Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Introduction to Frederic Boucheron Jewelers

An 1895 portrait of Frederic Boucheron by Anne Morot.For more than a century, the story of Boucheron has been closely linked, to the history of fine French jewelry. When the firm started in 1858, the styles that held sway were garish and excessively ornate. Eugenie de Montijo, Napoleon III's beautiful Empress, saw herself as a second Marie-Antoinette and tried to bring back into vogue the styles of Louis XVI flowery garlands, roses, quivers, arrows, knots and intertwining ribbons. The prevailing fashion was, however, a motley mix of neo-Classical, Etruscan, Roman and Ancient Egyptian. 

Baudelaire wryly observed that "ordinary life can now simply be shifted into an ancient Greek setting". The archaeological digs at Cumae and Pompeii served as inspiration, as did the collection I of more than a thousand pieces of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan jewelry owned by the Cavaliere Campana, which was installed in the Louvre in 1861. In addition, a museum of National Antiquities was opened at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and interest in Ancient Egypt was heightened by the construction and eventual opening of the Suez Canal.

La Belle Otero wearing the gem-set bodice that Boucheron designed for her.
Frederic Boucheron chose the theme of nature as a contrast to all this pastel "finery". He set a new trend with designs featuring thistle-heads, plane tree leaves and rustic bouquets of flowers, which were pinned to the fronts of bodices, or made into chokers and chatelaines. He also launched designs in translucent enamels, then back in fashion, which were inspired by the writings of Benvenuto Cellini to Francis I. Frederic was keenly interested in new ideas and inventions. A prominent specialist in diamond-engraving and gold inlay on blued steel, he combined simple materials in totally original ways; rock-crystal and wood, for instance, were matched with the rarest precious stones.


Elegant ladies of the period, eagerly seeking out the latest fashion, were quick to spot his originality. They flocked to his salons in the Palais-Royal, where you could see crowned heads, eccentrics and "demimondaines" toying with their fans. I Royalty had the good taste to wear only one or two pieces of jewelry, preferably priceless; Boucheron was already renowned for using only the most exceptional stones. Many of the others, however, adorned themselves so extravagantly that they looked like walking jewel-boxes.

The premises at 26 Place Vendome where Frederic Boucheron moved his establishment in 1893.
The famous Hugo, maitre d’hôtel at Maxim's, related in his memoirs an anecdote which admirably demonstrates this contrast. One day La Belle Otero was dining at the restaurant. Frederic Boucheron had once created a sort of bodice for her made entirely of diamonds, and on this occasion she was "covered from head to foot in sparkling jewels. The table reserved for her rival, Liane de Pougy, was still unoccupied. Finally the latter made her majestic entrance. She was dressed in a simple, totally unadorned black velvet gown; her lady's companion followed in her wake. The diners were astonished, then absolutely stunned as Madame Liane removed the hat and cloak worn by her servant to reveal the young girl, covered in all her own priceless jewels. Amid wild applause, Madame Liane and her escort, the Comte de T., took their seats. Madame Otero angrily rose and left the restaurant, cursing furiously in Spanish as she passed Liane's table."

A rigid system of etiquette prevailed at Boucheron's, where members of high society crossed each other's paths. One might observe the Tsar of Russia or the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna pass by, ignoring with superb disdain famous actresses such as Hortense Schneider or Mlle Rejane. Her Imperial Highness Princess Mathilde took precedence over the equally renowned Sarah Bernhardt; the Comtesse de Polignac or the Marquise de Noaille curtseyed low to Her Majesty Queen Isabella of Spain, while the wives of Barons Wilde, James and Alphonse de Rothschild curtseyed to the Duchess of Sutherland. 

A bud-shaped brooch with leaves, and a watch in the shape of a pansy hanging from it; both set with diamonds, garnets and amethysts (c. 1890-95). Members of the Vanderbilt family came to buy their diamonds, tiaras, aigrettes and chains, exchanging passing greetings with the gun merchant Zaharoff. Oscar Wilde, in the days before his misfortune when he was still living in lavish style, chose rings with coloured gemstones for himself and his intimate friend, together with enameled watches and tie-pins set with cut diamonds.

