Coffin, Sarah, and Stephen Harrison. The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s. New York: Yale Press, 2017, p. 21.
Gabardi, Melissa. Jean Després maestro orafo tra art déco e avanguardie. Milan: Idea Books, 1999, p. 65.
Gabardi, Melissa. Jean Després: Jeweler, Maker and Designer of the Machine Age. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2009, pp. 4, 55.
Raulet, Sylvie. Art Deco Jewelry. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1985, p. 199.
The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum, New York, April 7–August 20, 2017; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, September 23, 2017–January 14, 2018.
Jean Després was one of the innovative jewelers of the 1920s and 1930s who captured the streamlined aesthetic of the machine age in jewelry. Born in 1889 to a family of jewelers in Souvigny, he apprenticed as a goldsmith in Paris for a friend of his father’s while studying design. Here he met and befriended Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Signac, and most important, Georges Braque. During World War I, he worked in a military workshop designing airplane engines; the experience influenced the mechanistic forms he developed as a craftsman designer. In 1929, he joined the Union des Artistes Modernes, a group that challenged the established traditions of jewelry. Després passed away in 1980.
Jean Després is one of a few designers from the first half of the twentieth century whose innovative designs have become emblematic of a new way of creating artistic jewelry. The inner workings of machines so fascinated him that, according to Sylvie Raulet in Art Deco Jewelry, “The shape of a connecting rod, the outline of a crankshaft, the contour of a cam, the oblong of a fuselage impressed him with the pure, spare brilliance of metal, the cold precision of form and the perfect equilibrium from which harmony sprang.”
Després became friendly with the artists Georges Braque and Joan Miró. Their influence is evident in the simplified forms and minimalist design of his jewelry. Després designed and executed each piece himself, showing his hand in the hammer marks that he left on his jewelry. Després did not limit himself to the traditional jewelry material of gold, preferred by the French haute joailliers. He understood the qualities of silver and used the play of dark and light in an inventive manner, as in the mottled oxidation on the spheres on this necklace, which contrasts the highly polished surface of the blood jasper. Also called bloodstone, the hardstone is a dark green chalcedony dotted with bright red jasper, and the color changes within the stone provide another subtle contrast. The material choices and surface finishes mark this piece as a carefully considered design by a master jeweler.
The jewelry of Jean Després is always perfectly created; to take one part away from the arrangement would spoil the composition. His work was appreciated during his lifetime and was collected by such luminaries as Josephine Baker and in the 1980s by Andy Warhol and Michael Chow. In 2009, he was honored by a retrospective of his work, Bijoux Art deco et Avant-garde: Jean Després et les bijoutiers modernes at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.