Auguste Bonaz

Auguste Bonaz

(1877 – 1922)

Maison Bonaz was started around 1910 by César Bonaz, who founded his firm in Oyonnax, located in the east of France. At that time, they primarily created jewelry to be worn in the hair made of cut and carved horn. Extravagant hair combs were an important fashion accessory, and remained so through the 1920’s. Auguste joined his father’s firm, and pioneered in working with newly developed synthetic materials such as Galalith – derived from casein – a protein found in milk, and also Bakelite, but Galalith was his preferred material. Auguste unfortunately died in 1922, and his widow, Marguerite Marie Bailly continued the firm, and made the name of Auguste Bonaz famous.

While the firm produced many different kinds of jewelry, much of it ornamented with pearls, flowers and other embellishments, the most important and interesting of their jewelry are the highly original pieces, unlike anything seen before, which owed nothing to historical jewelry design.

The best pieces by Bonaz strongly reflected the influence of Cubism, the strong color combinations influenced by the Ballets Russes, and the polished surfaces, derived from the new fascination with machines, all associated with Art Deco design.

Galalith could be given almost any color, from solid red, blacks, greens, blues and cream and white to material that resembled jade or lapis. It could be cut and polished to a high gloss. These properties were brilliantly exploited to create striking necklaces and bracelets composed of cut and polished elements strung on elastic so as to create pure, continuous surfaces of strong color, with a contrasting geometric element in the center.  The color combinations are exciting, as is the interplay of geometric forms.

With the absence of surface ornamentation, it was important that the pieces have perfect proportions, and part of the genius of the Bonaz pieces is that they are so perfectly designed for maximum impact.

Despite their jewelry being made of non-precious materials, they exhibited at the 1925 exhibition Arts Décoratifs et Industriels on Paris, the exhibition that made Art Deco famous.

Maison Bonaz produced many other articles of jewelry as well, such as bracelets, clips, and hat and hair ornaments, which were retailed in shops, perfumers and major department stores in France.

The striking originality of design and materials made these pieces very desirable in the 1970’s, when Art Deco was recognized as one of the most important and influential design movements of the 20th century.  Necklaces and bracelets by Bonaz were purchased, often in quantity (when it was available), by art collectors and dealers, among the Ilyana Sonnabend and Andy Warhol.

Today, these pieces have become almost impossible to find, but continue to attract attention for their revolutionary design.