Encouraged by his success in Paris, Frederic opened branches of his establishment in Moscow and New York. It was for the fabulously wealthy American Mrs. Clarence Mackay that he created a magnificent diamond and sapphire necklace, which contained the biggest (1591/8 carats), purest and loveliest sapphire that had ever been seen. It long remained her favourite "armour" to wear across the Atlantic.

In 1893 Frederic was at the height of his fame. He moved his business into luxurious premises in the Place Vendome, five years before Cesar Ritz opened his fabulous hotel in the same expansive square. Boucheron's had been showered with medals and decorations at the international exhibitions in Vienna, Antwerp and Philadelphia. Installed in his new domain, Frederic promoted the Art Nouveau style, producing jewelry made to set off diamonds, as well as a whole range of objects featuring a combination of gold and ivory, bronze and precious stones: statuettes, vases, candy boxes, lorgnettes, fans, matchboxes, chatelaines and belt-buckles. These sparkled with gold and blued steel, while designs discreetly picked out in pearls and precious stones decorated rock-crystal and enamel.

A boxwood clock designed and carved by Edmond-Henri Becker, with mount and chasing by Alfred Menu, originally made in 1900. The decorative details symbolize night and day. Frederic drew his inspiration from the Japanese, whom he considered "the greatest decorative artists in the world". He quickly realized, however, that Art Nouveau would be short-lived because of its extreme elaborateness. From then on, he sought to simplify settings and gradually to make them "invisible", a technique which was eventually perfected by his successors using platinum, a metal that had previously been used solely for industrial purposes.

Frederic's son, Louis Boucheron, was an equally skilled master of "restrained extravagance". He inherited the view that the reputation of a great jeweler was made through the beauty of the stones he used. During the annees folles, he created Art Deco jewelry which developed further the trend set by the Comtesse Greffuhle, one of the leaders of Paris society, with the diamond "wing" clips she wore in her hair. Louis was also able to capture the mood of Cubism with a toned-down Demoiselles d' Avignon look. Further sources of inspiration were the Ballets Russes and, in the wake of the colonial exhibition held in Paris in 1931, African art.

Design by Paul Legrand for a necklace in sapphires and diamonds, set in silver and mounted in gold (1878). Drawing on his training as an engineer, Louis created an entirely new style in contemporary jewelry, which was based on technological discoveries. Stones were cut in new ways - the table-cut, the baguette, the prism and the trapezium. Solid blocks of material such as onyx, lapis-lazuli, malachite, turquoise, amber, coral and jade were used. These innovations resulted in the jewels and objects displayed at the exhibition of Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Moderns in Paris in 1925, which launched the fashion for Art Deco. They were eagerly snapped up by collectors and museums, from the Victoria, and Albert Museum in London to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

Louis Boucheron designed a variety of accessories intended for the emancipated woman, with her sun-tanned, short-haired look and sporty stride. There were bags sewn with sequins or pearls, cigarette-holders thirty inches long, and compacts encrusted with eggshell, as well as the more important pieces which made his reputation. These included chains, diamond-studded brooches which an elegant woman might pin on to the lapels of a man's smoking-jacket, and collars set with precious stones. The firm also produced jeweled belts and bracelets which became heavier and bulkier, designed to set off the beauty of rubies and emeralds. Since the trend was for sleeveless dresses, Boucheron created cuff-like bracelets and watch-brace-lets which were clasped closely round the wrist. 

A chatelaine showing Apollo's chariot, and a suspended watch, the ensemble in gold, silver, sapphires, rubies, diamonds and enamel (c. 1870-80)."Fountain"-style tiaras were introduced to complement the cropped hair-styles of the period. The cascading water was marvellously represented by baguette-cut diamonds; the line of round diamonds made perfect ripples, imitating the small waves of a lake in which the water is barely touched by the wind. Necks bare of hair prompted Boucheron to bring back long earrings so long that they almost brushed the shoulders. Hollywood stars, from Pola Negri to Gloria Swanson, from Mary Pickford to Louise Brooks, spent thou-sands of dollars on his tempting creations.

