Boivin (Est. 1890 – 1991) Despite his early death at age 53, Jules René Boivin, (1864-1917) founder of the House of Boivin, passed a resilient legacy to his family of jewelry designers and specialists who continued to produce and sell desirable jewelry creations for another century.
Jules, who used his middle name, René, when signing the House’s creations, followed his older brother Victor into the jewelry business and became, at age 17, an apprentice goldsmith. Taking drawing lessons at a local art school and mastering his craft at different workshops, René quickly distinguished himself as an accomplished draftsman, highly skilled jewelry designer, and master engraver.
An ambitious young man, in 1890, at the age of 26, René purchased several workshops on the rue St. Anastase in Paris and set up his first establishment. In 1893, he moved to the rue de Turbigo. The same year, he married Jeanne Poiret (1871 – 1959), elder sister of Paul Poiret, who would become one of Paris’ most famous and influential couturiers. René’s marriage to Jeanne, who was ultimately recognized as the first important female jewelry designer of the 20th century, was critical to Boivin’s success in the jewelry industry.
Initially, Jeanne kept the books for the family business from a small flat opposite the workshops and also oversaw the shops in her husband’s absence. Jeanne was a savvy business partner who had numerous connections to the Paris fashion elite through her brother, Paul. It was his Paul’s influence that turned the Boivins attention to the exotic designs of the Orient and Middle East.
The Boivin’s quickly established a reputation for jewelry that captured the essence of beauty in motion. Word of mouth established the firm’s reputation for faultless, beautiful pieces. At first, in addition to their own pieces, they manufactured designs for such well-known jewelers as Mellerio and Boucheron.
Together René and Jeanne created remarkable works that incorporated their signature elements: elegant lines, twists, and trembling components. Favorite themes included flowers, fruits, and animals. By 1905, the Boivin’s work was in such high demand that they no longer needed to produce pieces for other firms. Their small, loyal elite clientele provided enough business and demand.
In her book about René Boivin, Françoise Cailles, writes, “The Boivin couple would attend … receptions, at which Paul Poiret’s own creations were naturally worn or displayed. Quite often, the acquaintances [the Boivins] made in these dazzling circles would later become clients. From that time onward, the Boivin clientele became increasingly specialized, with accents on aristocrats, artists, intellectuals, and foreign personalities. René himself gradually became known as ‘the jeweler of the intelligentsia’”
The work produced at Boivin around the turn of the century was not especially innovative, but was expertly manufactured and designed. The firm was mostly known for floral-motifs and gem-set pieces.
René rejected the popular Art Nouveau styles of the time and instead created chunky pieces inspired by Egyptian, Syrian, and Persian designs. Some of his more adventurous pieces were “bestiary” consisting of realistic and mythological animal miniatures. He also produced stylized animal designs which included the famous ‘Cats’ collection.
However, these bold pieces that would come into style during the Art Deco period, were well before their time and were dubbed by some as, “barbaric.” Many of the pieces were never sold and were dismantled for use of their elements in other designs.
In 1913, Boivin received commissions from noted figures such as Degas and Freud. It also saw the design of the ‘Egyptian’ ring which would remain in production for 40 years.
René Boivin’s stock books show that he operated as an antique dealer as a sideline from his jewelry designing. While dealing in antiques was more hobby than livelihood, the records also show that he provided clients with portrait miniatures, antique jewelry, gold boxes, perfume flasks, watches among other things.
In 1917, René Boivin died. Jean and René’s son, Pierre, also passed away the same year. At the time, the business and René’s reputation for creating beautiful and desirable objects were at their height. Ordinarily, such drastic events would force a wife to sell or close the husband’s business. However, Jeanne Boivin made a decision to take control of the firm along with her daughter, Germaine, and continue producing fine jewels.
At that time, the jewelry industry had almost always been male dominated. No woman had ever been at the head of an important jewelry firm. Jeanne Boivin, drawing on her many years’ experience running the business with René, felt more than qualified to continue the firm’s operation and build upon its success. The firm’s history in the decades following is a testament to Jeanne’s independent nature, business acumen, and outstanding creative sensibilities.
In the years following her husband’s death, Madame René Boivin, as she preferred to be known professionally, completed already existing orders. While the firm name remained René Boivin, Jeanne Boivin gradually began to create her own distinctive pieces. Although not a designer herself, she had a strong sense of style and, after many years of working beside her husband, a depth of knowledge about how a piece of jewelry was designed and created.
While all her designs were rendered by others, Jeanne dictated the aspects and details of her compositions. Departing from the more traditional and classical themes of René’s work, she developed an independent style that combined a range of colored stones, textures and dimensions mostly in yellow gold. Jeanne considered a piece of jewelry as a combination of all its parts in which gemstones were but one element in the overall look and feel.
When Jeanne took over the firm, one of her first decisions was to hire a then unknown salesgirl, Suzanne Vuillerme. Under her married name of Belperron, Suzanne established herself as one of the most talented and collected jewelry designers of the twentieth century.
