Breaking Convention

During the Roaring 1920’s, a lady’s cigarette case symbolized the breaking of convention. The flappers of that era caused a frenzy by smoking in public, and sneaking a chic cigarette case out of your purse was considered the height of glamour. Jewelry houses such as Cartier, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels took cigarette cases beyond their traditional masculine designs by embellishing them with 18kt gold, enamel, diamonds and other precious stones. These small yet extravagant items took hundreds of man-hours to create, involving goldsmiths, guillocheur, engravers and stone-setters.

This Art Deco cigarette case, circa 1920s, is both stylish and functional – doubling as a vanity case. The symmetrical royal blue enamel and diamond design at the center of the piece stands in stark contrast to the softer floral pattern on the sides. In the decades that followed, Arabic and Chinese motifs with more simplified bold cubes and bars came into vogue. Fine cases, like this one, used enamel to add a splash of vibrant color, but its tendency to scratch caused it to be replaced with a more resistant lacquer in less expensive versions.

Cigarette cases were extremely desirable for their style, lavishness and functionality, and were commissioned by the wealthy and top jewelry collectors alike. The owner often worked with the designer to create a custom piece, incorporating their initials or other personalized elements. The wife of legendary composer Cole Porter reportedly commissioned a custom-made Verdura cigarette case to celebrate the opening of each of her husband’s musicals. As the composer himself said, Anything Goes.