Why biggest is best at Boucheron
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
A boxing ring isn’t quite what you expect to see while waiting for a high-jewellery presentation, especially when sitting in Boucheron’s palatially glamorous apartment looking out over the Place Vendôme. But when, last July in Paris, the models stepped into the monochrome-striped arena, edged with pastel-coloured ropes, it all fell into place. This was Masanori Umeda’s Tawaraya ring (1981) – a design icon of the ’80s Memphis movement and the perfect frame for Boucheron’s More Is More collection: maximalism on steroids, and a sucker punch to the seriousness of high jewellery.
More Is More is this year’s Carte Blanche high-jewellery collection by Boucheron. Carte Blanche always aims to be experimental and innovative, but even so the effect here was astonishing: the jewels were bold, graphic and ridiculously oversized, in neon-bright colour blocks with a joyfully extrovert, almost cartoonish exuberance and, for the most part, distinctly un-jewel-like form. The collection includes a hair scrunchie, a pair of jewelled hoodie toggles and a detachable pocket, striped in diamonds and onyx and decorated with lacquer, that attaches to clothes thanks to a magnet. Other creations include a gigantic ribbon‑and-bow knot hair ornament, its black-and-white stripes lined in vibrant vermilion; madcap rings topped with gem-smothered spheres and cubes; and a monumental spherical cuff covered in tsavorites that comes apart to form a bangle and a saucer-like ring.
Just as Ettore Sottsass and his collective rocked the design establishment in the early ’80s with their thick black lines, pop colours and flat, geometric laminate shapes and forms, More Is More aims to disrupt the tasteful refinement and cultural cleverness of Parisian high jewellery. Instead of “form follows function”, Memphis designers adopted the mantra “form follows fun”.
And fun was the driving force behind the concept, explains Claire Choisne, Boucheron’s creative director. At the end of 2020, constrained by lockdown rules and regulations, she realised her next Carte Blanche collection – usually stimulated by explorative travel – would have to be conceived and designed at home, with her team via Zoom. “It was a low point,” she says. “I felt bad and I needed joy.” She thought, “Let’s do exactly what we want, with no constraints, no rules, no boundaries… I went on Pinterest, and rediscovered images of Memphis design that reminded me of my childhood and happy times.”
Yellow- and white-gold, diamond, citrine, onyx, lacquer and titanium Pull Me Earrings, POA
Above: diamond, coloured-resin, lacquer and aluminium Puissance Quatre cuff, POA
Once the ideas with her team were fleshed out she showed them to CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne. Poulit-Duquesne sees Boucheron, founded in 1858, as the “tourbillon of the Place Vendôme”, seeking to push the envelope. “I always say yes,” she says. “I don’t interfere with Claire’s ideas. People tell me it’s daring but I don’t see it. Our mission is to push boundaries, to evolve, to reinvent the industry. If we don’t sell, I don’t care.”
White-gold, diamond, murano glass, lacquer and titanium This Is Not A Ring, POA
18ct white-gold, diamond, yellow sapphire, rock crystal and titanium This Is Not A Ring, POA
Choisne’s ambitions drove the need for practical solutions and ingenious materials. “Traditional materials would be too heavy,” she explains. “It took a whole year to find answers to the technical challenges.” For the huge bow hair ornament, she and her team decided to use magnesium, which is 10 times lighter than gold but very difficult to work with, which meant finding the right artisans. For the vivid-red colour she envisaged to contrast with the black-and-white stripes, they used organic acetate.
Initial responses suggest that More Is More will be a hit, particularly among art and design aficionados. Richard Giraud is the founder of ArtVendôme, the first jewellery fair curated for the public and modelled on an art fair (held 31 January to 3 February at the Grand Palais Éphémère). “The Memphis designers thought that art should be integrated into everyday life – and jewellery is art we can wear,” he says. “Boucheron has interpreted this very directly and creatively. I believe very strongly that jewellery should be viewed more in this way: not only as ornament but also as art.”
The rebelliousness of More Is More is also a challenge to the industry. “I remember thinking as a teenager that high jewellery was old-fashioned and boring,” says Choisne. “Even now, I don’t understand why it can’t be fun.” She feels too that jewellery should reflect its moment in time, catch the mood of the moment. After all, adds Poulit-Duquesne, it’s what Frédéric Boucheron once did in the 19th century. Both women believe that avant-garde designs become the classics of the future.
What’s more, they both think it’s important to bring passion and surprise to high jewellery, to generate a powerful emotional response – just as Memphis did. “We hope to make the industry better able to move forward,” says Poulit-Duquesne. Choisne adds that she will never stop fighting – which is probably why she needed her boxing ring.