Eugène Fontenay (1823-87) was one of the foremost goldsmiths in France during the second half of the nineteenth century. He was a great admirer of the ancient techniques of granulation and filigree, and became best known for his outstanding work in the 'archaeological' style. Fontenay was no doubt inspired by the Campana collection of ancient jewellery, acquired by Napoleon III in 1860, and his firm produced much work in the antique style based on Greek, Roman and Etruscan examples. French jewellers tended not to copy antique models as closely as did the Italians, instead introducing a freer stylistic interpretation, for example in the use of diamonds.
This necklace has five circular painted enamel pendants bordered with diamonds at the front, alternating with drop pendants, the back with alternating butterflies. The matt painted enamel roundels are loosely inspired by the wall paintings discovered in the ruins of Pompeii. The enamels were painted by Eugène Richet, who trained as a miniature painter, and collaborated with Fontenay on numerous occasions, usually painting pendants and medallions based on the antique.
Fontenay first showed his 'archaeological' jewellery at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1867. The retailer's label in the original case provides additional information about this particular necklace: the Paris firm of Boucheron occupied two premises in the Palais Royal between 1867-1873, thus dating the necklace to those years.