A natural pearl and diamond brooch$ 116,400.00
A platinum and diamond brooch, 1920s$ 62,000.00
A platinum and diamond ring, 1927
An Art Déco platinum and diamond brooch, 1930$ 91,200.00
An Art Déco diamond clip, 1930s$ 87,150.00
An Art Déco diamond bracelet, 1930s$ 150,000.00
A lapis lazuli and diamond ring, circa 1930
Despite this jewellery house having been at the very forefront of modern jewellery design during the 1920s and 1930s, receiving major awards at international fairs, and central to the much-admired ‘Modern’ evolutions in French jewellery design in this period, Dusausoy remains somewhat of an enigma with its jewels proving elusive and its history yet to be properly documented. What follows is a small exert from our original research on the subject.
The house publicly cites its origin as being in 1840 (even 1830 sometimes), although this is hard to trace. This may be explained by their beginnings as jewellery valuers and experts in Lyon. Even when Paul-Jules Dusausoy (b.1842) moved to Paris with his brother in 1862, the firm remained essentially a jewellery dealership and valuers, registered at 15 rue Beaurepaire by 1881. It was not until his son Justin Dusausoy (b.1876) took the helm of the business (briefly with his brother Charles) around 1898 after Jean-Paul’s death, and an interim in which his widow managed affairs, that the business would evolve into the authoritative jewellery house mentioned in the same breath as Raymond Templier, Sandoz, and Fouquet as well as larger houses from the Place Vendôme.
The transformation of the Dusausoy enterprise from Lyon gem dealers to pillar of the French decorative arts industry can safely be credited to Justin Dusausoy’s profound understanding of (and untiring passion for) a great breadth of the jewellery industry. Coming from a family of gemstone and jewellery dealers, Justin had grown up in the business and said it was in following his grandfather around that he began to recognise a void in the market. Faced with the challenge of competing with well-established Parisian jewellery houses for their private clients, Justin used these establishments’ often haughty and unwelcoming attitudes when faced with anyone other than their regular clients to his own benefit. He proudly appealed to a wider audience and quite specifically for them to come and sell their jewellery with Dusausoy. Not only would this have been deemed shameless touting by more traditional houses but he did so publicly and blatantly, using the medium of advertising, a world that the luxury market would not embrace until decades later. Dusausoy’s advertising campaign is worthy of study in itself and not only charts the impressive evolution of the company and its image but of advertising techniques in early 20th century France in general. It spans humorous beginnings with sketches in newspapers in the 1900s to glossy fashion-embracing images using the most admired photographers of the time by the 1950s. In an interview on the subject Justin Dusausoy stated that with an initial advertising budget of 10,000 francs he was able to increase the company’s turnover of 100,000 francs when he took over in 1898 to 350,000 by 1900 alone.
By 1912, when Justin Dusausoy registered his own maker’s mark, the firm’s rapid success had set in motion the next phase of this evolution, moving from their premises on 4 Boulevard des Italiens to the location they would keep until they closed their doors in 1973; 41 Boulevard des Capucines. These premises, laid out over numerous floors, were slightly grandiose and austere but large and impressive. They included an entrance-level counter for valuations and appraisals, client suites for consultations, offices, design studios, and workshop benches. With these new premises came a concentration of their efforts to not only make a name for themselves as trustworthy experts and competitive buyers of second-hand jewellery but to introduce the concept of modernising existing vintage jewellery by transforming its design to conform to modern tastes. The reworking of jewellery was nothing new, as can be seen through well-documented European royal collections, materials were often recycled and parures remodelled to suit current trends. The novelty was that Justin Dusausoy brought this to his wider audience with the same compelling narrative as his earlier campaign to buy second-hand jewellery. He also did this as early as 1910, making the firm a pioneer of the concept. Not only this but Dusausoy are cited in articles during the 1920s as also being the first to offer jewels that were capable of transformation themselves (a concept that all the large houses would go on to use by the mid 1930s) and in 1937 are quoted as exhibiting a jewel capable of 50 transformations. They are certainly the authors of the jewel that was capable of 28 transformations, involving brooches, bracelets and a tiara from the same four elements, named the ‘Mecano’ set, which needed a chest of its own to house all the frames and ended up in Andy Warhol’s collection decades later.
