Inside Boucheron’s Discreet Re-Invention

BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Lalka' ring set with a 31.21ct Burmese light greyish-blue antique cushion sapphire, grey spinels and sapphires, paved with diamonds on white gold; 'Foxy' ring set with a 7.28ct green pear tourmaline and emeralds, paved with diamonds, on white gold; both Boucheron
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Kokochnik' necklace set with a 7.54ct Burmese Royal Blue cushion sapphire and rock crystal, paved with diamonds on white gold, Boucheron. Dress (worn as top), Dhs10,250, Ralph Lauren
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Perle Imperiale' ring set with a round South Sea cultural pearl, paved with diamonds and freshwater, cultured pearls on white gold; 'Lumiere de Nacre' ring set with mother-of-pearl, paved with diamonds on white gold, both Boucheron. Top, Dhs1,988; Dress, Dhs22,300; Trousers, Dhs22,558; all Stella McCartney
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As it prepares to celebrate its 160th anniversary with a collection inspired by Imperial Russia, Bazaar discovers a storied Parisian house with historic links to the Middle East.

Beyond Boucheron’s Place Vendôme façade, designed by 17th-century French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the house is being transformed thanks to a youthful and dynamic team lead by its new CEO, Hélène Poulit-Duquesne. “Please excuse the construction, as we’re in the process of renovating our headquarters,” says Christopher, one of Boucheron’s young staff members, as he leads the way through the house’s Rue de la Paix side entrance, used by its employees as well as its most discreet clients. Walking past an entrance hall with a majestic stairway encased in orange tape and cardboard, he enters a small courtyard leading to the famous store’s back entrance. It’s an unusual way to navigate a luxury temple, but Boucheron is no ordinary jewelry house, one which remained a family run enterprise, until it was sold to Kering (then Gucci Group) in 2000.

'Pompon' earrings set with Akoya cultured pearls, paved with diamonds on white gold; 'Dome Graphique' ring set with a 5.02ct pear diamond and rock crystal, paved with diamonds on white gold; both Boucheron. Dress, Dhs27,920, Hermes.

Photography by Dusan Reljin

When Frédéric Boucheron opened his first shop at 150 Galerie de Valois at the Palais Royal in 1858, his skill with precious stones and his discretion quickly endeared him to courtesans and royalty alike. As business flourished, he became the first jeweler to install his store on the Place Vendôme in 1893. One of the most magical spaces in Boucheron’s boutique today is arguably its earliest untouched interior dating back to the 19th century. Dubbed the Chinese Salon, in reference to its maroon and gold lacquered walls, the tiny space was used by important clients who wished to shop in anonymity; so much so that one of its walls conceals a secret door panel leading to the building’s courtyard, for those who preferred to avoid the boutique’s front entrance.

In contrast to the opulent interiors of the ground floor boutique, the house’s design studio occupies a minimalist all-white space carved out of the building’s attic. It’s here that Boucheron’s creative director Claire Choisne collaborates with a team of six young women seated at desks with commanding views of Paris’ rooftops. Reflecting a creative process fusing technology and handicraft, they alternate between computer renderings and life-size paper-cutouts to explore each design in three dimensions. “Even though we use computers today, hand drawing and gouache renderings are still an integral part of the design process,” says Claire, who became the house’s creative director in 2011, after spending a decade as a studio manager for Lorenz Bäumer, where she produced collections for jewelry brands on the Place Vendôme.

'Perles Givrees' earrings set with cultured pearls, paved with diamonds on white gold, Boucheron. Coat, Dhs9,150, and top, Dhs4,600, both Valentino.

Photography by Dusan Reljin

For her latest haute jewelry collection, Hiver Imperial, she was inspired by her trip to Russia in the summer of 2015. Covering an entire wall of her office are images of Romanov princesses in traditional imperial gowns embroidered with tiny seed pearls, the surreal frozen waters of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, as well as architectural motifs taken while visiting The Golden Ring, a group of picturesque historic towns northeast of Moscow. “It’s amazing visiting these towns which resemble open-air museums featuring unique examples of Russian architecture dating from the 12th–18th centuries,” recalls Claire, who was inspired by one particular onion-domed church she came across in rural Russia. “It was completely built out of Aspen wood shingles that turned to silver as they weathered, so I decided to include this kind of wood in one of my designs,” says the creative director as she fetches a padded tray holding a sautoir composed of a long chain necklace and round platinum pendant radiating with a constellation of diamonds and slivered wood.

“So much of what we do at Boucheron is about storytelling, since true luxury today should transport people to other worlds and make them dream,” says the designer, as she produces another velvet-lined tray holding a number of rings, each one more whimsical than the other. One sports a rock crystal globe holding thousands of tiny diamonds within it, while another comes in the shape of a pavé diamond and onyx bear, cradling a brilliant Santa Maria Aquamarine gemstone in its arms. “Frédéric Boucheron was very much inspired by nature and animals, but this particular ring has a special connection to me because it’s based on French sculptor François Pompon’s White Bear, which I had seen as a child,” recalls Claire, while taking the stairs down to Boucheron’s workshop, which remains at the epicenter of this storied jewelry house. “Boucheron is the only brand on the Place Vendôme with an in-house atelier. As a designer it’s an incredible resource to have at ones fingertips.”

'Rostov' necklace set with a 4.14ct round diamond and wood, paved with diamonds on white gold, Boucheron. Dresses, Dhs13,450, and Dhs3,450, both Givenchy.