By 1925, Suzanne was designing models for Boivin, many in unusual combinations of precious and semi-precious materials that would become her signature style. She remained at Boivin until 1931 during which time she met her future business partner, Bernard Hertz. She was also introduced to the talents of Louart, Cauvain, and Groëné et Darde who would later be instrumental in creating and engineering pieces for her.
Also working with trusted and accomplished craftsman such as Davière, Jeanne’s master jeweler, and the talented, Adrien Louart, the House of Boivin produced unique geometrical and sculptural pieces that were an innovative combination of wood, rock crystal and hardstones with diamonds and colored gems such as lapis, citrine, peridot, amethyst and tourmalines.
Boivin jewels attracted a wealthy, distinguished, and private clientele. The Maison Boivin moved to a new salon in 1931 on the avenue de l’opera and remained accessible and known only by referral.
Madame Boivin had no interest in operating a retail concern because she thought that her firm’s reputation for finely made and original jewels would attract sufficient business. She was right. Also notable was her reluctance to sign pieces.
Of this, Françoise Cailles writes, “Twenty-five years of collaboration with René … had convinced [Jeanne] that a beautiful piece of jewelry spoke for itself [and] to sign it would be pure affectation.” While most of the Boivin output was left unsigned, there were certainly exceptions particularly when requested by a client.
When Suzanne Belperron left Boivin to establish her own business, Jeanne had already hired Juliette Moutard as a jewelry designer and replaced Suzanne with her. Juliette would remain with the firm until her retirement in 1970. With Juliette’s design skills, the two women developed a close working relationship that complemented each other: one gave shape and substance to the ideas and the other supervised the completion of the finished piece down to the last detail.
Jeanne and René’s daughter, Germaine Boivin, re-joined the firm in 1938 after having developed her skills at the House of Poiret, her uncle’s flourishing fashion business. She had also exhibited her innovative skills in design at many International Exhibitions in the 30’s and 40’s.
Building on Juliette Moutard’s skills, Maison Boivin produced jewelry with movement and textures that appealed not only to the eye but also to the touch. The Boivin name is best known for the pieces created by these women.
In the 1930’s, the firm began creating bold, large pieces with exotic themes and materials that were different from the Art Deco style popular at the time. Jeanne Boivin reintroduced the ‘barbaric’ style bracelets first designed by her husband decades earlier. Often these bracelets had chunky, mechanical motifs; other times they featured gentle Assyrians swirls. Yellow gold was used almost exclusively.
Rubies, sapphires, and emeralds were abandoned in favor semi-precious gemstones like citrines, aquamarine, and topaz. Onyx, rock crystal, and lapis were often incorporated into the pieces as were more obscure materials like ebony, sandalwood, and tiger-skin.
Boivin’s team of designers also produced naturalistic, floral designs featuring orchids, foxgloves, and umbel clusters. Animal and sea life were often depicted as were mythical creatures like angels, mermaids, and unicorns. These creations, and their sculptural qualities, were markedly innovative.
Boivin harmonized the jewelry designs with the latest in fashion and made jewelry for the modern woman who worked and was mobile. Boivin’s clients included artists, intellectuals, socialites, film stars, and royalty.
The firm also presented its work at select exhibitions including the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and the 1947 French Institute of Decorative Arts Show. Since Maison Boivin never advertised and Jeanne refused to occupy a ground floor location with window-displays, the public was rarely exposed to the Boivin name or work. In this way, the firm retained its exclusivity and high-end reputation.
The firm’s output included geometric shaped brooches manufactured from the twenties through the forties. Arch brooches created by Juliette Moutard were designed to project from the wearer’s garment and shield-shaped brooches and Escalier brooches were crafted from carved pieces of rock crystal, smoky quartz or onyx.
The three most famous of Boivin’s floral designs are orchids, foxgloves and umbel clusters. Juliette Moutard created the foxglove design in 1944. Its delicate and intricate platinum and diamond umbel clusters were based on a design by Germaine Boivin and was often worn by Jeanne.
By the 1940s, the designs became more stylized and larger in scale often featuring important center stones such as the 35 carat sapphire centering a yellow gold and canary diamond leaf brooch.
The 1950s and ‘60’s creations employed both stylized and more natural replicas. The cedar tree brooch that Germaine designed for her mother’s eightieth birthday is an example of both design aesthetics and showcases Boivin’s wide color palette.
Fruits were another popular motif starting with the first cluster of pearl gooseberries in the 1920s and continuing with pomegranates, raspberries, pineapples and large clusters of grapes all worked in gemstones of various colors and mostly executed in warm shades of gold.
The House of Boivin created a number of different animals including chameleon brooches that could rotate color with a push of their tongues plus all manner of winged creatures, horses, elephants, tigers and fantastical mermaids. One of the most well-known designs is a pigeon’s wing designed in 1938 by Juliette Moutard that features delicately colored calibré cut buff top sapphires and pavé diamonds.
