Image credit: Carvin French Jewelers. Rubies des Grenouilles (The Frogs’ Rubies)boudoir lamp. Rubies, fluorite, rock crystal quartz, fluorite, emeralds, sterling silver, 18K yellow gold. 8 15/16 x 5 1/8 x 4 1/16 in. Photo: © David Behl 2022
Enchanting Imagination: The Objets d’Art of André Chervin and Carvin French Jewelers on view September 8, 2023 –January 28, 2024
This fall, the New-York Historical Society presents Enchanting Imagination: The Objets d’Art of André Chervin and Carvin French Jewelers, a dazzling exhibition of meticulously created objets d’art, on view to the public for the very first time. André Chervin (born 1927 in Paris, France), with his New York atelier, Carvin French, is one of the most acclaimed makers of handcrafted fine jewelry in the world. Yet unbeknownst to even his most ardent admirers, Chervin’s true lifetime passion was creating a collection of unique, precious objets d’art at Carvin French. These enchanting one-of-a-kind lamps, clocks, figurines, boxes, personal accessories, and table decorations, are fashioned in gold and silver, with gems such as rubies, diamonds, and sapphires and masterfully carved semi-precious stones like jadeite jade, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and rock crystal quartz. The dramatic display on view features approximately 50 miniature masterpieces, made from 1957 to 2013. The exhibition is curated by Debra Schmidt Bach, New-York Historical’s curator of decorative arts and special exhibitions.
“Enchanting Imagination is a jewel of an exhibition, testament to André Chervin’s artistry as well as to the reasons for his tremendous success as a jeweler creating masterpieces for Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and Verdura, among other distinguished houses,” said Louise Mirrer, President & CEO of New-York Historical. “The show also provides captivating insight about how, freed from the demands and constraints of commissioned work, an artist’s imaginative powers can be unleashed in new and unforeseen ways.”
“This collection represents a lifetime of work,” said André Chervin. “With these objets d’art, I was able to choose myself what to make, and when, and exactly how I wanted them. I was free from the constraints that naturally come when you are manufacturing for a customer’s order. These are my own expressions. These are my art, pure and simple. These are my true freedom.”
“Enchanting Imagination shows the artistry and superlative skill of André Chervin and Carvin French,” said curator Debra Schmidt Bach. “The works on display are both captivating and inspirational. By exhibiting these objets d’art pieces for the first time, within the context of the life, work, and origins of André Chervin and Carvin French, visitors can truly appreciate the scope of the atelier’s skill and its evolution in design and jewel work.”
The story of Carvin French is the story of how two Frenchmen built a distinctly American business in New York City. André Chervin was born in Paris in 1927 to a secular Jewish family with a history of working in the jewelry trade. The German invasion in the Second World War forced the family to flee for the south of France. After the war, Chervin enrolled at the Haute École de Joaillerie (est. 1867), the foremost jewelry school in France. While there, he trained in the required sequence of bench-work (filing, sawing, soldering, following design specifications), gold- and silversmithing, gem-cutting, and enameling. When Chervin emigrated to New York in 1951, he found that as a French-trained jeweler, he was in immediate demand and within several months was working for the esteemed jeweler, Louis Féron. While there, he met Serge Carponcy, a baguiste, or specialist in making rings, who became his partner in 1954 when the two opened Carvin French Jewelers with the combined funds of $2000. Chervin and Carponcy established an atelier in midtown Manhattan in the tradition of “the finest shops in the world.” Carvin French distinguished itself as a self-contained workshop specializing in hand-fabricated jewelry with complex stone settings, lapidary work, and enameling. This required attracting the best specialists from all over the world—a veritable “United Nations of talent”—something that was uniquely possible in the cosmopolitan center that was post-War New York.
Carvin French became one of the most esteemed creators of handcrafted fine jewelry in the world. Over the past six decades, Carvin French has manufactured thousands of magnificent pieces for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Bulgari, Verdura, Asprey, and other distinguished shops. Though revered by jewelry experts and professionals, the name Carvin French is generally unknown to the public as anonymity was essential to the firm’s success: each jewelry retailer sold the firm’s masterworks under their own brand names, and only a rare few private individuals accessed the jewels of Carvin French directly. Thus, Carvin French became known in the trade as “the jeweler’s jeweler.”
