The “Train bleu” powder case: a celebration of speed

In the early 1930s, “Blue Train Races” were all the rage among motor enthusiasts. Adventurous drivers would vie for speed against the legendary Train Bleu, which ran between Calais and Cannes, serving seaside resorts along the French Riviera. In 1931, Woolf Barnato, Chairman of Bentley and winner of the 24-Hour Le Mans race from 1928 to 1930, took up the challenge of beating the Train Bleu on its route from Cannes to Calais. Not only did he win his bet, but even reached England before the locomotive arrived in Calais. 

To celebrate this feat, he commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels to create a powder case for his wife. The piece illustrates this fast and furious contest in a stunning high-relief tableau. It depicts an emerald Bentley streaking along the road, next to a streamlined sapphire-set train running on diamond rails. A plume of precious steam gushes from the locomotive, accentuating the vitality of the scene. 

    Train bleu powder case, circa 1930, Van Cleef & Arpels Archives