All text, and images © 2014, Debra Healy
unless otherwise stated.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Brooch by Gripoix 1980, glass, base metal-gold plated, and cut crystal.
Gripoix brooch blue "histoire de verre" 1990

I have spent my entire career designing,
and writing about fine ( precious ) jewelry.
Since moving to Paris I am becoming increasingly interested in Costume Jewelry called Bijoux Fantaisie in France.
Designer costume jewelry is every bit as intriguing with its history, designers, and in some cases unique manufacturing techniques. 
In the book Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture
 by Florence Muller and Patrick Sigal,  quote Jean De la Fountaine:

" Everything is a fine diamond in the hands of a skillful man,
Everything becomes polished glass in the hands of a fool"

Twice in  French fashion history glass (crystal) in jewelry has come to  the fore. In the 18th century when glass crystal was cut with more daring and dazzle than diamonds, and again since the 1920's. Where Chanel understood this potential.  Chanel fought the strict definition of  real Jewelry being only precious, everything else Faux (fake or forged) Chanel and Suzanne Gripoix created some memorable pieces together.
Designs with inspirations that transcend the materials,  becoming much sought-after works of art and adornment.

French Vogue 1937
Jewels by Chanel
  made by Gripoix

Traditionally costume jewelry is understood to be made with non-precious metals , faux stones, and faux pearls. Here in France there has been a distinguished  alliance with the Couture houses and the costume jewelry manufacturers.  Today this relationship continues on the cat walks; often the jewels coming down the runway are one-of-a-kind. Later these designs are simplified and reproduced by mass production for world wide sales.

 Bracelet by Gripoix for Chanel

Chanel necklace by Gripoix  1938

Gripoix was founded around 1869.

Vintage add from Parures revue des industries de la mode 1927

Augusitne Gripoix acquired the Maison Gasse at the end of the 19th century. Combined both companies had the requisite skills  for full scale
Bijoux Fantaisie  production. Augustine Gripoix produced jewelry for Sarah Bernhardt to much acclaim, and lots of press, this was an auspicious beginning.

Brooch by Gripoix for Nina Ricci 1970's

Gripoix continued to  work throughout  the twentieth century with the designers like Chanel, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Dior, Lanvin, Nina Ricci, Balmain , Yves Saint Laurent, and many others.  

One of My favorite Gripoix projects was the 
jewelry for one of my  favorite films.

La belle et la Bete (1946)
Jewels by Gripoix art direction by Christian Berard
Oh, I just love those beasty boys especially when they give us jewels.

La Belle et La Bete by Jean Cocteau.  

In 2006, 
Morrocan born Marie Keslassy, a vintage jewelry collector, acquired the  firm after it had declared bankruptcy, she is the brand’s new artistic director.

A selection of  Venetian  glass (soda lime glass) rods.
Glass is either transparent opaque or translucent ( opalescent)

 Gripoix has an interesting  history and  a unique production process.
It is this production process that  originally piqued my interest.  It involves a unique form of "glass enameling"   I have worked with traditional enamels for more than thirty-five years, and I can tell you this process is amazing and totally unique. This technique,  by necessity, requires that each jewel  be individually hand-made.

 Image from Chanel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
An array of jewels by Gripoix for Chanel 
collection Mark Walsh Leslie Chin

Image from Costume Jewelry for Haute CoutureBy Florence Muller and Patrick Sigal
Gripoix atelier  with a custom gas flame-working set up for glass, with wide-heat distribution.

-Technical details, more than you ever wanted to know-

The metal frames are bronze. They are either cast in one piece with no seams, or welded if there are seams.  All the mechanical parts are attached by welding before the "glass enameling".  Most fine jewelry is soldered but the heat necessary for the torch-fired-glass-enamel process exceeds the temperature of traditional jewelry soldering (the joint would pop open).
Welding is the coalescence or fusion of the metals forming the joint.  This type of connection can withstand much more heat in processing.

Image from Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture
Brooch by Gripoix for Chanel 1930

Necklace by Gripoix

-More technical details-

The glass work is similar to torch fired glass bead making which has been practiced for centuries in Murano Italy. Gripoix is basically making faux cabochons in their own settings by filling in the empty metal enclosures with molten torch-fired viscus glass.  The Venetian glass rods are dripped,  pressed, rolled, and shaped with HEAT!
After each piece is cooled, slowly in an controlled fashion to prevent the glass from fracturing from  thermal shock.  The metal is cleaned, polished, and colored to look like gold. This is a  from of electroplating.
I am thrilled this company will continue into the 21 century.

Often I work out technical details in my studio.
I am sort of a technical detective by nature, if something intrigues me.
The torch is melting the glass and I am about to drip and shape it into the metal frame.
After several failed attempts I finally understood the process.

A contemporary jeweled bracelet by Gripoix


little augury said...

the detail of these is extraordinary the large Chanel image shows this perfectly. I do indeed have 2 sets of large mass produced (not great) pairs of earrings pink and the other yellow. It is encouraging to see these companies revitalized. pgt

Kendra Boutell said...

Debra- Beautiful post! I began wearing vintage costume jewelry when I was in my twenties to dress up my suits. It became my signature style. In America the events that developed costume jewelry houses, were Hollywood, the Depression and the influx of fine European jewelers escaping from Hitler's terror. Kendra

Debra Healy said...

Thanks for the comment and your summery of influences it is beautifully put. Have you read either of my books on American jewelry or Hollywood jewels? The influences overlap between the worlds of Costume jewelry and precious jewelry as you said. For example Maurice Duvalet who designed the diamond ballerina brooches for Van Cleef and Arpels also worked for Trifari. His Trifari pieces are some of their best.

I just love the freedom of expression possible with out the constraints of costly gems and metals.

Your collection sounds Marvelous. My Mother-in-Law has a wonderful collection of costume Jewelry, over the years she has given me some very special pieces.
I find it all very inspiring.

Sanity Fair said...

Thank you for this incredible tutorial! I learned so much. I collect bits of vintage designer jewelry and am such a fan of costume pieces. They're much underrated in the U.S.! I think Kenneth Jay Lane is probably the only publicly well known faux gem designer.

Tish Jett said...

Since flowers are THE "IN" LOOK for the moment and I've said on many occasions, "I don't do flowers," particularly in ditzy prints, etc.

I'm re-thinking the entire question. This is my idea of the perfect way to "do" flowers. Now, I'm wondering, to whom can I express this new desire?

All of this is to say your blog is brilliant and I'm thrilled to have found you.

Warm regards,

Tara Barker said...

Hello. I have that gripoix necklace that he made in 1938. The blue floral one. Do you know more about it? I am dying to get it appraised and learn the history. It was my grandmothers.

Debra Healy said...

Lucky you! I would take it to your local auction house, say Chritie's or Sotheby's,

In Paris we have several auctioneers who specialize in costume jewelry like Cornette de Saint Cyr. look then up online and send a photo.
I hope that helps.

Best Debra