Most of Picasso’s best-known jewellery was made with Francois Hugo in the early seventies. However, he began creating jewellery in the 1950s, whilst living in Vallauris, on the Côte d’Azur, experimenting with gold and silver. This was most likely sparked by a visit to his dentist, Dr Chatagnier, about his gold teeth. Inspired by Dr Chatagnier’s conveniently miniature dental moulding equipment, he became interested casting small objects in precious metal. During the 1940s and 50s, Picasso visited the Madoura pottery, run by the Ramie family. He made pottery and jewellery, and some of the latter was cast into a series of pendants. Unauthorised versions of these jewels have also been made.
Picasso’s experiments for lovers, family and friends meant he was relatively well versed in jewellery making by the time he met François Hugo in 1955. They were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, the art critic and collector, Douglas Cooper. Together they worked on a series of large compotiers, serving platters made from gold and silver, using the ancient and time-consuming technique of repousse, to hammer out a relief. The items featured abstracted faces, textures, bulls, dancers and the profile of Jacqueline. It was from this series of compotier designs that Picasso then created twenty-two gold medallions (each an edition of twenty with two artist’s proofs) and a few other additional pieces. He also made some other pieces with various forms and images. Each image is instantly recognisable as being by the hand of Picasso. After ten years of working with Picasso, in 1967 Hugo was authorised to produce these limited-edition medallions to sell. The items bore their joint signature and were always presented in a simple wooden box typical of the Hugo atelier. The certificate of authenticity was often stuck inside the lid of the box but not so many still exist today. Francois Hugo’s son, Pierre continued to make the edition after both Picasso and Francois’s deaths, these are usually presented in a modern version of the box with a separate certificate.
For such a prolific artist, only small amounts of jewellery exist. There are a few unique pieces made of silver, terracotta or other non-precious materials. These were made by him as special gifts for loved ones and are highly treasured.