By the mid 1920s the success of Dusausoy’s progressive business attitudes had placed them at the centre of the Parisian jewellery revolution. Justin Dusausoy was a member of the committee in charge of jewellery admissions for the landmark Exposition internationale des Arts decoratifs et industriels modernes of 1925, and Dusausoy (with the help of designer Madeleine Chazel) won a Grand Prix and much acclaim from jurors and the Press for their avant-garde designs. The years that followed would continue in the same vein, as the firm exhibited prolifically and received many distinctions: 'Grand Prix’ in Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Strasbourg, New York from 1923-25 alone. Dusausoy flourished in the inter-war years and even in the face of the financial crash of 1929 kept their resolve to operate with industrious fervour. In the wake of the financial crash they were credited with being the only French jewellers to have exhibited at the 1931 New York fair with great expense. This image perfectly mirrors a passionate call to arms by Justin Dusausoy published in 1932 in which he addressed French jewellers in a plea to not let their courage fail them in the light of the financial blow that the crash of 1929 dealt the industry. He encouraged them to realise their privilege and civic duty to help with job losses. To stop focusing on the crisis itself and move forward by educating private clients on the benefits of jewellery rather than paper investments, and to not succumb to the temptation to disparage other jewellers to get ahead but help each other instead.
It is a valuable insight into the mentality of a man who seemingly had the industry in his veins and cared deeply about its many facets. Justin Dusausoy was a member of a truly astounding number of committees, guilds and unions within the jewellery world. These ranged from financial and industrial committees to unions for stone dealers, a member of all the major art societies, encouraged advances in the teaching of jewellery draftmanship, as well as being a founding member of the administrative council of the retirement home for workers in the jewellery industry and benefactor member of the orphanage for the jewellery industry. This impressive breadth of interest manifested itself in Dusausoy’s commercial offerings too. Central to the concept of Modernism was (at least publicly) the rejection of the past and yet, whilst being credited with (and admired to this day for) some of the most avant-garde designs of the Art Deco period and embracing the evolutions in modern design, the firm continued to be important traders in vintage jewellery as well as natural pearls and gem-stones. They had an extensive offering of more traditional designs, and proudly kept a museum of vintage jewellery with examples of Lalique and Froment Meurice amongst other admired French jewellers of the 19th Century. They exhibited this collection as part of impressive retrospectives on French jewellery design hosted on their premises (to much acclaim) as well as a compliment to their contemporary offerings at international art fairs. As a result of all Justin had contributed to the betterment of the jewellery industry he was awarded the coveted title of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1927, progressing to Officier de la Légion d’honneur in 1937.
As with a handful of the houses that are credited with having been the most fervently ‘Modern’ at the time, there was acollaboration between two generations. Justin Dusausoy married Marcelle Antoinette Caroline Codoni (in the 11ème on 18thOctober 1902) and had three children, two of which (later joined by their brother Pierre, born in 1918) would become vital in the legacy of the Dusausoy name; Jean (born in 1904) and Janine (born in 1909). From 1929, when she was only 20 years old, there is mention of Janine (or Mlle Dusausoy) against drawings published under the Dusausoy name and from this period onwards the most exciting designs are attributed to ‘Jean et Janine Dusausoy’. Having grown up in the family business, both Jean and Janine showed themselves to be gifted and worthy protégées. Janine in particular, having studied drawing at the ‘Comité des Dames’ conceived by L’Union central des arts décoratifs, created designs that truly pushed the boundaries of both pallet and form. She proved this by winning an award for the designs she exhibited at La Chambre Syndicale des Bijouterie, Joaillerie et Orfeverie in May 1932 for which she was much lauded in the Press and won a prize of 1,500 francs. She exhibited her drawings there as late as 1960. Justin was a member of L’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs and treasurer of the Chambre Syndicale de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie et Orfeverie and his son Jean too seemed to have benefitted from the foundations built by his father, not only with artistic bravery but fervent and adventurous industrial practise. He became a District Governor of the Rotary International Club (an organisation which started in 1905 in Chicago but quickly spreading internationally to connect important industry leaders and exchange of ideas and good practise that would eventually lead to a global humanitarian agenda) and travelled much within the USA and England with his responsibilities within the club as well as the family business.
As was the case for so many jewellery houses in Paris, the war years and their aftermath took their toll. The industry never regained the heights of the 1930s and the allure of French workmanship and artistic creation also waned by the 1960s. Dusausoy was by no means totally dormant, in 1955, Jean’s interest in cinema led Dusausoy to lend an important hoard of jewels for ‘Rififi (Du Rififi chez les hommes)’ a film by Jules Dassin after the novel by Auguste Le Breton and they continued to sporadically advertise as well as participate in exhibitions. However, whilst the house kept its activities going until the early 1970s, without the dynamism of both Justin (who died in Paris in October of 1960) and the general creative fever of the wider decorative arts revolution, its legacy would end with this generation. It is a legacy that merits a wider audience to acknowledge its place on the central stage of the most dynamic and captivating period in French jewellery history.