Boucheron is iconic in the world of French fine jewellery. Founded by Frédéric Boucheron 160 years ago, Frédéric was the first of the great jewellers to open a boutique on the Place Vendôme and sparked that historic square’s rise to become the epicentre of Parisian luxury. Frédéric dazzled the demi-monde with his bold new design philosophy and technically innovative creations that were coveted by everyone from the Tsars of Russia to the Maharajahs of India. Today, the original avant-garde masterpieces are the crowning achievement of any collector, while the radical spirit of Boucheron lives on in the Creative Director Claire Choisne. She has taken the Maison to new and dizzying heights. Here, we chat with Claire about the rich history of Boucheron; some of her more daring undertakings and her newly-released high jewellery collection, in which she pays homage to the timeless Question Mark necklace, designed by Frédéric 160 years ago and still wearable today.
Editorial photographed in Paris by Arved Colvin-Smith
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4 Get your copy here.
Claire, you have been with Boucheron for some time now. What is your role and how did you start out in jewellery design?
That’s right; it’s been eight years since I started working with the Maison. I always wanted to pursue a creative career; I chose jewellery because of its technical side and went to a school where I could learn about its manufacture.
My current role at Boucheron involves working alongside my team to create all the jewellery and High Jewellery pieces and watches. I see my work as perpetuating the Maison’s philosophy: the freedom to create without restrictions and the freedom for women to wear pieces however they want. There are still many things left to do in High Jewellery and at Boucheron we are passionate about pushing boundaries and are constantly trying to reinvent our profession.
Boucheron has a long, rich history; it must have been exciting the first time you got to delve into its extensive archives.
That was the first thing I did when I arrived at Boucheron. I spent a lot of time going through the archives so that I could thoroughly understand the spirit of the Maison. The archives are an absolute treasure trove. We have archived a plethora of large books in which we have catalogued and classified all the photos and drawings of the pieces created by Boucheron. What fascinated me was the richness, there seemed to be no desire to synthesize the archives into various aesthetics, it was so varied. My favourite piece is the ‘Question Mark’ necklace, known in French as the Point d’Interrogation necklace. Frédéric Boucheron was the first to invent the Question Mark necklace and its spring system technique, which is what makes it so easily wearable. It was like nothing else seen within any of the other High Jewellery Maisons of that period.
The apartment also inspired the high jewellery collection Paris, Vu Du 26 like the Amories transformative necklace and the 26V.
For the Paris, vu du 26 collection, we wanted to go further and ‘dream up’ a stone, rather than use something already find in nature. So the Armories necklace is directly inspired by the mouldings in the living area of the apartment. And for the 26V necklace, we used a 3-dimensional marquetry process with rock crystal, onyx and cacholong. The idea was to condense the spirit of Vendôme into this one stone, inspired by both the perspectives and the series of rooms found in the private town house and, of course, by the staircase which runs down the centre. When you look at the stone, it creates an optical illusion, as if a mesmerising staircase is taking us to the very heart of the stone. Technically, the precision fit is incredible and has never been achieved before.
I love the Jack de Boucheron; it is a modern androgynous piece and a very versatile design. What was the inspiration behind it?
Our wish was simply to create a bracelet. We wanted to be freer in terms of offering more than just one piece for women or men. The inspiration was a jack plug; something which might make you think of 1970s amps, but equally remind you of contemporary iPhone headsets – the design isn’t based on a particular time period. The motif itself is inspired by a High Jewellery necklace with two stones, two brilliant cut stones, positioned face to face horizontally which gives the piece an architectural feel. The uniqueness lies in all the possibilities it offers. It may be worn around the arm, as a bracelet, or as a sautoir; you can also put together several Jacks to create your own piece, and furthermore, it is androgynous.
All these pieces are very wearable and can easily be mixed together and layered up; they can be dressed up or dressed down. What are your thoughts on the wearability of jewellery including the high jewellery pieces; how much does the practicality factor come into your designs?
This is a very important factor. At Boucheron, we start with the principle that we offer but never assume. We like mixing the collections because this is how we like to operate in real life, and we want to be as close as possible to the reality of how our clients live. In our campaign imagery we show our Question Mark styles worn on a model in a simple t-shirt. It is not essential to wear an evening gown with it.
Conversely, we showed Jack de Boucheron as part of the High Jewellery Collection with the Jack Box presented in the ‘Paris, vu du 26’ collection. Our pieces of jewellery may be regarded as High Jewellery but on the other hand the Question Mark necklaces may be worn very casually.
This is indeed part of the Maison’s philosophy; everything we do comes down to the freedom of creation, meaning women are unrestricted when wearing the pieces. The saddest part is putting the jewels away in a safe. We like women to be able to wear them so why not every day? The Question Mark is the incarnation of this belief. It was designed for a woman to be able to put on herself, without assistance. Today, we see them as easy to wear over a sweater in the day, or with an evening gown at night.
We conceive of ourselves as being a part of the reality of jewellery-wearing. If a woman wishes to mix together elements from several different collections, or to mix jewellery with pieces of High Jewellery, she should do so. The aim is to leave everyone the freedom to find their own innate style while wearing our jewellery.
Boucheron is now led by two women, Hélène Poulit-Duquesne as Chief Executive and yourself as Creative Director. What beneficial impact do you feel this has for Boucheron?
As we are both women it is easy to picture what we would like to be wearing, and easy to imagine the qualities a piece of jewellery that is to be worn daily should have. Its flexibility, its weight, etc., this comes more naturally, more instinctively. Hélène and I have the same ideas regarding innovation and the need to challenge boundaries. We are passionate about gemstones and Hélène supports me in my creative approach.
Another beneficial aspect when designing a new piece is that you can try it on! How much do you test drive your creations?
It is always a joy to try the collection when the pieces start coming to life. We try them all to check the comfort, the fit, whether they fall well, that they feel nice to wear. It’s generally at these times that we begin to imagine which sort of outfits they might go well with. We ourselves try on the jewellery because it must remain alive. You can't visualise it on a mannequin, the best way is to wear it.
Talent Moira Berntz appears courtesy of Next Management Paris.
Styled by Alton Hetariki. Hair by Kyris Eracleous using Balmain Hair Couture.
Claire Choisne portrait makeup by Barrie Griffith using Rodial Cosmetics.
Barrie appears courtesy of Frank Agency.
Read Claire Choisne's interview in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4. Get your copy here.