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Falize in America: An 1880 Patent

Oct 8, 2001 4:57 PM   By Jack Ogden
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Falize in America: An 1880 Patent

By Jack Ogden

The publication of Katherine Purcell’s 1999 book "Falize: A Dynasty of Jewelers," has brought this highly talented family of French jewelers into the limelight again. The dynasty was founded by Alexis Falize in 1838. He was followed by his son Lucien and later by Lucien’s three sons. One member of this third generation was also named Lucien, and the patent he filed in America in 1879 illustrates both the international nature of Falize’s business in that period and the technical background of one category of the enamelled products for which they are so renowned.

The patent (U.S. Patent #223803, granted in 1880) begins: “Be it known that I, Lucien Joseph Falize, Jr., of Paris, in the Republic of France, have invented certain new and useful improvements in the ornamentation of jewelry and other articles.”

Falize then points out that high purity gold, despite its fine appearance, is too soft for use in jewelry. It is therefore either used in an alloyed state or as a gilding layer over another metal. Falize also notes that the normal methods used to unite silver with copper, or copper or silver with alloyed gold are not applicable for uniting silver with fine gold. Besides, a simple gilded layer all too rapidly wore away.

Falize’s answer was to use sheets of pure gold over silver. He heated these two metals to a high temperature and then pressed them together powerfully with a hydraulic press. This type of bonding by heat and pressure alone, without any intervening solder, is actually a very ancient technique.

Once produced, Falize’s laminated sheet could be worked in various ways by a jeweler without risk of the metals separating. One decorative technique was to cut out designs with a graving tool or by acid etching so as to expose the underlying silver. This smoothed the sharp edges, and the exposed silver could then be blackened by use of sulphur fumes or hydrosulphuric acid. Falize explained: “I obtain the same embossing effects as those obtained with gold upon iron or steel, which are seen on certain foreign arms.”

However, Falize did admit that similar decorative approaches had been used before and that he could claim no patent for work of this kind. What he was able to successfully claim a patent for was the use of enamels on these gold-silver laminations.

He pointed out that the color and overall appearance of transparent enamels will depend on the nature of the underlying metal. Blue, violet and green shades look best on silver, and reds, pinks, yellows and browns look best against gold. So he applied enamels to the designs cut in the laminated sheets. Depending on the enamel colors, the recesses were cut only into the gold, or right through to the underlying silver.

The photo above, a reconstruction of a portion of the bottom part of his patent jewelry, is shown in sections to demonstrate the way in which the recesses for the blues and greens extend through to the silver layer. The red only extends into the gold layer.

For simplicity’s sake, Falize only illustrated flat motifs in this patent. He explained that the process could be used for different types of enamel and that the laminated metal "may be chased into high relief to form figures and ornaments, or engraved, embossed, punched, sawed, and otherwise manipulated." In addition, for certain works of art, the underlying metal could be copper rather than silver, but he insisted that the upper layer should always be pure or almost pure gold.

The delicate enamels of Falize jewelry have been much admired for their technical mastery and exquisite designs, many based on oriental or Renaissance ideas. Purcell quotes a contemporary of Falize as describing the enamel colors "as fresh, intense and vibrant as the old cloisonnés of the Celestial Empire." Documentation such as this 1880 patent provides us with an insight as to how such mastery was achieved.

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