During this period Louis Boucheron's international reputation earned him the epithet "jeweler of the thousand and One Nights", and indeed he was much sought after by wealthy customers from the East. For instance, the flamboyant Maharajah of Patiala, then ruler of the Punjab, arrived at

Boucheron's in 1927, accompanied by a retinue of forty servants all wearing pink turbans, his twenty favourite dancing-girls and, most important of all, six caskets filled with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and rubies of incomparable beauty. Boucheron was commissioned to trans-form this mass of precious stones, then valued at about eighteen hundred million francs, into tiaras, aigrettes, belts and neck-laces en cascades and fringes to be worn under the sari. 

A rock-crystal scent bottle in the form of a medieval woman; rose diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds mounted in gold (late 19th century). Boucheron collection He also created a breathtaking armlet, the supreme symbol of the "Son of the Moon", which the Maharajah wore on his left arm. It had a 100-carat emerald as the centre stone, surrounded by diamonds and a cascade of pear-shaped emeralds. The Maharani's royal emblem, a diamond crescent and star, studded with large rubies, was no less eye-catching.

A few years later, in 1931, Louis Boucheron was chosen by the Shah to value and classify Iran's fabulous treasures, and was appointed by imperial decree official custodian of these riches, a privilege passed on to his descendants. The treasure included the two largest rose diamonds known to the world, together with hundreds of emeralds, each over 100 carats, one of the seven thrones of the Grand Moghul, set with 200-carat emeralds, and a globe which was almost twenty inches in diameter, decorated with 52,000 precious stones: emeralds represented the oceans, rubies and sapphires marked the continents, while parallels and meridians were picked out in diamonds.

Because of the Second World War, there was a lapse of thirty years between the initial valuation of the "treasures of Golconda" and the opening of the museum which houses them. The building, which was opened by the Shah and Empress Farah in 1960, was designed and built entirely by Boucheron. Three hundred tons of steel were used in its construction, together with bronze and glass. 

A brooch in the form of a butterfly, the body composed of a ruby and a diamond, the wings of engraved diamonds, mounted in gold (c. 1894).Its delicate mechanisms and electronic equipment were perfected in France and then shipped to Iran. It had a most elaborate alarm system. The instant one touched the side of one of the glass display-cabinets, sirens began to wail - and within seconds, heavy steel barriers clamped shut to trap any thieves. 

Frederic and Gerard (my father) were the two sons of the next Boucheron generation. The period of their activity was far from a happy one. It began with the international exhibition held in Paris in 1937, at which the pompous pavilions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia portentously con-fronted each other across from the newly built Trocadero, and extended to the post-war era, when business and creative design were slow to recover.

The jubilant mood following the Liberation was expressed at Boucheron by a return to the theme of flowers and fauna, including exotic as well as European birds. Boucheron designed jewelry meant to be worn with the "New Look", launched by Christian Dior in 1947. There were multicoloured pieces, plumes and bouquets, as well as jewelry that could be taken apart and rejoined by means of a system of concealed hinges and invisible links thus enabling women to create several effects from a single item.

A belt-buckle designed by Lucien Hinz, composed of two gold lionesses standing on a jade carving of a lion's head and with a cornelian between their jaws (1908). The firm also produced star-shaped brooches, brooches in the form of a question-mark, and "rosettes" made of round and baguette-cut diamonds. Other items included coup de vent ("gust of wind") rings, and cigarette lighters with matching lip-stick cases in silver inlaid with niello and set with coloured gems, as well as gold cigarette cases engraved with a map of France, the towns picked out in a variety of different coloured stones.

Before war broke out Boucheron had become interested in the designing of watches, and now they were being created in every shape and form. Some were set in balls and in rings, and the tete de clou ("nail's head") watches were indeed jewels in their own right.

New methods of mounting were introduced to create the new shapes. From now on, Boucheron mounted gems on different levels, a technique known as the style chahute ("high-kicking style"). To begin with, stones were arranged in shapes resembling knots, cascades or the pistils of a flower. Designs became more supple. Previously stones had been mounted on plaques, in settings arranged on bands of pierced metal; although this allowed a certain amount of movement, it was still rather heavy. 

