs that played with historic and military references, Chanel's couture commission for this purple medallion may have been sparked in the early 1930s when the internationally-newsworthy medal, The Purple Heart, was to be first awarded by 1932 to WWI-serving U.S. male military officers by the American president. Around this time, Chanel and Verdura were dressing Hollywood-movie stars such as Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn and Helen Hayes. So Chanel's brooch crafted in Paris may have reimagined the U.S. gold-medal for an American woman: substituting its white-trimmed purple ribbon with reddish-text for semi-precious gems of similar colors; as well as replacing its hanging gold-framed purple heart including a metallic George-Washington bust-profile, instead with a draped gold chain surrounding a dangling unembellished purple head-shaped amethyst. In comparison to early Chanel couture brooches, this is a more unbridled entirely organic-shaped small relatively-heavy brooch, which is well proportioned with more complex three-dimensional construction including dangling elements. It was meant to be worn on a bespoke Chanel dress, jacket or hat, unlike a double-prong brooch or fur clip to pierce a thicker-textile coat. In a characteristically dramatic shift by Chanel away from popular international decorative style, she commissioned this brooch in an abstract design, with the exception of miniature leaves, that emphasizes the fine materials, textures and colors. Later in the 1930s, the first costume-jewelry lines that Chanel developed beyond her unique couture pieces featured poured-glass decoration crafted by Parisian Maison Gripoix. Similar to this brooch, TheMet museum collected an anti-ArtDeco 1930s Chanel brooch/clip--also merely marked "FRANCE"--featuring a pastel bouquet with gilt leaves wired to a gold frame. But as its floral shapes are glass, it suggests that it was made later than this gem-only brooch. Chanel reproduced some of Verdura's originals for clients, but her variations did not include gems. After Verdura launched his fine-jewelry company, it produced only gem-set signed designs, while its current U.S.-based owners now offer limited-edition variations of his iconic cuffs for Chanel. So this Chanel couture France-stamped gem-set gold brooch without designer-signatures seems to be among Verdura's earliest one-off pieces of jewelry truest to his precious-material design aesthetic. The brooch's hand-wired 23 gems, along with tiny intricate gold-gilt leaf-like metal pins and woven chain, are discreetly attached to a concealed, yet nevertheless, ornamental gold-gilt openwork metal frame, which fastens with a gold-gilt trombone-clasp pin in a design consistent with period Chanel pieces. Complimenting the 11 teardrop-shaped high-luster pearls, the purple, violet and rose stones were cut into fluted, pear, or round beads, with the latter shape echoed by the hanging rope-chain that frames it. Chanel couture jewelry in the 1920s could feature almost comically fake gems in lampworked glass or painted galalith, while her own jewelry was a mix of costume pieces and mostly lover-gifted extraordinary gems. This brooch could mark a turning point credited to Verdura when her couture jewelry for clients since the Great Depression began in 1929 briefly included relatively affordable real gems, such as amethyst and rose quartz. In a similar but more luxurious vein of realness by 1932, Chanel was persuaded to present at her home to special clients her one-and-only "high jewelry" collection featuring mostly diamonds set in platinum or gold. Further linking this gem-fringed medallion to the early 1930s beyond the The Purple Heart news, some of Chanel's high-jewelry designs likewise reinterpreted couture-clothing textile fringe. Without significant provenance, the brooch was acquired in London, which happens to be where Verdura had retired. It is also where elaborate-jewelry-collecting Gloria Swanson, who was the first actress to make a million dollars, had a home and film-production company,. She lived there since 1930 while she divorced her French marquis-titled husband to give birth in 1932 to a daughter fathered by another man, whereafter Swanson retired from cinema within a couple years. Significantly, according to the Wikipedia England biography concerning her personal life, she met this fourth brief husband while she was being fitted by Coco Chanel in Paris for the Swanson-starring 1931 film, "Tonight Or Never". This antique elaborate brooch was well cared for as it is in very good condition with the only sign that it was ever worn on its fastening-pin. Less about its gems, karats or size, our price for the brooch reflects that it is an irreproducible piece of nearly century-old expertly-crafted fine jewelry that seems to be an extremely rare result of the artistic relationship between Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971) and Duke di Verdura (1898-1978, aka Fulco Santo Stefano delle Cerda). The personal jewelry with which legendary Chanel is most closely associated throughout her lifetime originated as sketches by Verdura. As Verdura was a copious sketcher, a gouache that led to this Chanel brooch may be found among hundreds that have reportedly survived from the Parisian period of their collaboration, according to exhibition catalogues showcasing a fraction of work in the same style. See our attached photo of a similar Verdura gold-and-amethyst cluster-brooch painting on tracing paper for one of his early-1940s jewelry designs. We checked with the Verdura-company archivist to see if there was a match to our brooch among its thousands of vintage sketches by the Duke that it acquired with the business acquisition. But its art work by Verdura does not predate the company's founding. To recap the important elements of authentication for this brooch, these include: early 1930s Chanel couture jewelry lone "FRANCE"-stamp; early 20th-Century trombone clasp used mostly by fine European jewelers; and early-anti-ArtDeco and Byzantine-revival style of Verdura when he was known to use these rounded gems and gold motifs in his other couture jewelry. For a comparative price, an unsigned Chanel-attributed 1935 poured-glass-decorated enameled cuff reproduced from a simple design by Verdura sold in a 2016 auction at Christie's for $100,000. Since then, an antique-jewelry expert featured on the American PBS TV-series "Antiques Roadshow" entertained viewers by revealing historic information about a guest's Verdura-for-Chanel circa-1930 couture Maltese-cross enameled sterling-silver cuff, which is adorned with precious rounded gems surrounding a large purple amethyst. It was commissioned for actress Helen Hayes by her husband and later gifted to relatives, who were not willing to sell the heirloom treasure. "To say that this piece is rare is an understatement...having all real stones," said its appraiser to the owner on August 10, 2021. "This is probably one of my favorite things I've ever done on the Roadshow," he concluded when providing a "very conservative auction estimate" of $150,000. The segment, which was filmed in Middletown Connecticut, first aired in January 2022 before the Chanel-retrospective exhibition at London's V&A museum, which piqued interest in the creations by and artistic collaborations with the founding designer.
  • Creator:
  • Design:
  • Metal:
    Gold,Gilt Metal,Yellow Gold
  • Stone:
    Amethyst,Pearl,Quartz
  • Stone Cut:
    Bead
  • Weight:
    31 g
  • Dimensions:
    Width: 2.17 in (55 mm)Depth: 0.99 in (25 mm)Length: 1.97 in (50 mm)
  • Place of Origin:
    France
  • Period:
    1930-1939
  • Date of Manufacture:
    1930-1932
  • Condition:
    Wear consistent with age and use.
  • Seller Location:
    Chicago, IL
  • Reference Number:
    1stDibs: LU3244218601662
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