Guy Barton is hunting for bold gold jewelry with the initials GL, for Georges Lenfant. “It’s a hidden mark that indicates fantastic, unparalleled quality,” said Mr. Barton, the director of Hancocks London, the vintage jewelry dealer established in 1849.
As someone who has handled examples of fine jewelry from every period, Mr. Barton said that no other goldsmith has matched the craftsmanship and creativity of the mid-20th century-maker. “You can instantaneously tell a Lenfant piece when you hold it,” he said. “It is tactile and flexible; it has artistic finishes and textures and movement.”
Lenfant’s name is known by vintage dealers and informed collectors, but it’s likely that some people who own Lenfant pieces don’t realize it. That’s because for decades Georges Lenfant and his son, Jacques, collaborated on designs with almost every important jewelry house, from Cartier to Van Cleef & Arpels. The Lenfants’ hallmark, a diamond-shape stamp with the initials, appeared alongside the names of famous houses on jewelry and also was stamped on the gold bracelets of watches from Rolex, Hermès and Vacheron Constantin.
Recently, however, the Lenfants are finally getting recognition beyond jewelry’s inner circles. With the renewed interest in statement gold jewelry, people are discovering their striking designs, said Russell Zelenetz, a partner in Stephen Russell, a jewelry retailer on Madison Avenue. “Customers are drawn to the jewelry because of the look and the way it feels. Lenfant was a genius in the way he manipulated, hand-wove, and finished the gold.”
Mr. Zelenetz has been collecting and selling Lenfant pieces since he and Stephen Feuerman established the business 39 years ago. Its current offering includes a number of pieces from the 1960s, such as an oversize 18-karat gold Hermès Chaîne d’Ancre link bracelet stamped with Georges Lenfant’s initials and a supple 18-karat gold mesh buckle bracelet designed by Jacques Lenfant.
The business began as Duparc and Lenfant in 1899, and Georges Lenfant registered his initials as his maker’s mark in 1909. His workshop was near Paris’s Place Vendôme, already the heart of the world’s luxury jewelry houses. In 1915, Jacques, then 11, joined the business while continuing his studies at the École nationale supérieure des Arts décoratifs in Paris and later apprenticing with jewelers in Germany, Austria and England. (Eventually some of his designs were stamped Jacques Lenfant for Georges Lenfant.)
Over the years, the Lenfants made a range of pieces, from diamond rings to whimsical jeweled brooches in animal shapes. But after World War II, when women wanted statement jewelry that reflected their newfound independent spirit, Jacques Lenfant pushed the boundaries of metalwork to create innovative pieces in gold — what he called a “harmony of sounds, shapes and textures” in his book “Le livre de la chaîne,” published in 1996, a year after his death.
“His gold jewelry,” Mr. Barton said, “was the backbone of the midcentury bold gold movement.”
“Lenfant’s chains are beautiful and seamless, and they move perfectly,” said Loren Teetelli, a Los Angeles-based jeweler trained in ancient metalsmithing, who spends three to five days making a single gold chain for her Loren Nicole collection.
“When you hold a handmade chain,” she said, “it feels different, moves different and has a heft that you can’t get with casting.”
Jacques Lenfant pulled gold into thin wires that then were woven into flexible lengths, so even a large mesh bracelet appeared to hug the wearer’s wrist. His finishing techniques included etching gold to create sparkle, polishing it to a high shine and sanding for a matte effect.
“Gold work is a hugely skilled craft,” Mr. Zelenetz said. “Jacques Lenfant pushed the boundaries of what was possible. He was creating unique styles that hadn’t been seen before. Even his clasps were unique and integrated seamlessly into the design.”
After Jacques Lenfant’s death in 1995, the company stopped producing Lenfant jewelry and the workshop was sold.
But Anthony Barzilay Freund, the editorial director at 1stDibs, the online home and design retailer, said Lenfant is ripe for rediscovery. “It’s pretty insider for now, but I think it will change because we are in a period when people want statement gold jewelry,” he said.
A recent search for Lenfant on the 1stDibs website turned up more than 50 jewels and watches, ranging from a 1970s gold zodiac pendant from Van Cleef & Arpels and Lenfant ($16,500) to a 1950s Vé gold link bracelet by Jacques Lenfant for Georges Lenfant ($38,000). The sellers set prices on 1stDibs, with those for Lenfant pieces ranging from $16,000 to $18,000.
Mr. Barton said Lenfant jewelry represents good value, as a piece would be less costly than, for example, a gold vintage bracelet signed by Cartier.
“At the moment, I don’t think the Lenfants are getting the recognition that they deserve,” Mr. Barton said. But he thinks that won’t last much longer.