Category Archives: Lalique

A René Lalique Hair Comb: The Visible and the Invisible

In 1900, enchanted observers marveled at how light played with color, as it reflected off leaves or the wings of a dragonfly.

However, unlike moths, dragonflies don’t navigate by the light of the moon. Instead, they use sunlight’s energy on their wings to fly. Dragonflies swarm with predatory precision, catching mosquitos with their feet. Indeed, one dragonfly can eat from 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve. Lalique knew this and would not transform voracious killer-gangs into angelic creatures. He created swarms.

In this famous tiara, c. 1900, it looks as if the dragonflies are pursuing light, a faceted aquamarine, because they are all going in the same direction. This is not the case. Lalique was trying to show how beams of “sunlight” from the aquamarine shined down on the dragonflies’ wings to give them energy. Look at how the wings change color, and draw diagonal lines from the aquamarine to the plique-a-jour enamel.

Just as the tiara had fittings that allowed it to be worn as a brooch, so this hair comb had a chain fitting so it could be worn as a necklace. Also made c. 1900, it sold at Sotheby’s on 18 May 2018 for $262,269. In this comb, six dragonflies in a swarm go in three different directions instead of just one. The light source: a citrine. Again, look at how the light source changes the color of the wings.

French Art Nouveau was a combination of the Japanese aesthetic, where perspective was executed precisely, and French Symbolism, which elongated things to express a poetic idea. However, in both this tiara and hair comb, the insects are not stretched to make you think differently about them. So where is the French Symbolism? The elongation lies in the beams of light emanating from the jewel.

By seeing what is visible, Lalique is making you see what is invisible. These pieces portray the energy field of light, which gives flight to a dragonfly. To understand them, you must look at them with two different sets of eyes.



The Jewels of Lalique

Okazaki Collection:
Combs and Ornamental Hairpins

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

Lalique’s Sea Holly Comb

Decay is sensual in itself. The Mediterranean Sea Holly’s cone flower turns brown in the fall, and its silvery blue bracts cannot hold water anymore. In a flower’s life cycle, death comes without tears.

With a Japanese inner eye, Lalique must have noticed the sea hollies in a garden one day, as their decaying colors stood out. When he got home, he opened his drawing book. “Part yellow, chiseled gold, chiseled green-silver parts, violet parts sculpted in the horn, and patinated silver — blue parts — blue sapphire glass cabochons,” he wrote.

In French Symbolism, clarity is ephemeral, but the important thing is that the artist had a vision at all. Lalique saved his vision on a comb.

It is a curvilinear mirror image of two gold cone flowers with patinated silver stems and leaves. These plants frame the top of a large sapphire-colored glass cabochon. The lighter oxidized silver leaves in the middle, whose gold veins show they are not getting water, are part of a second plant. Although they frame the bottom of the cabochon, the second plant continues in delicately carved horn on the bottom of the comb, with the stems doubling as the comb’s outside tines.

The signature of a hand-made Lalique piece is also correct.

I did not see any silver-green or violet in this comb. Perhaps when he started working, he decided to keep those ideas in his drawing book. However, Lalique’s engineering genius is in full force here, because the silvery blue color on the leaves is achieved through the reflected light from the sapphire-colored glass cabochons.

That was his original idea, and along with all the other elements of this comb, it sold at auction on 6 June 2015 for $205,000.

Lalique Hair Combs and Tiaras

Victorian diamond brooches came with different settings, so they could be worn separately or together as a tiara. Art Nouveau brooches could also serve multiple purposes. Indeed, some were designed as a tiara and ended up as a brooch. Such is the case with this bee-and-flower ornament designed by Rene Lalique in 1905/6. A pencil-and-ink watercolor on paper of a tiara topped with this ornament resides in the Lalique Museum Collection in Paris.

Yvonne Brunnhammer, “The Jewels of Lalique,” p. 195

However, during the design process, Lalique might have changed his mind. When the piece was finished, it was fitted to be a brooch or corsage ornament. Lalique used gold, translucent enamel on gold, cast glass, and brilliant-cut diamonds. He created part of a tree, where the branches attach to the center. The piece resides in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and is also dated 1905/6.


