Jewellery

Boucheron Brings Joy, Colour And Innovation To Couture Week

Boucheron Brings Joy Colour And Innovation to Couture Week

Hanging on the kitchen wall in Claire Choisne’s Parisian apartment, above a white USM Haller modular cabinet, are two collages by the digital artist Garth Knight. At first glance, they look like painted beetles. Upon closer inspection, however, it transpires that they are composed of hundreds of jewels, Photoshopped together.

“Holographique” plays a space-age holographic coating against traditional high jewellery components including diamonds and rock crystal.

Jewels that invite a double take are a hallmark of Choisne’s designs at Boucheron, the French house over which she has presided as creative director since 2011. Take her latest high jewellery collection, titled “Holographique”, which was inspired by the dispersion of light through a water droplet to form a rainbow. A natural continuation from July 2020’s high jewellery collection, which was a paean to the ever-changing tableau of the sky, this 2021 offering was all about colour, according to Choisne: “The holographic effect gives you all of the colours, on all of the pieces. I need – and I think a lot of people need – colour! Fun! I wanted this collection to be joyful.”

The rainbow play of colour in the opals in the collection’s three“Illusion” rings are heightened by frames of matching gemstones.

What could be more fun than wearing the three “Illusion” opal rings, the stones the size of quail’s eggs, one milky white, one with a pinkish tinge, one blue-green, and all with the mesmerizing colour play typical of the stone and embedded in frames of rainbow-coloured gems? Equally festive is the “Chromatique” brooch, a shimmering holographic ceramic peony set with a green tourmaline, trimmed with a diamond-studded leaf of titanium and white gold. Then there is the “Prisme” ring, set with holographic rock crystal and diamonds in white gold.

The rippling holographic effect that energises many of the pieces is a proud achievement for Choisne and the Boucheron artisans, the result of extensive experiments with Saint-Gobain, the billion-Euro French building materials supplier whose origins lie in a 17th-century royal order to patent its production of mirror glass. Achieved by spraying precious metals at high temperature onto ceramics or rock crystal, the holographic coating is yet another example of Choisne’s experimental side which has long aligned her with the house’s pioneering founder, Frédéric Boucheron.

The “Holographique” necklace, the collection’s star piece, centres on a large yellow sapphire against alternating blades of holographic-coated rock crystal and diamonds.

“Saint-Gobain is better known for producing lights for airport runways, lenses, glass with this holographic coating – not jewellery,” explains Choisne. “Of course, for them it’s not aesthetic, it’s functional. They are engineers, we are not! We had to find a way to communicate.” Such an impulse for daring is highly unusual in Place Vend?me, especially after a pandemic year that has hit the luxury sector hard. “I think it’s cool to not necessarily stay in your industry, but to look at what others can do. We are pugnace [pugnacious] as we say in French. We are quite pushy, we want to find solutions, to innovate.”

Choisne’s ebullience meets its match in the optimism of her co-pilot at Boucheron, CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne. A luxury veteran who began her career at LVMH, Poulit-Duquesne admits it has been a year of rapid pivoting for an industry that has sometimes looked a touch lazy in its deference to the old-school. “Typically, I think that for the last 20 years in the luxury industry we’ve been sleeping on our laurels, just organising the business to accommodate tourists,” she tells me. Paris’s confinement, and the subsequent evaporation of international tourists, changed all that. “In a week, the business shifted from a pure tourist-centric one to a local business. So, we had to switch, to reorganise ourselves.”

The “Chromatique” brooch features a holographic ceramic peony that centres on a green tourmaline.

Forging close digital connections with clients became imperative, so Boucheron developed what it calls a “high-jewellery selling ceremony” using a salesperson, a model and a technical cameraman with curated appointments and a selection of jewels tailored to patrons. “The clients are usually fed up within about 20 to 30 minutes, so you have to know precisely what pieces you want to present to them,” she says. “In general, you present one and if the client doesn’t want it, you have a second chance, and then that’s it. Except for one meeting we had with a client which was supposed to last 20 minutes and lasted three hours! You have some exceptional moments.” Another highlight: the reopening of the Paris flagship store after the confinement, and the subsequent shopping frenzy. “We feel a kind of revenge buying, clearly. It was totally crowded with couples, they had been waiting for three months to get back to Place Vend?me to get their engagement rings, they were super excited. It was very cute.”

Poulit-Duquesne is optimistic about the future, with Boucheron focussing on opening boutiques in China and resetting its ecommerce set-up, currently operating in France and Japan and about to be rolled out to other markets. “Jewellery is a very resilient category, because whatever you do when you buy a piece of jewellery, you always have in the back of your mind an investment kind of thinking. You know that you will never throw away any of your jewels; you will give them to your daughter, she will give them to her daughter. There will never be waste, it makes you feel good.”

There is certainly no danger of the collection’s star piece, the “Holographique” necklace, being mislaid. A collar of fine crystal blades paved with diamonds in white gold and boasting the holographic coating, set with a 20.21-carat octagonal yellow sapphire from Ceylon, it’s the kind of piece to cause a serious family dispute. “The crafting of the piece is totally amazing – the necklace is flexible, but the traditional work on it is exceptional,” says Choisne. “I love the idea of that perfect, traditional work, and the funny innovation [of the holographic coating], the freshness.” As for Poulit-Duquesne’s verdict? “Super wow.”