The innovative French designer Pierre Sterle (1905-1978) was introduced to the jewellery industry vicariously through tragedy. When Pierre was only 10 years old, his father disappeared, presumed dead in the First World War. As a result, the young boy was bought up by his uncle, Maynier-Pincon who was a jeweller on Rue de Castiglione, Paris. His childhood and adolescence were therefore spent learning the intricacies of the jewellery trade.
Jewellery Maker Profile: Pierre Sterlé
Rue Sainte Anne
By 29 years old Sterle opened his own workshop on Rue Sainte Anne, Paris. Initially Sterle manufactured for the well-established Parisian jewellery Maisons, Boucheron and Chaumet. Gradually he acquired his own private clients and developed his own distinct style. In 1939 Sterle had developed from a manufacturer into a individual maker. He was producing exclusively for private commissions.
The spread of his reputation led to the spread of his workspace. In 1945 he upgraded premises. Moving into spacious rooms on the third floor of 43 Avenue de l’Opera. This location was close to the fashionable Place Vendome but maintained an allusive elite atmosphere. Sterle shied away from a street side shop, preferring a to foster a sense of exclusivity.
De Beers Diamond Award
Pierre was not a draughtsman, preferring to oversea and direct his skilled craftsmen who translated his ideas. His ability to imbue static, hard-edged gemstones with movement and treat metal like fabric led to his acclaim in Paris for his technical innovations. He was awarded the prestigious De Beers Diamond Award in three consecutive years from 1953.
During the 1940s and 50s he attracted a rich list of royal clients with expensive tastes: from the King Farouk of Egypt to the Aga Khan and Maharani of Baroda.
Unfortunately, the end of Sterle’s career was overshadowed by financial tragedy. After a failed foray into the perfume industry, in 1961, Stere was forced to sell his designs to other Maisons. Chaumet and Mountreaux in New York were the main buyers. Thanks to these sales, his business revived momentarily allowing him to enter the 1966 Paris Biennale. In an attempt to move with the times, Sterle descended to street level, opening a shop on the ground floor in Rue Saint-Honore in 1969. His earlier presentiments about a street level shop proved well founded. In 1976 he declared bankruptcy. He was forced to liquidate his stock, much of which was bought by Chaumet. For the last years of his life he held a position within Chaumet as technical director. Sterle died in 1978.
Sterle’s designs are centred in nature. His chief inspiration lay in the curvilinear forms of plants and flowers. Like other mid century jewellers Sterle embraced the vivid colours of coral, turquoise and lapis lazuli together with diamonds and sapphires.
Sterle’s reputation for his remarkable treatment of gold is his lasting legacy. In 1957 he invented the ‘fil d’ange’ (angel wire) technique where by he knitted fine gold ropes into tassels. The use of these fridges in bird brooches created an delicate movement reminiscent of the flutter of feathers in the wind.
The French author, Colette, was a client and close friend. She described his iconic handling of gold: “Chain-knit, fine, rutilated – each link enlivened with diamond dust, yes I love chain knit gold.”
Couturier of Jewellery
Sterle has been dubbed the ‘Couturier of jewellery’. His treatment of precious metals like material continues to be exceptional. He successfully pushed the boundaries of gold’s malleability to form delicate chains by twisting, braiding and even knitting with gold to a high standard never seen before.