Several pieces of Carvin French jewelry are shown in the exhibition, including stunning one-of-a-kind brooches such as the extraordinary Butterfly brooch, scintillating with fancy vivid yellow diamonds framed in blackened steel, made for Ralph Esmerian; and the Gold Frog brooch and the Lily of the Valley brooch made for the designer Fulco di Verdura. The firm also created many of the opulent pieces featured in Tiffany’s iconic Blue Books and fabricated hundreds of one-of-a-kind bracelets, rings, earrings, brooches, cufflinks, and necklaces in collaboration with Tiffany’s leading jewelry designers, Donald Claflin and Angela Cummings, including the Mouse brooch made of diamonds, colored diamonds, pearls, gold, platinum, and enamel. Pieces on view also include the exquisite Hearts suite—necklace, bracelet, and earrings with rubies, sapphires, and diamonds made for Bulgari in 1985; the intricate Lotus Leaves necklace designed by Fulco di Verdura in 1964 made by Carvin French with a rare, historic, royal blue enamel that once was reserved exclusively for Marie Antoinette; and Rose earrings en tremblant, crafted of pink diamonds, demantoid garnets, and olivines.
The main focus of the exhibition is on Chervin’s artistic extension beyond jewelry and his creation of bejeweled objets d’art. Conceived and engineered by Chervin and fabricated under his watchful eye by his artisans in between work on commissioned jewelry work, each objet evolved over the course of five to 25 years with most measuring a mere three to eight inches in height.
Highlights include the poignant My Heavy Heart, a boudoir lamp, or night light, that incorporates a large, shimmering, citrine heart poised atop an 18 karat gold wheelbarrow overflowing with colored diamond flowers. It is based on a parable recounted by Chervin in which a farmer boy professes his love to a local girl, is rejected by her, and then returns to proclaim that his heart is so heavy, he can only carry it in a wheelbarrow. One of his most extraordinary objects, the Rubies des Grenouilles boudoir lamp, is a lamp with a shade that is actually a mosaic of 128 cut and carved rubies.
The Student Lamp has a shade of agate with a base of obsidian balanced on nine green enamel gold frogs with 18 Burma cabochon ruby eyes. The Razzle Dazzle Dice, a multi-colored lighted plique-à-jour enamel cube features a lapis and natural coral base inlaid with turquoise, coral, agate, chrysoprase, jasper, and tiger eye. The Lapis Clock Tower features a stunning, carved lapis lazuli clock with 40 baguette diamonds perched atop a tapered ivory column inlaid with precariously thin lapis accents.
Jeweled animals are also on view, including the Bird Guarding Her Nest, with a nest of more than 700 18k yellow gold “straws” with assorted enamel eggs, perched on a sterling silver tree branch and a carved bird of Mexican onyx with coral beak on a base of nephrite; and the Return to Kilimanjaro, featuring a giraffe of enameled 18k yellow gold with emerald eyes, pulling an enameled and bejeweled winter sleigh that carries a Lapis Egg of carved lapis lazuli and 18k yellow gold, set with 200 round diamonds. Ordinary objects are elevated into works of art, including a pair of cigarette holders made of 18k yellow gold, coral, and black jade set with 60 round diamond and a salt and pepper shaker set of old-time bank robbers in gold, white agate, onyx, and quartz, who are dunked in a vintage, enameled bathtub, complete with vintage claw feet and faucet, and an ingenious “dirty water” surface made of patinated silver.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by D Giles Limited, featuring essays by Debra Schmidt Bach and Jeannine Falino and will be available from the NYHistory Store. Visitors to the exhibition can also learn additional details about the works on view and the history of Carvin French through the arts and culture app, Bloomberg Connects.
A screening of the film The Earrings of Madame de… will take place at a future date. The 1953 dramatic romance stars Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, and Vittorio De Sica. Family programs, including jewelry-inspired crafts, will also take place. Details on exhibition-related programs will be added to the online calendar. Private group tours can be arranged throughout the run of the exhibition.
Lead support for Enchanting Imagination: The Objets d’Art of André Chervin and Carvin French Jewelers is provided by William Ackman, Neri Oxman, and the Pershing Square Foundation.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About the New-York Historical Society
Experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new wing housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Center for Women’s History. Digital exhibitions, apps, and our For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect with us at nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr.