Anna Wintour is seen with a new treasure from her jewelbox at the Met Gala 2019.
The important diamond necklace, made by Oscar Massin, in the last quarter of the 19th century, is designed as a series of clusters, each set with a cushion-shaped diamond within a double border of rose diamonds, spaced by claw-set cushion-shaped diamonds and suspending a similar drop shaped pendant.
Each of the central diamonds is set in an open-backed collet, and the fine edge of each these collets is intricately set with minute rose diamonds, at this time primarily sourced from the cutting centres of Antwerp and Amsterdam. These collets are attached in two places at the reverse to a ring of larger rose diamonds, so that the central mounting seems to float within it.
The present necklace, bearing Massin’s own workshop mark, dates from this latter period of creative autonomy in Massin’s career, perhaps quite close in proximity to his sensational showing at the 1978 Exposition in Paris.
Oscar Massin is a name synonymous with some of the most important and stylistically influential jewels of the 19th century.
Born in Liège in 1829, Massin was apprenticed to a local jeweller from the age of twelve, and moved to Paris to find work in 1851, where he was employed in the atelier of Théodore Fester, then Rouvenat in 1854, and afterwards Viette in 1855. With Viette he oversaw the manufacture of a tiara worn by the Empress Eugenie at the 1855 Exposition, set with the 140-carat Régent diamond, now housed in the Louvre.
What set Massin apart from his many talented colleagues and collaborators was the comprehensiveness of his skill-set. He was at once a superb draftsman, an innovative and inspired designer and a meticulous craftsman, who prided himself on his ability to completely manage the creation of a jewel from the initial design to its completion.
Even at this early stage in his career, Massin was already starting to become frustrated with the high quality but artistically unimaginative work of Fester and his contemporaries, whose endless bouquets of generic and unrealistic 'flowers with no name' left the young jeweller quite disillusioned.
After returning from a short period of training in London, where the public at the time were in the thrall of all manner of botanical jewellery, Massin began to create the jewels for which he has become best known. He started working for the firm Tottis before establishing his own atelier in 1863, where he worked until his retirement in 1892.
These years afforded Massin an increasing amount of creative control, which he used to create diamond-set floral jewels of unsurpassed naturalism. Massin’s boundless imagination resulted in flexible plumes of peacock feathers, chandelier earrings, as well as tiaras and corsage ornaments dripping with diamonds cut as briolettes or set en pampille, or like that tiara worn by the Duchess of Fife>>, swing-set with pear-shaped diamonds that shifted with every movement of the head.
Massin’s technical and aesthetic mastery of his art was showcased in the 1867 and 1878 Expositions in Paris, and in the latter, his mixture of filigree and diamonds in imitation of flexible lacework, as well as a three-dimensional rose entirely pavé-set with diamonds earned him the Grand Prix.
While such deceptively simple overall designs by Massin are rare, this subtle and unusual treatment of each cluster is comparable to a pendant set with a carved portrait diamond that Massin >>designed for the Dutch king William III for the occasion of his marriage to Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont>> on January 7th 1879, in the collection of the Dutch Royal Family.
As well as the famous diamond flower demi parure made for the royal family of Dadiani>>.
Massin’s work would also have far-reaching influences into the next century. His emphasis on lightness and movement was taken to even further heights in the attenuated and elegant forms of the so-called ‘Garland style’ of the early 1900s, and his revitalisation of floral jewels fuelled the poetic naturalism of art nouveau, and even later, the opulent and exuberant floral sprays of the 1950s and beyond.
This sumptuous yet elegant necklace amply demonstrates the touches of refinement and innovation that Massin brought to his jewels and to the wider jewellery trade in general throughout his illustrious career.