This Rare Watermelon Tourmaline-Studded Art Nouveau 'Marvel' Was Just Acquired By the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

  • RICHMOND, Virginia
  • /
  • January 07, 2021

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Philippe Wolfers (Belgium), Wisteria “Glycines” Choker, 1900–1902.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced their recent acquisition of the Wisteria “Glycines” Choker designed by Philippe Wolfers (1858–1929). The choker is one of only 131 unique pieces designed by the renowned Belgian jeweler. 

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has the finest collection of European Art Nouveau decorative arts in the United States,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is one of the most exquisite examples of Art Nouveau jewelry in the museum’s collection — a rare find amongst Wolfers’ existing creations.”


Carved, iridescent tourmaline, which display green and pink hues in singular stones, as well as pastel colored, translucent carved opals are used to create delicate, floral swags. The green and purple enamel leaf clusters complement the pale colors of the wisteria.

“The Wisteria ‘Glycines’ Choker is a rare marvel of the jeweler’s work and technique,” said Barry Shifman, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts, 1890 to the Present. “It is one of Wolfers’ most impressive pieces. The use of enamel and carved gemstones, specifically watermelon tourmaline, is thrilling. It is truly a show-stopping work by one of the best Art Nouveau jewelers.”

Designed between 1900 and 1901 and made before January 1902, the back of the choker is marked with the jeweler’s initials and “Ex: Unique” to convey “Exemplaire Unique” (French) or “Unique Example.” Wolfers’ works created between 1897 and 1907 bear this mark to distinguish them from the more commercial objects made by his family’s business, Wolfers Fréres Company. Very few of Wolfers’ Exemplaire Unique pieces still exist due to their loss or dismantling and subsequently they are very rare. The Wisteria “Glycines” Choker  was purchased by Wolfers’ wife, Sophie Willstädter, who also purchased a number of his most impressive pieces to ensure his best works remained in the family.

Philippe Wolfers’ father, Belgian goldsmith Louis Wolfers, founded the Wolfers Fréres Company in Brussels in 1842. Philippe joined the company in 1875. Though he began as a jeweler designing in the Rococo-revival style, Philippe converted to Art Nouveau by 1890 when he set up his own workshop where skilled craftsmen forged his intricate designs. In 1908 Wolfers ended his jewelry production and turned his focus to sculpture.

The Wisteria “Glycines” Choker is on view in VMFA’s French Art Nouveau Gallery within the Lewis Decorative Arts Galleries. The choker joins two other objects by Wolfers in VMFA’s collection, a stoneware and enamel cachepot and a bronze sculpture Le Chant du Cygne (English: The Song of the Swan). 

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