The same year saw the creation of Germaine Boivin’s famous avant-garde longhorn brooch crafted for a Texan who brought in a cattle skull from which to commission a jewel. The most famous and iconic of Boivin’s pieces however, is a starfish brooch created for the actress Claudette Colbert in 1936.
Designed by Juliette Moutard, the brooch was notable for its large scale, ruby and amethyst camaïeu color scheme and life like articulated arms; a thoroughly unique and modern piece of jewelry.
The firm also specialized in rings that were larger, bolder pieces including large signet rings, a Boivin specialty. Many of the rings featured a range of unusual materials and techniques.
Rings made of carved rock crystal, quartz, amethyst, citrine and agates set with contrasting gemstones were another specialty. A famous example is the signature ribbed “bibendum” ring. The fish scale motif featuring scalloped rows of stones set in yellow gold, debuted in 1925 and became a recurrent theme, extending to necklace designs.
Of the later ring designs, two are especially collectible: The “Quatre-Corps” ring first designed in 1950, is a lighter design featuring four rows of graduated bezel set stones, usually semi-precious. The other is the “Pampilles” ring designed in 1956 that features a large center stone surrounded by a hanging border of smaller contrasting stones.
Boivin bracelets are sculptural, daring designs. Both the “escalier” and “bibendum” appeared as bracelets. The popular “melon slice” cuffs, so named for their curvature, are considered another of Jeanne Boivin’s iconic designs and was first produced in 1931. The “tiara” and “torque” cuff bracelets designed by Juliette Moutard in 1933 are some of her first creations for the firm and are both fine examples of Boivin’s clean, modern and forward thinking jewels.
Necklaces were designed as wide chokers or in the bib style. A variety of hardstones and gems enhanced the creations which were generally large in scale and included generously proportioned torsade style chokers of gem beads such as sapphires, and rigid bands of gold hoops ending in clusters or rows of precious stones or pearls. Yellow gold necklaces without any gemstone embellishments were also a hallmark of Boivin.
Madame Boivin began a new trend by designing yellow gold necklaces which were another of her trademarks. These chokers, worn tightly around the throat, were sometimes decorated with pendants and featured a variety of motifs: “Assyrian”(1927), “Etruscan” (1928), gold wire coils (cannetilles, 1933) and “urn links” (1934).
Boivin also produced both pendant style drop earrings and a range of ear clips that hugged the lobe. The drop earrings were made in four main styles: long pendant style drops, complex chandelier style earrings that often featured clusters of briolettes or tassels of diamonds; hoop earrings featuring drops of hoop forms or single hoop styles in combinations of materials such as platinum, rock crystal, and diamonds, and pear shaped pendant drops in a wide range of styles and materials.
Boivin’s clip earrings incorporated many of Boivin’s jewelry motifs including geometrical jewels, floral designs of colorful stone combinations and sea creatures and shells. Some of the most regularly produced designs were winged shaped ear clips that extended to the upper part of the ear, crescent ear clips that extended to the lower part of the lobe, gooseberry ear clips with their iconic clusters of pearls or gemstone beads and, perhaps most striking to the modern eye, multiple hoop earrings that were first created in 1934.
These featured a row of hoops extending up the ear that appeared as separate piercings but were in fact a single clip joined by a thin metal clasp hidden behind the ear lobe.
The Boivin firm changed hands several times during the 20th century. Following Jeanne Boivin’s death in 1959, her daughter Germaine took control and the firm was overseen by Louis Girard, who continued to produce many of the early designs, adapting them as necessary to changes in fashion.
One of his novel ideas was a solid bangle bracelet with sliding enameled sections that could be pushed back to reveal a diamond panel for evening wear. In 1970, Baroness Caroline des Brosses began designing for Boivin. It was she who designed the famous Bague Quatre Corps, with four rows of overlapping stones.
In 1976, the Boivins sold the company to Jacques Bernard, a designer who had been with the company since 1964. In April 1991, the House of Boivin was purchased by the Asprey Group who continued to produce excellent jewelry that included some of the earlier designs.
After the take-over of the Asprey Group by Prince Jaffry, brother of the Sultan of Brunei, many changed were made that proved not for the better. Soon after, the great house of Boivin closed forever.
During a 2010 Christie’s jewelry auction of Boivin creations, Christie’s expert, Jean-Marc Lunel was reported to have told The New York Times, that because Boivin jewelry was never signed, although sufficiently distinctive to be recognizable on sight, it could be difficult to identify it with certainty.
“It is always a difficult exercise to authenticate and date Boivin pieces without referring to the jeweler’s archives,” said Mr. Lunel.
“Most of the pieces we find have been in families for generations, without their owners knowing what they have. We are usually the ones to discover and identify [Boivin] in their collections,” he said.