Like the Japanese, Lalique embraced the insignificance of human beings in nature, giving animals, insects, plants, and trees more importance. His Symbolic designs stretched bare tree trunks to create a wooded network for the stories he was trying to tell. The wooded lake at Clairefontaine inspired this study for a comb. Tree trunks border a watery landscape. A leafy mass provides shade. The plants are detailed. There is depth of field, and branches reflect on the water.

laliquedrawing1 (1 of 1)
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 154

His “Tree Branches” comb was made from carved horn with a patina, c. 1900/1.

Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 155

Indeed, one can see a Japanese influence when viewing this gold-painted tortoiseshell comb with leaves and berries of black lacquer from the Edo era.

blog: Japonisme, by Lotus Green

In an article, “The Insect in Decoration,” by P. Verneuil in The Craftsman magazine, c. 1903/4, Lalique contributed a comb study of grasshoppers. Verneuil notes how artists had fallen for dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers because of their unique shapes, and reflective wings and eyes, which had a “magical rainbow effect.”


When Lalique made the comb, c. 1902/4, he used carved and painted horn, as well as three triangular green tourmalines.

barbaraanneshaircombblog-laliquegrasshoppers (1 of 1)
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 85

Whether he used cast-glass, enamel, jewels, or carved and painted horn, Lalique made these materials do new and different things. His jewelry was a watercolor of mirrored surfaces, reflecting plants and insects, and philosophically reflecting man’s negligible imprint on nature.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

The Comb: Its History and Development

Lalique Tiaras: From God to a Rooster’s Breakfast

The setting of gems is profound meditation. How can a tiara or crown give its wearer the verisimilitude of God on Earth? Rene Lalique couldn’t care less. He transformed the appearance of jewelry with new themes.

Combining French Symbolist philosophy with ideas from Japanese art, he incorporated gem setting into raptors’ claws in this comb, made of horn, enamel, and sapphires. It sold for 92,500 euros on 6/14/2013 at Brissonneau Auction House, Paris;

rain, in the moonstone drops falling from blonde tortoiseshell buds in his famous Moonstone Tiara;

and tree-branch garlands. This tiara has leaves of green enamel with small diamond flowers, which are decorated with a mabe pearl garland. It sold at Christie’s for $112,561 on 6/17/2008.

However, being a keen ethologist, two of his pieces stand out as exemplary expressions of animal behavior.

“Head with Rooster Headdress” resides at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. It is made from silver, enamel, and alabaster, and minutely details the intricacy of rooster feathers. What makes this piece special to me is the ruby set in the rooster’s mouth. In real life, roosters eat red currants.

In Lalique’s dragonfly tiara, his golden insects have plique-a-jour enamel wings, but they are also behaving. When dragonflies fly at night, migrating or not, they fly toward the light. Lalique symbolized a light in the dark with an aquamarine.

Art Nouveau jewelry was not only art, engineering, Japonisme, and Symbolism. The gems set in tiaras, diadems, and combs went from symbolizing a wearer’s godlike status to accurately representing a rooster’s breakfast.


For more scholarly research please examine our Resource Library and these books:

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Rene Lalique and Calouste Gulbenkian

They were friends for 50 years.

Perhaps that’s why Gulbenkian (right) obtained diplomatic immunity and became the Iranian ambassador to Pétain’s Vichy government in 1939. On October 30, 1939, 79-year-old René Lalique rushed to his factory in Wingen, Alcase. The glass-making fires were out. He tried to save his priceless glass molds, but the German soldiers told him, “No one goes in here.” Devastated, Lalique went back to Paris.

The molds were saved, perhaps with the anonymous help of the Iranian ambassador?

Calouste Gulbenkian was born in Üsküdar, a municipality of Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. His trading companies gave the West access to Middle East oil, and he became a one of the world’s most famous art collectors and philanthropists. Lalique gave him 80 pieces, including hair combs.

The Lalique Collection housed in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, is a testament to life-long friendship. In addition to the Anemones, the museum also has

Two lovers kiss. c. 1902. Ivory.

Various insects rest on leaves. Ivory, enamel, and horn, c. 1902.

Bees polinate a marigold. Enamel and Horn. c. 1902

Diadem of ivory peonies, enamel stems, and an amethyst. c. 1902

Black-eyed Susan diadem. Horn, enamel, and moonstones. c. 1902

Ballerinas with pine-cone borders. Ivory, gold, and enamel. c. 1898.

