The Most Beautiful Jewelry Book of the Year…

…Actually has nothing to do with jewelry. But only if you’re being technical about its definition. Because A Vanity Affair: L’Art du Nécessaire, a title that came out from Rizzoli this fall, is focused on a category that’s all but obsolete: bejeweled vanity and cigarette cases, minaudières, powder compacts, and other objets de vertu, ranging from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries.

The 160 featured designs are signed by legendary jewelry maisons such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lacloche Frères, Boucheron, Chaumet,  Tiffany & Co., and Black, Starr & Frost. The most exquisite of these hail from the Art Deco era and bear the hallmarks of the style’s diverse aesthetics, especially insofar as Asian motifs and the mixing of carved jade and coral with gleaming black onyx.

Modern women of this time period (think: Lady Mary in Downton Abbey or of the flappers who dance around Fitzgerald’s novels of the 1920s and 1930s) needed a practical, discreet, but supremely elegant solution for carrying their personal essentials and cosmetics. A consistent feature of these petite creations is the inventiveness of their engineering: Many open to reveal hidden hinges and modular compartments for stashing your rouge or cigarettes and are instantly, neatly concealed with the click of a diamond thumbpiece or clasp.

Adding to the allure is the fact that the owners of this astonishingly large collection wish to remain anonymous. Indeed, part of the fun is imagining who they are and the channels by which they came to acquire each beguiling specimen.

Illustrious provenances are noted, as previous owners of the cases include the likes of Suzanne Belperron, Rachel “Bunny”’ Mellon, and Doris Duke.

In lieu of commentary and storytelling from the owners of the collection, the 320-page volume (and some 300 photographs) is organized around a scholarly narrative and meticulously researched technical details, crafted by a team of experts and jewelry historians: Lyne Kaddoura, an independent jewelry expert and adviser, as well as senior consultant with Christie’s; François Curiel and David Snowdon, both of Christie’s; Pierre Rainero of Cartier; Catherine Cariou, the former heritage director at Van Cleef & Arpels; journalist and author Laurence Mouillefarine; art historian and author Diana Scarisbrick; and well-known jewelry author Vivienne Becker. 

There’s still time to make sure this completely gorgeous book finds its way to your favorite jewelry lover or collector—maybe even a staffer whose work suggests an impressive flair for the details. Certainly there’s no shortage inspiration here.

Here’s a peek at some of the pages, just a little taste of la grande fête to come.


Chaumet vanity case
Art Deco jade, enamel, onyx, and diamond vanity case, circa 1925; Chaumet 
Lacloche Freres vanity case
Art Deco coral, lapis lazuli, enamel, and diamond Poiret Rose vanity case, circa 1925; Lacloche Frères
Cartier Art Deco vanity case
Art Deco mother-of-pearl, laque burgauté, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and diamond vanity case, 1929; Cartier
Cartier Jade vanity case
Art Deco jade, coral, enamel, mother-of-pearl, and diamond vanity case, 1928; Cartier 
Lacloche Freres aventurine and lapis case
Art Deco aventurine quartz, lapis lazuli, enamel, and diamond vanity case, circa 1925; Lacloche Frères
Black Starr Frost cigarette case
Art Deco purple jade, amethyst, onyx, lacquer, and diamond cigarette case, circa 1927; Black, Starr & Frost
Cartier makeup box
Art Deco enamel, onyx, emerald, ruby, and diamond makeup box, circa 1928; Cartier


Top: A rectangular onyx case decorated with a fluted coral and diamond frame by Cartier lends its form to the sumptuous slipcase of A Vanity Affair, a recent title from Rizzoli. It’s detailed with an imperial guardian lion made with diamonds, a cabochon emerald, and carved coral. It has a diamond thumbpiece and opens to reveal a powder compartment. (All photos: © A Vanity Affair: L’Art du Nécessaire, Rizzoli New York 2019)

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Amy Elliott

JCK Contributing Editor

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