Photography by Dusan Reljin

Entering a warren of small workrooms housing a team of experienced and young artisans, she stops by a workstation to point out one stunning piece from the new collection that is in the process of being assembled. Inspired by the first images of snowflakes taken by American photographer Wilson Bentley in the late 1800s, the designer created a reversible rock crystal necklace sprinkled with diamonds. “Typically snowflake motifs are used at a small scale in jewelry, but I wanted to create a large version in the shape of a necklace,” says Claire, who relied on the workshop’s technical prowess to produce a piece that comes apart to create a pair of earrings, hair pins, a broach and a ring. “Claire will bring a flat design to us and we’ll make it a reality no matter how complex it is. At the end of the day our job is to make sure it’s wearable and comfortable,” says Son, the workshop’s director, who oversees 10 young artisans and has close to 40 years of experience in crafting jewelry.

“Haute jewelry should have an emotional impact, as if it were designed by an engineer-poet, so we try to push the limits of what we can do both creatively and technically,” says Claire, pointing out that she will often begin each collection by delving into the house’s extensive archives for inspiration. “What I love the most about my job is the opportunity to research and discover the stories behind particular pieces and share it with the design team,” says Boucheron’s archivist Claudine Sablier, who over the years has pieced together the house’s history in the Middle East. They include gouache renderings and photographs of jeweled desk clocks commissioned by Iraq’s royal family from 1955-1957, in addition to newspaper clippings that shed light on private jewelry showings in the region organized by Boucheron during the early part of the last century. “Louis’ son Gérard was the traveler in the family and he would organize exhibitions in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Iran to attract a new clientele which proved to be a huge success,” says Claudine, noting that the earliest purchase by a Middle Eastern client in the archives dates back to 1928, when King Fouad I of Egypt ordered a pharaonic-style enameled gold crown for his wife Queen Nazli.

'Grand Nord' bracelet set with black spinels, paved with diamonds on white gold; 'Ladoga' ring set with black sapphires and wood, paved with diamonds on white gold, both Boucheron. Dress, Dhs9,500, Celine.

Photography by Dusan Reljin

It would mark the beginning of the house’s long relationship with the Egyptian royal court, one that would last until the fall of the monarchy in 1952. On January 20th, 1938, King Farouk married Queen Farida, who wore a gold embroidered wedding dress by the house of Worth. Around her neck sparkled a triple 114-diamond riviere necklace originally created by Boucheron for the Universal Exhibition of 1937. The house’s relationship with Iran began in 1930, when Louis Boucheron was commissioned by the Shah of Persia to assess the value of the Imperial Treasury. It took Louis three months to complete the appraisal; a national secret that he never divulged. “As a result Louis Boucheron and his descendants were made the official Curators and Guardians of the Imperial Treasury, for which they were also asked to create a museum which opened in 1959 and can still be visited today,” says Claudine, noting that the house also received several commissions from Iran’s royal family.

'Flocon' pendant set with a 0.75ct diamond and mother-of-pearl, paved with diamonds on white gold, Boucheron. Dress, Dhs4,395 and jumper, Dhs4,995, both Burberry.

Photography by Dusan Reljin

The house’s historic links to the Middle East have also been on the mind of its CEO, Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, who came to Boucheron in 2015 after serving as Cartier’s Business Development Director.  In addition to recently opening boutiques in Dubai, Riyadh and Jeddah, she is increasingly thinking about how to engage with Middle Eastern clients in an authentic way. “I always emphasize that Boucheron is a house as apposed to a brand, because we are trying to nurture relationships with each of our customers. Recently we held a private event in Kuwait, which was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet with clients who’ve been buying Boucheron for several generations,” says Hélène, noting that compared to its competitors, the jewelry house has remained a relatively small enterprise. “At a time when the luxury sector is dominated by large powerhouses, Boucheron’s creative output can still be traced back to this one building on the Place Vendôme, which continues to be a destination for our Middle Eastern clients,” adds Hélène, of a strategy that is sure to appeal to the house’s Middle Eastern clients as it prepares to unveil its new haute jewelry collection.  

Read Alex Aubry’s full interview in the June issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now.


Fashion Director: Anna Castan

Styling: Davina Lubelski

Photography: Dusan Reljin

Model: Kiran Kandola at Storm Models

Hair: Christoph Hasenbein

Make-up: Maria Olsson

Manicure: Brenda Abrial

Digital Operator: Olivier Looren

Photography Assistant: Mathieu Boutang

Styling Assistant: Mathilde Regnault

Casting Director: V&Y Casting

BY

BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Lalka' ring set with a 31.21ct Burmese light greyish-blue antique cushion sapphire, grey spinels and sapphires, paved with diamonds on white gold; 'Foxy' ring set with a 7.28ct green pear tourmaline and emeralds, paved with diamonds, on white gold; both Boucheron
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Kokochnik' necklace set with a 7.54ct Burmese Royal Blue cushion sapphire and rock crystal, paved with diamonds on white gold, Boucheron. Dress (worn as top), Dhs10,250, Ralph Lauren
BOUCHERON, BOUCHERON FINE JEWELLERY, Fine Jewellery, Queen Farida
Dusan Reljin
'Perle Imperiale' ring set with a round South Sea cultural pearl, paved with diamonds and freshwater, cultured pearls on white gold; 'Lumiere de Nacre' ring set with mother-of-pearl, paved with diamonds on white gold, both Boucheron. Top, Dhs1,988; Dress, Dhs22,300; Trousers, Dhs22,558; all Stella McCartney