An Important Pair of Berlin Iron Bracelets, signed Caqué, c. 1820s From an important European collection, two matching Berlin iron bracelets with cameo plaques, one signed by renowned French medalist Armand Caqué. Excepting their distinct cameos, the bracelets are identical, so it is assumed that they are both by the same maker. One depicts Zeus with flowing hair and laurel wreath. The other depicts either Bacchus (Dionysus), or a Bacchante (female follower of Bacchus), his/her head decorated with grapes and vines. Both cameos are framed with flowers. The lower right side of Bacchus is signed “Caqué.” Each bracelet has six individual rectangular plaques pierced in a floral and foliage motif. Each piece is cast from a mold and finished with black lacquer. The bracelets fit together and can also be worn as a choker, to great effect. It is difficult to say for certain when they were made. Their neo-classical style would indicate an early date of 1810s, but given Caqué’s age at that time it’s more likely they were from the 1820s to 1830s, before his transition to creating bronze medals.
The history of Berlin iron is unique in the jewelry world. The early 1800s mark a point where the jewelry in fashion was a true reflection of politics and the state of the world at that time. The first manufacture of Berlin iron was believed to be in Silesia, Prussia in the 1790s (and to this day Silesian iron items are prized). In the early 1800s manufacture moved to Berlin and was believed to have begun in France soon after. During the Napoleonic Wars (1813 – 1815), the German government requested their citizenry to give up their gold in exchange for iron as a gesture of nationalism, if not exactly a fair deal. Berlin iron jewelry is rare, much of it gone to rust or broken (once broken, it can not be repaired). Signed pieces are especially rare, and give us an idea of an item's place in history.
Armand Auguste Caqué was a French engraver and medalist, best known for being the Imperial Medalist of the French Emporer Napoleon III. Born in 1793 at Saintes, near Cognac, he was a pupil of the Royal School at Rochefort, the Ecole d'Application at Metz, and of Raymond Gayrard, the French sculptor. From 1817-1818 he was employed as Assistant-engraver at the mint of The Hague. Under Napoleon III, he was appointed Engraver to the Imperial Cabinet, a post which he held from 1853-1868. During the Restoration of the Bourbon family to the French throne, he was commissioned by Marie-Therese de France, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, to create the Galerie Numismatique des Rois de France (the numismatic gallery of the kings of France). Caqué died in Paris in December, 1881.
Both bracelets are in remarkable, excellent condition, noting some wear to the lacquer in spots and a tiny hole on the side of Zeus’ head.
Dimensions: Zeus is 8” long unclasped, 7 1/8 clasped; Bacchus is slightly longer. Each plaque is 1 ½” high. Each cameo is 1 ¾” x nearly 1 ½”