A bow-shaped brooch made of a blackened platinum lacework pattern set with diamonds (1908).
Now settings were grouped together in clusters on different levels to create a unique new surface and to produce the impression of delicacy combined with depth. The method is illustrated by the little diamond sprays made by Boucheron in 1949. These featured stems so .supple that when an elegant woman wore one of these brooches, the flowers quivered with her every movement.

Colour was once more an important consideration, and this gave rise to the reappearance of gold, with all its sensuousness and warmth, after its long eclipse by platinum. From then on, however, gold was to be tinged with unusual new shades pink, red, green, white or grey. It was polished or given a satin finish., ornamented with chequering, plaited, threaded, pierced with dots, filed, twisted, faceted, "purled", arranged in lattices, shaped into lace or mesh.

A box of rock-crystal decorated with floral designs in platinum, rose diamonds, onyx and coral (c. 1925).
In this way Boucheron managed to banish heavy, imposing styles. The use of filigree-work contributed to the new impression of delicacy. Stones took the form of silhouettes or were arranged in arabesques, looking for all the world like ribbons or some soft material. Jewelry seemed about to come to life and move of its own accord. Hard, chunky geometric designs disappeared; instead flower jewelry set off the upswept hairstyle promoted by Vogue and Hollywood alike, as it "showed off a pert nose".

Boucheron had never before followed a fashion so closely, or contributed so notably to its creation. The New Look wreaked havoc on an international scale. In the United States retail outlets were stuck with stocks of short skirts worth millions of dollars. In Britain the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, went so far as to appeal to women to keep to shorter styles "as is consistent with common sense and current restrictions". This was all in vain.

An openwork vanity case in gold and silver; the decoration of birds and a cage is applied with enamel and set with rose diamonds (1945)
By ignoring "reason" and economic prudence, and by doing the opposite of what might have been expected of a country ruined after years of foreign occupation, Paris regained the status it had briefly lost, and was once more the world's leader of fashion. After all, didn't women deserve some compensation after being deprived of new dresses and jewelry for four years? Dressed by Dior, wearing shoes by Roger Vivier, loaded with Boucheron jewels and sketched by Demachy or Gruau, the elegant woman was once again the true representative of French style. Like the Normandie just before the War, she was launched to win back national prestige.

Gerard Boucheron was hailed in Cairo, Beirut, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Lima and Mexico as the new ambassador of this return to beautiful jewelry after the lapse of the war years. He returned to Paris from his travels eager to resume his work with precious stones. "The back of the head is once again adorned with jewelry," stated Vogue, describing his barettes and hairpins set with round and baguette-cut diamonds. The new jewelry sparkled at the joyous succession of parties held in Paris; in 1949 a famous ball was known as the "Night of the Precious Stones", where "ten detectives danced fifty sambas to keep an eye on a hundred people wearing two thousand millions worth of jewels."

This brooch, mounted in platinum and grey gold, is composed of a carved jade panel inserted between two semicircles pave set with brilliant diamonds and framed by two carved rock-crystal fan shapes (1934).The most popular items of all in that period were the perforated and hand-en-graved boxes, decorated with gold on a silver background and set with sapphires, diamonds and cabochon rubies. The designs, pierced into the metal, featured birds, butterflies, flowers with pistils, even elephants. The boxes contained items of a lady's toilette for a ball: compacts, lip-sticks, cigarette boxes, lighters and even cigarette-holders, all in rectangular or circular cases. There were over 40,000 examples of this "Pandora's Box": Boucheron could have paved the whole of the Place Vendome with them several times over.

My father handed over the reins to me in the 1970s, and I became the head of the Boucheron establishment. Adopting the principle that nothing seems newer than something which has been forgotten, I reintroduced the same kind of rock-crystal my great-grandfather Frederic had used to create his exquisite pieces in the last century. 

