Vever (Est. 1821 – 1982) Distinguished French jewelry house, Maison Vever passed through several generations of the Vever family. Like its French contemporary Templier, it produced a singular individual whose work helped propel the company name to a special place in jewelry history.
Henri Vever (1854–1942) was one of the preeminent European jewelers of the early 20th century. With his brother Paul (1851-1915), he ran the family business established by his grandfather Pierre Vever (1795-1853) in Metz, France.
In 1841, Pierre’s son Ernest (1823-1884) joined the firm and became the owner in 1848. Ernest was a skilled jeweler and designer who studied with his father and other German and Austrian manufacturers. He ran the firm until 1870.
In 1871, Ernest moved from his native Metz to Paris because of the political situation that developed after France lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. In Paris, he became owner of the famous jewelry firm, Baugrand, located at 19, Rue de la Paix. For the next ten years, this company produced striking jewelry, mostly in the ancient revival style, while Ernest also served on various trade commissions.
During these years, Ernest began to train his sons, Paul and Henri to take over the firm. Henri, in particular, furthered his design education by attending L’Ecole de Arts Décoratifs and Ecole Nationale de Beaux-Arts, studying drawing, modeling, and ornamental design.
In 1876, Maison Vever registered their mark which was stamped on their pieces until 1912: an ‘E’ and a ‘V’ separated by an anchor in a chevron. Ernest retired in 1881 and handed the business down to his sons. Maison Vever now also began producing objects in the Renaissance revival and Oriental styles.
In 1889, for the first time, the Vever brothers exhibited jewels at Paris’s International Exposition. This resulted in winning one of the two Grand Prizes for gem-set jewelry. The other prize went to the firm Boucheron for its gem-set jewelry.
For the Vever brothers, this was an impressive result coming from their first exhibition. They soon became regular contributors at exhibitions that included Moscow (1891), Chicago (1893), and Brussels in 1897.
In 1900, Maison Vever moved to 14, Rue de la Paix. The same year the firm won a second Grand Prize at Paris’s International Exposition for their superb gem-set Art Nouveau jewels.
Their most famous entry, Sylvia, became Vever’s most recognizable piece and attained popularity through illustrations created in the Art Nouveau style. The piece is a pendant of a winged, female-like figure resembling a butterfly. Incorporating antennae and two pear-shaped rubies on her breast coat, she is in the permanent collection of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
Henri was also a collector of a wide range of art including fine prints, paintings, and books of both European and Asian origin. By the 1880s, Vever had become one of the earliest Europeans to formally collect Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints that he purchased from dealers that included Hayashi Tadamasa and others.
Henri was a member of Les Amis de l’Art Japonais, (Friends of Japanese Art), a group of Japanese art enthusiasts that also included Claude Monet/ The group met regularly to discuss the country’s prints and other works.
Even with his multi-faceted interests and personality, Henri Vever remains best known for his role in the renewal of jewelry as “art” and his commitment to the aesthetics of the Art Nouveau movement. Henri Vever, was a curious collector. His publications focus on his professional activities and his taste for Japanese art, Persian miniatures, bibliophilia, engraving, and modern art.
Jewelry historians consider Henri’s monumental three volume work, “La Bijouterie Française au XIXe Siècle” (“The History of the French Jeweler in the Nineteenth Century”) an invaluable reference book on the history of French jewelry from the Empire to the Art Nouveau era. According to noted art historian, Wilfried Zeisler, “[Henri’s] re-edition in French and the one in English in 2001, prefaced by Evelyne Possémé, are … proof of this.
“A collector and a jeweler, Henri Vever combined two passions and became a collector of jewels … which leads him to become a historian … Henri Vever belongs to this category of manufacturers and amateurs of the nineteenth century, who, in the course of actions carried out within the framework of the Central Union of Decorative Arts, have been historians or chroniclers of their art…
“Built chronologically, the book explores the evolution of jewelry in 19th Century France through socio-economic changes and analyzes the history and functioning of large jewelry, the goldsmiths of the century, new techniques, their applications, as well as clientele. Its descriptions include a presentation of ‘contemporary creation’ and defended the modern style.”
By the early 20th century, Vever had amassed a collection of thousands of fine ukiyo-e woodblock prints. His collection was so well regarded that authors of some of the pioneering European scholarly works on Japanese prints used Vever’s collection for much of their research on actual prints. The authors include von Seidlitz, Migeon, and Lemoisne whose L’Estampe Japonaise used Vever’s prints exclusively.
In 1915, Paul died. By 1921, Henri had handed the family business to his nephews (sons of Paul) André and Pierre Vever. After this Maison Vever began to employ artists such as Etienne Tourette, a talented enameller, who also worked with Georges Fouquet, and the renowned René Lalique and Lucien Gautrait as designers.
At the height World War I, Henri Vever chose (or was forced) to dispose of the bulk of his collection selling thousands of prints to the Japanese industrial mogul Matsukata Kōjirō, who purchased them sight-unseen based on the collection’s reputation. The prints eventually made their way to the Tokyo National Museum and formed the bulk of that institution’s ukiyo collection. Many of Vever’s prints also found their way to the national museums of France through Henri’s earlier donations.
Although thousands of pieces made their way back to Japan through Matsukata’s ownership of them, Vever kept many of the best prints for himself and continued to collect after the war acquiring pieces from former rivals Gonse, Haviland, Manzi, Isaac, and Javal as their collections went to the auction houses of Paris.
Henri stopped acquiring items in the 1930s and his famous collection disappeared during the following decade as a result of World War II and the German occupation of France. What remained of the collection did not reappear until 1974 when Sotheby’s announced it would auction the collection in four parts in London.
Works from the first two parts were re-printed, together with 148 prints not sold at the auctions, in a limited-edition (2000-copy) three-volume catalog: “Japanese Prints & Drawings from the Vever Collection” by Jack Hillier. Henri Vever was a firm believer in the strong influence Japanese art had had on contemporary jewelry.
In 1935, Henri sold a share of Maison Vever to Claude Verger who collaborated with his father George to produce pieces. Henri died in 1942 during World War II. In 1946, after the war ended, François Verger (Claude’s son) joined the firm.
When George died, Claude founded Verger Ltd. In 1963 Claude Verger died and his children gave their shares in the business to François. The firm was finally sold to Ralf Esmerian and ceased doing business in 1982.
Maison Vever’s Art Nouveau jewelry remains the firm’s finest accomplishment. Its designs featured typical motifs of the era: sultry women, flora and fauna, and mythical creatures
Vever’s jewelry was usually constructed in gold. The Vevers—and their guest designers— also tended to use precious stones like diamonds and rubies to embellish their pieces and eschewed semi-precious and organic gemstones.
The most famous of their guest designers was Eugène Grasset whose jewels, according to Vivienne Becker, “were original and spectacular, full of the verve, imagination, and dreamy quality of the best Art Nouveau work.”
The firm also employed expert enamellist Etienne Tourrette, designer Henri Vollet, modeler and chaser Gautrait, and sculptor René Rozet.
Henri Vever and his atelier, Maison Vever serve as participants as well as historians and witnesses to their time.