Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Introduction to Boucher

Marcel Boucher was one of the greatest costume-jewelry designers of the 20th century, creating imaginative, high-quality pieces over decades. He was born in 1898 in Paris, and began his career as an apprentice model-maker at Cartier, transferring to their New-York workshop in 1923. The Depression forced cut-backs in the precious jewelry trade, and Marcel left Cartier and turned to the world of costume jewelry. He started by freelancing designs for shoe buckles and jewelry for Mazer Brothers. In 1936 he designed his first line of costume jewelry, and in 1939 sold a collection of designs to the New-York City store Saks 5th Avenue. Moving away from the geometric restrictions of the Art Deco style, this collection took inspiration from three-dimensional, sweeping organic forms with highly coloured enamels. These pieces became bestsellers, and Boucher launched his own company, Boucher and Cie.
Boucher "MB" Sterling Bird Pin, c.1940  As fashion changed in the 1990s, the demand for mediocre sterling silver pins disappeared. However, early Boucher has remained consistently in demand. Boucher's first solo collection was a series of enamel and rhinestone bird pins. Birds remained a favourite theme throughout his career. Figural "MBs", set in either sterling or base metal, are more valuable than abstract designs.

From the beginning, Boucher was responsible for all the designs the firm produced. During the Second World War, which brought metal-usage restrictions, he moved the firm to Mexico because of its abundance of silver.

The Boucher name will always add value, but certain key pieces are among the most valuable of all costume jewelry. Collectors love rare early pieces signed with the "MB" mark. Unfortunately, this mark is so tiny and indistinct that it is hard for the uninitiated to see. Valuable pieces from this era include surrealistic insects, such as the rhinestone praying mantis and the enamel grasshopper. Boucher's articulated pieces also command high prices in the market today. Look for the pelican pin whose beak opens to catch trembling fish, and his "clown" enamels with movable body parts.

Boucher Gilt & Rhinestone Necklace, c.1955  This necklace, originally part of a parure, is typical of Boucher's chic mid-20th-century style, which took its inspiration from the finest in precious jewelry design. The artistry is in the detail. Notice how a ribbon of delicate pave rhinestones weaves its way around the textured gold-plated metal. Clusters of three bezel-set pastes drop down from each lower curve, adding interest to the piece.  This necklace is really one piece of jewelry intertwined with another, and close inspection reveals the tiny screws on the backs of each section that hold the two castings together. Although this necklace is highly desirable and worth £95-125 ($160-210), its price would be even higher if the rhinestones were coloured. A complete parure would fetch C300-350 (5510-600).By the 1950s, Boucher had adopted a more traditional look heavily influenced by contemporary' trends in precious jewelry. Design and materials remained consistently fine, so these later pieces can also be valuable. Look out for animal pins, buckle motifs, and leaf-themed rhinestone parures from the 1950s and '60s. Boucher also designed some marvellous plain gilt pieces, which are currently undervalued and are well worth buying now. Boucher also produced a lower-quality line signed "Marboux", far less valuable than pieces signed "Boucher" or "MB".

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