A love for Lea Stein

We asked Jacqui Murfitt from Scottish & Scandinavian Design to tell us about her love of Lea Stein jewellery:

When I accepted this challenge I thought – easy; I mean we’ve been selling Lea’s works of art for c20 years but…. how wrong can you be? It’s taken far longer than it ought but  – well read it yourselves…

I first encountered Lea Stein brooches in Paris on New Year’s Day 1998 – when wandering round on a bitterly cold but bright day we found a Brocante* which was on for just New Year’s Day and promised hot drinks and food so … we entered.  Much much different to anything we knew in the UK – strange exotic and mesmerising from flic knives (The boys would love them!! & how do you propose we get them home?!) to original oil paintings by Christian Gaillard at thousands of euros (still wished we could have bought one) and  everything and anything in between.

We came across a display of red foxes –  and as we now know, iconic Lea Stein after much haggling one was purchased and thus started our love affair.

It took another 3-4 years of visiting the Joel Garcia fairs in Paris before I plucked up the courage to invest and after much heart searching took around 100euros to spend on brooches – this bought me 5 brooches; 6-8 weeks later I knew I’d made a BIG mistake – it just wasn’t enough!!

To say they sold quickly would be an understatement. But I had to wait until the spring before going back and purchasing more – this time the buying was much more focused and we started to learn the difference between the older pieces and the newer designs and I like to think we’ve never looked back.  No it doesn’t fit into the “anything that is Scottish or Scandinavian in Design” but we like the quirky unusual designs and  I like to think we’ve built up a following of enthusiasts who recognise that we are a “source” of original Lea Stein jewellery.  We take commissions but never promise – we never know what we might find but we try – oh we’re very trying! So from visiting Paris once to twice a year and before the interesting situation we find ourselves in at the present I would try and get across the water 4 – 5 times a year to hunt. We’ve also been fortunate to have known dealers who were retiring and managed to purchase their stock – often an excellent way to find older rarer designs. We play “swapsies” with other Lea Stein dealers on occasion helping out and gaining pieces we know our customers are looking for and so the world goes round.

What do we know about Lea?  She’s an intensely private person, still alive and living with her husband Fernand. Wikipedia tells us she was born in February 1936 – but as anyone knows – you never ask a lady her age!  Again Googles tells us she trained at a young age as an artist and this can be seen from her designs, that she entered the fashion industry in 1957 and her husband was a chemist (this fact piqued our interest as we’re both chemists) Judith Just’s book Lea Stein Jewelry (not authorised by Lea …?) claims that very early pieces were unsigned and certainly I’ve yet to find a Serigraphy brooches which bears the characteristic swallow clasp incised Lea Stein Paris – whether any others exists … is a matter of opinion although we do have a couple of early geometrics which are unmarked but they came directly from Lea.

Lea Stein was invited to participate in an exhibition in Museo Bijou Di Casalmaggiore in 2019/20 and the guide written by her suggests that although Fernand worked in this uncle’s laboratory he wasn’t a chemist and it was only with the advent of cellulose acetate (widely used in the film industry until discovering it’s unusual property of catching fire in the projector!) and the development of a method – still secret to this day of laminating and incorporating lace; fabics; paper etc that they became successful.  Many pieces due to the number of laminations could take anything up to 6 months to produce so labour intensive is the process.

So how to recognise de vrai from cette faux?  Look for the laminations – modern – reproductions shall we say being kind; are made from 1 piece of plastic – feel the weight – Lea’s pieces tend to be light – modern reproductions are not.  Attention to detail know your subject – Lea’s fox tails curl under – modern reproductions go over as this is easier to achieve.  The clasp – a sweeping “V” or swallow tail printed with Lea Stein one side and Paris the other – very early pieces may have a straight bar but will still say Lea Stein.  Check the spelling of Lea Stein on the clasp – we have seen some with the name misspelt that are reproductions; the clasps on Lea’s pieces are heat welded – impressed into the item at time of manufacture not riveted, and lastly always buy from a reputable dealer.

* (Joel Garcia’s Salon des Antiquités)

To see more please visit the Scottish and Scandinavian Website: http://www.scotandscandidesigns.co.uk/