Epoque Fine Jewels

Philippe Wolfers (Brussels, 1858-1929)
Art Nouveau peacock tiara/brooch
Gold, silver, diamond, enamel and opal
Unique piece
Provenance: The Wolfers’ archives mention Mrs. Léopold Kronacker, born Marie-Laure Brunard (Ixelles, 16.07.1873-Kapellen, 26.10.1962) as the commissioning party. She married Léopold Kronacher, a German lawyer, on August 20, 1894.
Literature: W. Adriaenssens & R. Steel, De Wolfers Dynastie. Van Art Nouveau tot Art Deco, Pandora Uitgeverij, Antwerpen, 2006, pp. 376-377

At BRAFA 2023 Epoque Fine Jewels will be celebrating its 65th anniversary. On this occasion Epoque Fine Jewels will display a remarkable collection of Art Nouveau jewelry.

One of the highlights is an Art Nouveau gold, silver, diamond, enamel and opal Peacock by Philippe Wolfers, which was recently discovered as the central piece of the missing ‘Paon’ tiara from the Wolfers’ archive.

The whereabouts of this ‘Peacock’ tiara have long been a mystery. Epoque Fine Jewels recently purchased the peacock as a brooch from the descendants of Mrs. Léopold Kronacher, born Marie-Laure Brunard, who had commissioned the piece from Philippe Wolfers. After doing some research, the peacock was recognised as the centerpiece of the missing ‘Peacock’ tiara. The peacock was probably detachable to be worn as a brooch and hence the original tiara fitting didn’t survive. An old photograph in a magazine from the period made it possible to make a reconstruction of the tiara in order to regain this masterpiece’s former glory. An original picture from the Wolfers’ workshop shows that the peacock’s crest was slightly reduced, probably to make it easier to wear as a brooch.

The reverse surface of the peacock bears the monogram PW for Philippe Wolfers and mentions ‘Ex:unique’ which means that the piece is a unique piece (Exemplaire unique). These unique pieces were marked “Ex:unique” to distinguish them from jewelry made by his family’s firm Wolfers Frères, of which Philippe Wolfers was artistic director. Each unique piece was written down in a register, the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’, a very valuable register which originally served for Philippe Wolfers’ personal use.

The Peacock is mentioned as ‘Diadème Paon’ in the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques.’ According to the archives, the piece was designed and created in 1902-1903.

The importance of this peacock tiara lies mainly in its artistic quality. Philippe Wolfers loved the use of carved gemstones in his creations. Here in particular he used a carved opal, shaped to form the body of the peacock. Opals were one of Wolfers favorite stones, which he cherished for their delicate play of colour and semi-transparency. The opalescent white plique-à-jour enamel feathers, in the delicate and translucent style of enameling made famous by Art Nouveau jewelers, are in perfect harmony with the pastel colours of the opal.

While depicting similar themes as his Art Nouveau colleague-jewelers, Wolfers appeared to be following his own muse. Wolfers’ style is often more stylized and more symmetrical compared to the work of his contemporaries and the use of gemstones played a very important role in his creations. It is thanks to these unique jewelry creations that Philippe Wolfers is considered to have been one of the finest independent craftsmen designing jewelry in the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century.

Of the approximately 130 unique pieces of jewelry Philippe Wolfers designed under his own name, very few elaborate pieces of jewelry such as tiaras and chokers survived. After being shown at various exhibitions all over Europe, these important pieces were often taken apart in order to make them more wearable.

Unique pieces by Wolfers are extremely rare and highly sought-after by collectors around the world. Examples of Philippe Wolfers' jewelry can be found in major museums worldwide including the Virginia Museum of Fine Art (USA), the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim (Germany) and the Royal Museums of Art & History (Brussels, Belgium).