For years, I have wanted to see the biggest and most impressive, and best known antique fair in Europe, which happens in Maastricht, Holland every year. The Paris Biennale is incredibly impressive too, and happens every other year in Paris in September, and I always enjoy it. But Maastricht is supposed to be the very best there is, and it’s yearly, in March. Although I am usually in Paris for the month of March, somehow I always get busy doing other things. My college age kids have spring break then, and I try to convince them to come to Paris and sometimes succeed, and my three daughters who work in fashion come to the ready to wear shows in Paris in March every year, so usually I just can’t get away. But this year, sadly, because of their father’s recent death and everyone’s drooping spirits, none of my kids came to Paris in March, and I found myself with extra time on my hands, which gave me an opportunity to do something I rarely do, move around Europe a bit on my own. I always stay home in Paris, and enjoy my friends and life there. But looking for some distraction myself from recent events, I decided to go to the antique fair in Maastricht this year, and I went on the first day it was open, and planned to stay in Holland for the weekend. The weekends are always very quiet in Paris anyway, as people spend time with their families or go away for the weekend, so I would have been at home with nothing much to do anyway. I was excited to go to the Maastricht fair.
Even living in Europe for part of the year, I often forget how close things are here, and how easy to get to. It was a 3 hour drive, in very pretty countryside, driving through France, and Belgium, to reach a town called Maastricht, in Holland. And to put it simply, the antique fair there was spectacular, and lived up to its excellent reputation. I had never been to Holland before, and suddenly from the comfort of being in a country where I speak the language fluently (French), I found myself in an unfamiliar situation for me, where I don’t speak the language. And Dutch is an intriguing language which sounds like nothing familiar to me, it’s all guttural sounds, and probably remotely related to German, which I understand a little, and suddenly I couldn’t understand a word around me, although I soon discovered that most people there spoke French, and almost everyone English, but nonetheless it was a challenge, and reminded me that despite the short, easy 3 hour drive, I was in another country.
The entrance to the hall where the fair was held were a series of long hallways, upholstered in beige fabric, with geometric, textured patterns in a dark red. The patterns were actually dark red carnations embedded in the wall, and really beautiful. And every few feet there were huge black ‘bowls’, about three feet across and three feet high, on pedestals, filled with different colored tulips, for which Holland is famous. We were off to a very handsome start!! And within minutes, I was walking down wide alleys, with ‘stands’/booths on either side, filled with gorgeous antique wares. The stands are rented by antique shops and art galleries from all over the world, and like all art fairs, they have to be accepted into the fair by a committee, and once they are they spend an absolute fortune on their stands (in many cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in an important fair). There are inlaid floors, upholstered walls, interesting shapes to the stands, expert lighting to show off the art and antiques. It is very professionally and well done, and these stands lined the long alleys of the fair. (The alleys themselves were named after important streets around the world, Madison Avenue, Champs Elysees, etc, so you could figure out where you were). There were maps to show the layout of the fair, and at regular intervals, large floor plans to make it even clearer, with color coded sections. There was one for antiques, another for art/paintings, another for ‘contemporary design’ (mostly furniture and some objects), and sprinkled throughout the fair were both antique and current jewelers, with some truly remarkable pieces. I began in the antique section, and the quality of what I saw was astounding, and so were the prices. It was like visiting a museum. There was a jeweled clock, some very ancient archaeological art from Egypt, Asian art and furniture, beautiful French, English and Chinese furniture and mirrors, everything of the highest quality imaginable, with prices to match. It was truly dazzling and a little overwhelming at first, but I soon got the hang of the lay out and went from alley to alley admiring absolutely gorgeous antiques and art. And when I needed a break, I stopped at one of the jewelers and admired what they had. If you like antiques, this was Nirvana, and lived up to everything I had heard about it over the years. And the paintings in the art section were just as impressive as the antiques, everything from Picasso to Renoir, and important Italian and Flemish paintings.
There were several restaurants set up, all of which had never ending lines of people waiting to get a table, so I didn’t try, and at the very end, I went to the ‘self service’ restaurant set up, and had very good food there as well. It was “An Event”. And it was very interesting listening to the people around me, mostly Dutch, and the next language I heard the most of was Italian, and then British, and after that a smattering of Germans and French people, but far fewer than the other nationalities. I think I only heard one American, either it’s too far to come, or they don’t know about this antique fair, but Americans were not in evidence. And many of the dealers were British, German, and French, as well as other nationalities. Everything about the fair was exciting, the goods being shown, the people visiting the show, the way it was all exhibited, and the atmosphere of excitement about it.
Among the jewelers, there were a number of important jewelers who deal in antique jewelry. And among them Wartski in London and A La Vieille Russie in New York, both of whom are also noted and important dealers of Faberge, the enamel and jeweled work of Carl Faberge, all made before the Russian Revolution for the Czar and other Russian nobles. Faberge made beautiful small boxes and cigarette cases, animals carved out of precious stones, and his famed Faberge eggs, which sell for millions of dollars. But among the modern jewelers, without question, Graff from London, put on the most spectacular show, and does at every fair they join. The only thing more spectacular is their store in London. Graff has long since (in my opinion) outshone Harry Winston, in outstanding diamonds and precious stones, and is the established top of the pinnacle of world renowned jewelers. True to form, he had impressive windows full of fabulous jewels, giving on the ‘alleys’ of the show, and even more incredible stuff in his stand. Major, Major Wow!!!….from the hard bangle bracelet comprised of 65 carats of emerald cut diamonds, to the 55 carat (each) yellow diamond cushion cut and white diamond earrings in their window, topped by the 118 carat yellow diamond ring, (about 2 inches square in size) inside the stand. Blindingly beautiful all of it, fit for a queen or a Maharajah!!! (There was beautiful Indian jewelry at the show too!!). The 65 carat white diamond bangle bracelet sells for 3 million dollars. I didn’t have the guts to ask the prices on the rest. But I’m sure the prices were in keeping with the size, importance and beauty of the pieces. Graff delivers the most impressive jewelry every time!!!
No question, the items at the show were pricey. There was a fun Lucite seat that rocked back and forth, with striations inside and looked like a marble, and was selling for $300,000. And it was certainly unique. All of it was out of my price range, but it was just fun to see. Exciting and beautiful, and well worth going to. I can’t wait to go again next year, just to see it!!
And when I left the show, instead of heading back to Paris, I drove an hour and a half to Amsterdam for the weekend, a city where I have never been, and thought it might be fun to discover….so more about that in my next blog!!! But my little adventure to Maastricht to see the antique fair was definitely worth the trip!!!