A world traveler whose experiences inspired his love of art, Arnold Ostertag’s career was brief but left an indelible mark on the world of jewelry.
Melchior Siegfried Arnold Ostertag was the youngest of three children, born in 1883 in Lucerne, Switzerland. As a young man, he sailed to the United States, where he studied dentistry in Chicago, Illinois. When he finished his studies, he traveled across America, then throughout Europe, Asia, and India.
In 1922, 39-year-old Arnold Ostertag settled in Paris, where he began his career in jewelry by dealing in pearls. He chose his location well, opening his boutique at 16 Place Vendôme, in the heart of the French jewelry district. The shop carried his name, and the following year, he registered his mark. Ostertag was on his way.
Other Ostertag boutiques followed over the years in Cannes, Le Touquet, and New York.
Early on, Ostertag recognized the value of marketing. He frequently placed advertisements in popular magazines, including Vogue and Femina, quickly establishing his reputation as a purveyor of high-quality jewelry as well as objets d’art.
Inspired by his time in India, Ostertag was quick to embrace the style that in later years would be referred to as “Tutti Frutti.” The colorful blend of carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires in combination with diamonds depicted flowers, leaves, fruit, and berries. The style originated with Cartier for a piece commissioned by England’s Queen Alexandra. Ostertag produced some of the finest examples of this vibrantly styled jewelry.
Ostertag also had a keen eye for jeweled accessories, such as vanity cases, cigarette cases, and compacts. Clever make-up kits featured compartments that beautifully contained all the tools one needed to be beautifully groomed. Decorative hardstones that included jade, lapis lazuli and agate were lavished with ruby and sapphire cabochons and accented with diamonds, rendering them petit works of art.
Precision watch movements provided by Baume et Mercier, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin were housed within gold watches decorated with a variety of precious gems. Ostertag also offered clocks produced by the prestigious firm of Verger-Fréres. Georges Verger was one of the few people who possessed the secret of the “Mystery Clocks.” These clocks, which have a long and fascinating history, are sometimes called “impossible clocks” because the works are not visible, and the hands appear to float.
By 1929, Ostertag, alongside other renowned jewelers of the time, exhibited his jewelry and objets at the Musée Galliera, a museum of fashion and fashion history. The special supplement that accompanied the exhibit revealed that Ostertag displayed a breathtaking Tutti Frutti bracelet and brooch, along with a sapphire necklace and clip earrings in the Art Deco style.
Ostertag’s creations were cherished by an elite clientele that included empresses, kings and dukes, as well as celebrities.
Opera singer and film celebrity Grace Moore chose to wear a stunning diamond Ostertag necklace for her Carnegie Hall debut. At the time, it was reported the center diamond, a baguette, had been cut from the Cullinan Diamond. From this, a unique kite-shaped diamond was suspended in a geometric surround.
Arnold Ostertag married when he was 56. His bride, Verna, an American, was just 25. They wed in Paris in August 1939 after a two-year courtship that originated in Cannes. War was declared a little over a month after they took their vows, and Verna immediately went back to the United States. Her husband followed a few months later, leaving the management of the company to a trusted employee. Arnold Ostertag died on April 1940. The Paris store did not survive the Nazi occupation and closed its doors in 1941. Verna went on to marry Paul Flato, another well-known jeweler.
While its history is brief, Ostertag’s contributions during the 1920s and 1930s were significant; it's legacy one of exquisite style and uncompromising quality.
The most substantial overall influence for Ostertag jewelry was, naturally, Art Deco style, which was all the rage during the 1920s and 1930s. Ostertag creations were lavish and eye-catching, featuring an exquisite array of sparkling diamonds and vibrant gemstones set in platinum and gold. Brooches, rings, necklaces, and earrings, as well as decorative watches, were included in Ostertag jewelry assortments.
Arnold Ostertag found inspiration in his many travels, particularly to Asia and India. As well as representing the Tutti Frutti style, Ostertag jewelry incorporated Asian symbols and elements. His precious rubies, sapphires, and emeralds were imported directly from India.
As the demand for Art Deco jewelry began to wane, Ostertag styles moved from geometric shapes to curved three-dimensional forms and larger gemstones. By the late 1930s, ribbons, scrolls, and volutes were typical motifs for Ostertag jewels.