Although bats have long been seen as a “scary” symbol of Halloween in the Western world and viewed through a gothic eye, thanks in part to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which depicts vampires as shape-shifting bats, these creatures of the night are seen as symbols of luck or reincarnation in other cultures (not to mention that scientists view their navigational systems as an evolutionary virtuoso act).
Bats often represent death in the sense of letting go of the old, and bringing in the new. They are symbols of transition, of initiation, and the start of a new beginning. In Chinese, the pronunciation of the words for “bat” and “happiness” are both fu. In Japanese, the bat has the same symbol as “luck,” and so it is the Asian equivalent of the Bluebird of Happiness.
As fascination for oriental motifs spread through the United States and Great Britain during the nineteenth century, bats began appearing frequently in Art Nouveau design and were a popular motif in jewelry, created in gold, plique-à-jour enamel, diamonds, rubies and other gems by René Lalique and other designers. Lalique appeared to be so fond of bats that he even decorated his showcase at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris with them.
With the influence of Japonisme, Art Nouveau bats are more symbols of luck and happiness than spooky creatures, and these 13 pieces of jewelry showcase the mammal in beautiful form:
This bat brooch has a gray baroque pearl body with extending translucent light blue enamel and single-cut diamond wings and the gold head has cabochon ruby eyes and single-cut diamond ears. This sold at Christie’s for $3,055.
Gold, plique-à-jour enamel and diamond bat brooch, Austria, circa 1905.
Although not specified as a bat woman, this “Belle De Nuit” (“Beauty of the Night”) brooch, circa 1900, is close enough for me. By Edmond Becker, this is designed as a carved ivory maiden with a rose-cut diamond sash and extended blue plique-à-jour enamel wings scattered with diamond collets, enhanced by a diamond trim and diamond stars set against an old European and rose-cut diamond crescent moon and scattered star backdrop, mounted in silver-topped gold. This sold at Christie’s for $230,500.
In 1899, Liane de Pougy, a Folies Bergère vedette and dancer renowned as one of Paris' most beautiful and notorious courtesans, commissioned two bat-themed pieces of jewelry by René Lalique as gifts for Natalie Clifford Barney, an American playwright, poet and novelist who lived as an expatriate in Paris. One was this opal, diamond and blue enamel ankle bracelet and the other a silver, enamel and moonstone ring, shown below.
Bat ring in silver, gold, enamel, moonstone and diamond by René Lalique, ca 1899, as a gift for Natalie Clifford Barney.
Another chauve-souris (bat) ring by René Lalique, circa 1901, featuring a gold and blue enamel flying bat with an overhead sapphire. This sold for $44,645 at Piasa.
A silver bat brooch featuring plique-à-jour enamel wings accented with four white sapphires and the bat's eyes feature two round cabochon-cut red stones, 4-1/2” l x 1” h. This sold at Michaan’s Auctions for $3,750.
This silver and plique-à-Jour enamel bat festoon necklace with seed pearls, circa 1900, was appraised on “Antiques Roadshow” in 2017 between $4,000-$6,000.
A close-up of the festoon necklace.
A rare Art Nouveau Japanese 24k silver-inlaid damascene bat and crescent moon necklace.
A “femme chauve souris” pendant, 1898-1900, in gold with enameled wings, by René Lalique. This sold for $75,101 in 2016 at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen GmbH.
A cultured pearl, diamond, ruby and enamel bat brooch, the body set with a pear-shaped pearl of gray tint, the outstretched wings decorated with pliqué-à jour-enamel, with single-cut diamond detail and ruby eyes; sold at Bonhams for $2,143.
An antique ruby and diamond bat brooch, circa 1900, the wings pavé-set with circular-cut rubies and diamonds, the eyes composed of marquise-shaped diamonds, attributed to André Aucoc; valued between $42,573-$64,400.
An Art Nouveau gold and diamond-set bat brooch and pendant, circa 1900. The brooch is sculpted as a textured gold bat with out-stretched wings and rose-cut diamond eyes and the pendant is designed as a bat with green plique-à-jour out-stretched wings, decorated throughout with circular paste, suspending a similarly-set star and freshwater pearl drop, to the paste-set crescent moon surmount. Sold at Bonhams for $3,671.