Josef Hoffmann's designs before 1900 incorporated the curvilinear, organic motifs common to the then-fashionable Jugendstil and Art Nouveau styles. With the turn of the century, however, he abruptly abandoned them for a revolutionary new approach based on geometry, of which this tea service is an outstanding example. Its materials are lavish: hand-beaten silver, ebony, and semiprecious stones. Hoffmann, however, has integrated them with forms of uncompromising austerity: straight sides, domed lids, and squared-off handles. The only decoration, except for the inset jewels, is the single thin horizontal line of raised dots near the bottom of each container.
This service was made for the Weiner Werkstatte, the company of designers, artists, and craftsmen founded in Vienna in 1903 to produce luxury objects in the most advanced style. The set was purchased in 1911 by a San Francisco couple on their European wedding journey and descended from them to their grandson, the vendor to the Museum.