Portrait of Pierre Sterlé
At just 29 years old, Sterlé opened his own studio on the Rue Sainte-Anne. He clearly displayed a talent for the field and very early on was designing for preeminent French jewellery houses such as Boucheron, Chaumet and Ostertag. The relationship that he established at this stage with Chaumet would be one that was a support to him throughout his career.
Pierre Sterlé’s talent as a goldsmith and his innovative designs were complemented by his ability to curate an exclusive network of clients and supporters. Amongst his clientele was the Begum Aga Khan, the writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and most significantly King Farouk of Egypt, who in 1950 commissioned Sterlé to design a crown for his wife Queen Narriman.
Lot 200. An amethyst and diamond watch, by Sterlé, circa 1945. Estimate: £5,000-7,000
This personal network of clients led him to being called the “Exclusive Jeweller” and he maintained his stance on not opening a boutique. He found it distasteful to have his jewels on display in a window for just anyone to see. In 1945 he opened a new premise on the Avenue de l’Opera, near the Place Vendome, the traditional hub of Parisian jewellery houses. This new premise was on the 3rd floor, safely tucked out of sight from the passing masses below.
His accomplishments in jewellery design were significant, winning the De Beers Diamond Award three consecutive years from 1953 to 1955. In 1957, his designs changed forever when he perfected fil d’ange or “angle wire”; a technique of knitting gold threads into fine ropes, which would come to define his work. When Sterlé visited his supporter and friend the French author Colette to show her his new creations she described it as having her rooms transformed into an Aladdin’s cave “chain-knit, fine, reticulated-each link enlivened with diamond dust, yes I love chain knit gold”.
Lot 176. A citrine and diamond dress ring, by Sterlé, circa 1950. Estimate: £2,000-3,000
Although Sterlé creations were being worn by the most exclusive clientele in the western world, his own world was not without difficulties. Ironic for the son of a banker, his own business skills proved wanting. A disastrous attempt to launch a perfume range in 1955 was the first inkling of financial problems which would follow him for the remainder of his life. In 1961 he was forced to restructure his financial profile and to balance the books he sold many of his designs to Chaumet and the New York jeweller Montreaux.
In 1966, he was the first contemporary jewellery to be asked to display at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. For this event Sterlé constructed a life-sized Temple d’amour which was supported by dolphins entirely encrusted with pearls. Inside the temple was a glass pyramid in which white coral hosted a display of gem-set jewels of organic themes with his distinctive bids and floral collections.
Lot 174. A citrine and diamond pendant, by Sterlé, circa 1950. Estimate: £2,000-3,000
The temple d’amour caused such a huge sensation that Sterlé at last opened his own boutique in 1969. Sadly his earlier misgivings on the idea proved valid and the shop was unsuccessful. Coupled with personal tragedy which plagued him throughout the 1960s, he ultimately was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1976 and liquidate his stock. Most of the stock was acquired by Chaumet, who retained Sterlé as a ‘technical consultant’ until his death in 1978.
In the decades following his death publicity of this craftsman waned. The only book written on Sterlé is out of print, with only a French version commissioned. No exhibitions of his work have been held, nor is there even a Wikipedia page to his credit. Yet his legacy lives on with examples of his work selling in international auction rooms for in excess of a half a million dollars. Proof that true style never goes out of fashion.
Jewellery, Tuesday 9th July at 11am
Head of Jewellery