One for all: Claire Choisne’s jewellery designs are for everyone
With her Art Deco-inspired collection, Choisne breaks with recent traditions while recasting Boucheron’s past successes
It’s a scene of cinematic scope: flanked by his 12 Sikh guards dressed in full regalia, in 1928 the Maharaja of Patiala crossed Paris’ Place Vendôme. Sights set on the sandstone-clad façade of the townhouse at number 26, the group made its way to the home of Boucheron. Here, the cricket-playing and polo-funding ruler unlocked a series of coffers, presenting 7,571 sparkling diamonds and 1,432 loose emeralds. Completing what to this day remains the largest order ever to be placed with a Place Vendôme jeweller, Boucheron turned the hoard into 149 rare creations, to adorn the maharaja.
It’s anecdotes such as these that Claire Choisne truffles out when researching 163 years of design history in Boucheron’s archives.
Choisne joined the heritage make as its creative director in 2011; working with Boucheron’s 2015-appointed CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, she today dreams up two high jewellery collections annually, presented in January and July. And while Choisne’s summer-reveals surprise with material experimentation, with her January collections the French creative regularly finds new expressions of Boucheron’s biography. “I look at the past, what Boucheron did and I give my own vision of it,” Choisne explains. “It helps me to focus on style and how people will wear the pieces today.”
At Boucheron, there’s much to delve into. Frédéric Boucheron established his eponymous business in 1858 with a boutique in the Galerie de Valois, a well-appointed arcade of storefronts framing the garden of the Palais Royal, opposite the Louvre museum.
From the start, Boucheron set out to innovate. Recognised with many industry awards, including an 1867 gold medal at Paris’ International Exposition and a list of clients that at one time counted Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia and the Countess of Castiglione, paramour of Napoleon III, Boucheron’s flights of fancy included the “airy” setting of gems or adding rondelles-cut diamonds to strands of pearls, two techniques that play with light to luminous effect. Elsewhere, Boucheron in 1879 unveiled the Point d’Interrogation necklace. Asymmetrical in design, the question mark-shaped gem does away with complicated clasps, affording freedom of wear.
Boucheron also broke ground geographically: in 1893, the business moved to premises on nearby Place Vendôme. Today regarded as the epicentre of Parisian jewellery-making, Boucheron was the first to operate from the octagonal square in the city’s 1st arrondissement. It was here, at the luxury maison’s townhouse that Choisne and her design team in August 2019 began work on the collection she presented at the beginning of this year.
Comprising 20 priceless creations, Choisne’s Histoire de Style, Art Déco recasts design references from the 1920s. “It is the style that best crossed time while keeping its modernity,” says Choisne of her archival inspiration, which she admits has long been a personal favourite. “It fascinates me because of its spirit of freedom in all artistic fields and peoples’ lives.”
First christened in 1925 after Paris’ Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, to Boucheron the Art Deco proved influential the first time around; surviving examples of the jewellery’s genre-defining work is much sought after. At auction in December 2017, a 1925 platinum bandeau with diamonds and black enamel tracing an architectural meander motif doubled Christie’s high estimate of $120,000.
“Even if the collection was inspired by the archives, I wanted to offer a modern vision,” Choisne tells me today. To Choisne, her findings could be distilled to a trio of stylistic maxims, or “antagonisms” as she refers to them. All three are a play on contrasts: pure lines expressed in opulent materials, a monochrome colour palette clashed with vivid hues, and finally feminine design codes set off against the masculine.
Choisne’s take on the Art Deco veers far from facsimile. While her July collections have in the past debuted niche fabrications – last summer, Choisne worked with a computer programmer on a cloud-like necklace, its make-up calculated using algorithms, before crafting gems from ultralight aerogel – with this offering, she innovated by questioning who her Boucheron gems are ultimately made for. “Everything we do comes down to the freedom of creation, which is key for us,” she says. “I like men to be able to wear our jewellery in their daily life.”
Choisne and team first bedecked a male model in Boucheron finery – including a Flèche du Temps arrow-shaped earring – last year, while working on campaign imagery for their Contemplation high jewellery collection. “The result was powerful,” she remembers.
When it came to drafting Histoire de Style, Art Déco, Choisne decided to also moodboard the pieces she had sketched on photographs of men. “It was very natural, elegant and it gave even more strength to some designs,” she says. “It was new for us and I aesthetically loved the result. Seeing this, we realised that this collection was for both women and men.”
Non-gendered, the resulting collection includes transformable pieces such as a diamond-set ribbon that takes after a 1928 Boucheron bracelet and can be adopted as a belt, headband, choker-style necklace or set of bracelets. A signet-style ring nods to the outline of the Place Vendôme, its escutcheon a 4.43 carat Muzo emerald; worn here as a collar pin, Boucheron’s Lavallière Diamants design juxtaposes white diamonds with black onyx and lacquer. It’s a creation of timeless appeal. Enthuses its creator: “Historically men have worn sumptuous jewels in all different cultures: from the Kings in Europe through Maharajahs in India, Tsars in Russia to the Pharaohs in Egypt.”