Three Breton Women. Ivory, horn, and enamel. c. 1902.

And an orchid. Ivory and horn. c. 1902


For more scholarly research, please see these books in our Resource Library.

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Christie’s: Rene Lalique Diadem

Carved out of clarified horn, two groups of three fern leaves make up the center, while two smaller sets taper off at the sides. An artist can say many things with one line. Lalique used a curved line of rose-cut diamonds mounted in gold. The beginning of the line forms the base of the diadem and continues to become center-fern stems. On top, the line branches off to form the side-fern stems. Off the base, two smaller diamond branches unite the smaller ferns. The piece, c. 1905, and sold at Christie’s for $66,000 on Oct. 11, 2006.

Its provenance can be found in Sigrid Barten, René Lalique: Schmuck und Object d’Art 1890-1910, Prestel Verlag, München, 1977, page 175, plate 31.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Christie’s Provenance Book

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Fake Lalique: Real Lalique

This article on Google documents fake Lalique auctions on E-bay.

Beginning collectors, please remember: Lalique, LC Tiffany, Faberge and other great jewelers transformed jewelry with ideas: metamorphosis, symbolism, nature, modernism — the same ideas, which were inspiring Rodin, Redon, Rimbaud, and artists all across the Western World. Japonisme came from welding Edo Japanese art and European philosophy together.

That means a piece made by a visionary’s own hands is unique because it could have never been imagined before. It’s a very different article than combs of a type, such as the two-pronged Victorian hair comb, tortoiseshell back comb, or diamond opera comb. They are beautiful, too. Tiffany & Co. and Cartier produced exquisite representations of popular fashion. They are valid collector’s items, but they weren’t new. They make you admire, not think.

Here are the fakes. The article said someone paid $2000 for one of them.

And here is the real master. This Lalique comb with butterflies carved on tortoiseshell has 18K-gold beetles holding up a banister of citrines and diamonds. It is hinged to a horn comb and sold for $21,800 at Sothebys in 2009.

Here is a similar design on a horn back comb, except Lalique chose dragonflies, so he could drop their tails over the comb’s tines.

In this Symbolist masterpiece, Lalique elongates a woman’s arms to make a triangle and then places a triangular amethyst underneath. c. 1900:


For more scholarly research, please examine

Rene Lalique: Schmuck Und Objets D’Art, 1890-1910 (Materialien zur Kunst des. 19. Jahrhunderts)

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Brooch / Hairpin at the Musée Lalique

Different fittings can attach to many extraordinary pieces of jewelry. For example, a brooch could become a hair ornament, quite easily. Lalique made this corsage into a breathtaking fairy tale of 18K gold, diamond leaves, mother-of-pearl flowers, and green enamel. It is on display at the Musée Lalique, located on the Rue du Hochberg in Alsace, France.

The Musée Lalique also displays a life-sized picture of L’Exposition Universelle de 1900, one of the places René saw the combs of Edo Japan.

There is Lalique Museum in Hakone, Japan, where we first saw Metamorphosis in 2009. But I am so happy a new one was built in France.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Musée Lalique Documentation Center

Jewels of Lalique

René Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

René Lalique and Philippe Wolfers

Lalique introduced horn into the jewelry repertoire. In this tiara, c. 1902, the iridescent horn has different hues, lighter in the center, darker on the sides. The flowers have diamond centers. A gold hinge attaches the tiara to a three-pronged tortoiseshell comb.

Lalique uses a curved horn base to showcase flowers cast in glass with fire-opal centers. The tiara resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum and was made c. 1903-4.

This orchid was made by Lalique’s Belgian contemporary Philippe Wolfers. He chose gold, enamel, diamonds, and rubies, as opposed to Lalique’s orchids, which are made of horn and ivory. The Victoria and Albert Museum also owns this piece, c. 1905-7.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Art Nouveau (LCT)

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Rene Lalique at the Musée Calouste Gulbenkian

Calouste Gulbenkian was the oil entrepreneur who opened up commerce from the Middle East to the West. He also had a 50-year friendship with Rene Lalique and obtained pieces directly from the artist. His art collection numbered over 6000 pieces, to which a museum in his name was built in Lisbon.

This comb depicts leaves in horn, from which emerge pink enameled flowers with black stamens.