Whiplash curves define this buckle, though there is an elegant restraint to piece, given by the symmetry and outline of the piece. Amethyst-colored pastes glow, nestled among the curves, enlivening the silver lines woven around them. Though large, the light design of the piece keeps it from being at all heavy or ostentatious. This piece is the ultimate combination of beauty and pedigree, the design being so lovely and from the height of the firm's popularity around 1900, and with the clear maker's mark on the back from such a famous and desirable a firm. Ready to be the centerpiece of any collection.
Piel Freres (or the "The Piel Brothers") was a French firm that came to fame in 1900 for winning a Grand Prix for their enamel and gilt peacock buckle at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The exposition, in retrospect, represented the height of the Art Nouveau movement, with Rene Lalique and Henri Vever also winning awards. The firm was headed by the Piel brothers, Alexandre and Paul, although at this particular time in the firm's history, Alexandre Piel and artistic director Gabriel Stalin were the driving forces. Piel Freres specialized in making beautiful, but still affordable jewelry, primarily buckles, which were an essential part of a lady's wardrobe at the time. Although the firm was active from 1855-1925, pieces from around the turn of the century (like this one) are the most highly sought after. It was their pieces in the Art Nouveau era that showed the most skill and artistry, their later Egyptian-inspired pieces and pieces created for fashion designers like Jean Patou, although beautiful, never reached the height their Art Nouveau pieces did.*
Condition: Measures overall 3 ¾" by 2 3/16". Two of the pastes are slightly loose, but in no danger of coming out, it's only noticeable if you go out of your way to wiggle them. When you examine closely one of the marquis-shaped pastes there is a scratch across one (in the upper left in the photo), although without a loupe it looks like it could be some sort of internal characteristic to the paste. The buckle itself is silver but the fastener on the back is gilt.
*Sources: Art Nouveau Jewelry, by Vivienne Becker, pg. 226. 20th Century Jewelry: The Complete Sourcebook, by John Peacock, pgs. 9-10. And especially Art Nouveau Buckles/Jugendstil Gurtelschlieven, edited by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker. It features a number of Piel Freres buckles, primarily pgs. 82-87 and the cover photo.
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