I had been inspired by the beauty of about fifty precious items, all made from rock-crystal between the 16th and 18th centuries, which I had seen exhibited in a Munich museum. Designs had to be drawn up for the new pieces, cutting processes developed and applications for patents filed. The results were peacock-clocks, horses and birds which made up a fantasy kingdom, and characters from the Commedia dell'Arte, adorned with gold and richly decorated with gems.

A ribbon dip of baguette diamonds, oval and round rubies frame with round and drop diamonds set a gold and platinum (1962).
Every year we exhibited our most recent designs together with other French jewelry Houses. I was able to persuade a number of my distinguished fellow jewelers to join forces in relaunching the transformable brooch. Each establishment designed its own version; in the case of Boucheron, we were inspired by the crystal chatelaines designed by the founder of our House. Our creation featured two rows of baubles, decorated with a twist of cut crystal and mounted en chatelaine on two lapel brooches, which could be detached if desired. The matching brooches could be pinned on to a dress or suit, or worn as earrings. 

Just as gold may be manipulated in different ways, this combination of precious stones and rock-crystal made a piece of jewelry that could take a variety of forms. It gleamed with changing hues, and prices ranged from the most costly to the eminently affordable. The design succeeded in catering for contemporary tastes and met the requirements of the inter-national market.

I learned my profession as managing director on Wall Street, where I also picked up the essential new knack of marketing. But when I am shown new gems, I still feel the same emotion I felt as a child when 1 used to dig around in my father's briefcase each evening, to find a packet of stones and jewels inside.

A matching necklace and earrings °, acacia wood, decorated with coral an brilliant diamonds, mounted in gold and platinum (1987). My predecessors all shared this emotion - but times have visibly changed. The Russian Tsars, the Aga Khans, the various royal families, the American railroad and steel tycoons, the Arab Emirs, and the Elizabeth Taylors and Sophia Lorens of this world can no longer be the sole makers of a jeweler's reputation. Neither can clients like the late Princess Grace of Monaco or Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11, for whom Prince Philip commissioned Boucheron to make a magnificent diamond and ruby bracelet on the occasion of their fifth wedding anniversary. 

We are now living in an age of jeans, when the emancipation of women is reflected by a delightful anarchy in fashion. There is a huge variety of styles, just at a time when the number of consumers interested in fashion has greatly increased.

We have entered on the era of what I describe as "everyday jewelry". This is produced for a much wider clientele, and is more affordable. We at Boucheron feel that we spearheaded this trend in creating, for instance, the "multiple" pieces: rings, bracelets, necklaces or brooches - all mounted in gold, or in gold and diamonds, combined with different coloured stones which can be detached, enabling the wearer to change the appearance of her jewelry as she pleases. Thus several different pieces can be had for the price of one. With similar ideas in mind, we reintroduced lapis-lazuli, coral, onyx, tiger's eye, and other less valuable materials out of the past.

A bracelet with tassels composted of two gold cabled chains linked together by five tubular forms of gold and platinum, set with brilliant diamonds (1946)Boucheron has also maintained the close connection between watches and jewelry first established by Frederic Boucheron at the beginning of the 20th century. The new style of quartz watch can be worn in outer space or plunged into the depths of the sea, it comes in every imaginable colour and is outfitted with straps of everything conceivable from sealskin or ostrich-feather to gold and diamonds hut it remains a significant item of jewelry. All designs for the shape and decoration of watches are based on the principle of the perfect curve, which is a symbol of total femininity. Each Boucheron 'model has twenty-eight different variations, all made to complement the curve of a slender wrist and to reflect the graceful contours of a shoulder or a low-cut neckline.

Nowadays it is more important than ever for fine jewelry to have an international market. This means spending hundreds of hours every year in a plane, creating new sales outlets all over the world. Boucheron aims to make its designs more accessible, while retaining their splendour and prestige. The latest creation of the House is Boucheron perfume, contained in a magnificent golden ring worthy of a maharajah. Lift the stone - a blue "Burmese" cabochon and a heavenly scent is released. It reflects the intimate link between perfume and luxury jewelry. Fashions come and go, but the creative process is eternal.

Writer -Thames & Hudson
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