Boucheron (Est. 1858 – ) Boucheron is the French couture founded in 1858 by Frédéric Boucheron (1830-1902). Known primarily for beautiful and unusual high-end jewelry, it was the first jewelry company to open a boutique on Paris’ famed Place Vendôme (#26) where it is still located today. Legend says Frédéric chose the location because it was the sunniest corner of the square and he knew that diamonds in the windows would sparkle all the more brilliantly.
Frédéric was born into a family of drapers and at an early age discovered he wanted to be a jeweler. At age 14, began to apprentice with jeweler Jules Chaise. He later worked for Tixier-Deschamps, a famous jeweler at the Palais Royal.
When Deschamps retired, he discouraged Frédéric from entering the jewelry trade, calling him “not cut out to be the proprietor of a business.” Nonetheless, the younger man would not abandon his dream and the company he created that bears his family name became one of the most well regarded and preeminent jewelry houses in the world.
Frédéric set up the first Boucheron shop at the Palais Royal with his family’s help and just 100,000 French Francs. He soon acquired fame as an expert in precious stones, a masterful technician, and creator of beautiful jewelry.
Though his initial capitalization was small (as was his jewelry inventory) Boucheron quickly attracted the attention of Parisian trendsetters. His early specialties included lacy gold metalwork embellished with diamonds, some of which were engraved. Even today, engraved diamonds are rarely produced. Some of the early jewelry also featured delicate plique-à-jour enameling.
The gemstones Boucheron used were carefully selected for color and quality. The jewels were also unusual and, as one of his competitors, Henri Vever, said, “Boucheron made pieces that “very few of his colleagues would have dared to make at the time.”
In 1893, Maison Boucheron opened its doors at 26 Place Vendôme with an in-house workshop. Frédéric Boucheron was the first jeweler to settle on the square. He shared the premises with the Countess of Castiglione.
When the Ritz Palace was established on the Place Vendôme, shortly after the Maison Boucheron opened, César Ritz, who owned the hotel, and Boucheron quickly became friends. The boutique’s atmosphere at Number 26 was so similar to that of the palace hotel that some clients considered it to be an annex of the Ritz especially because of the dedicated service afforded to them. In fact, the butler at the Boucheron boutique offered the same cocktails as at the hotel.
The Maison developed a growing clientele that included Tiffany & Co. Among the Boucheron’s earliest individual clients and ambassadors were the Countess of Castiglione and Mrs. Marie-Louise Mackay.
Known as “the Divine One,” the Countess of Castiglione was reputed to be one of the most beautiful women of the century. A mysterious figure, she loved Boucheron’s creations and soon became one of the Maison’s most important ambassadors.
A collector of men’s hearts, namely Napoleon III’s, the Countess was showered with jewelry by those who fell in love with her. To preserve her beauty from the harsh light of day, she only left her apartments in the evenings, adorned in jewels that sparkled brightly under the lights of the Place Vendôme. Legend has it that, when she returned home and was alone, she would spend hours contemplating the jewels, fascinated by the dazzle of the stones.
Marie-Louise Mackay, a wealthy American, gave the most impressive orders ever known by the Maison Boucheron. The House’s special order books show her name appearing 102 times between 1876 and 1902. When she first arrived at Boucheron, she had nothing specific in mind and simply asked the jeweler for an extraordinary stone.
Mackay’s husband then asked Frédéric Boucheron to find the most exceptional sapphire to match the intense color of his wife’s deep blue eyes. The eventual choice was a 159 carat blue sapphire from Kashmir that was set onto a necklace and delighted Mrs. Mackay who now owned what was then said to be one the world’s most beautiful sapphires.
By this time, Frédéric Boucheron already understood that the beauty of a precious stone or jewel is above all intended to highlight and enhance a woman’s radiance.
In 1867, Boucheron, after only nine years in business, won a grand prize for jewelry at Paris’s International Exposition displaying creations styled with archaeological revival and Louis XVI elegance. In 1876, the French government presented Frédéric Boucheron with a Legion of Honor award for his jewelry. In 1878, the Foliage necklace designed for Mrs. Mackay won the Grand Prize at the Paris Universal Exhibition. Awards from international expositions would continue for the next fifty years.
In 1887, one of the most famous jewelry auctions in the world was held at the Louvre. It attracted many of the world’s most important jewelers of the time. This auction of the French Crown Jewels was referred to as “the sale of the century.”
Frédéric Boucheron, the only Frenchman in attendance managed to acquire 31 diamonds among them the celebrated Mazarin diamonds weighing respectively 18 and 16 carats as well as one of Empress Eugénie’s most beautiful jewels.
When word got out that Frédéric had bought these sumptuous stones, all of Paris wondered who had given the acquisition order. It turned out that Frédéric had acquired them for himself to set on a ring for his wife, Gabrielle, as a pledge of his eternal love. This sale gave rise to numerous Boucheron creations inspired by the crown jewels.
In 1901, Boucheron founded a partnership with Georges Radius, Francois Aubert, and Rene Huot. The same year. Frédéric brought his son Louis into the firm.
When the elder Boucheron died in 1902, he left the firm, now in good shape, to his son. By the turn of the century, the firm had gained enough name recognition and capital, to open branch stores in London and New York.
At the beginning of the 1930’s, the firm expanded to the Middle East and South America. Fred and Gérard Boucheron, Louis’s sons, literally carried Boucheron’s jewelry to far-flung corners of the globe with exclusive showings to important clients.
From the early days of the twentieth century and on, Boucheron was at the cutting edge of fashion. It produced exquisite Art Nouveau, Edwardian, and Art Deco pieces. During the 1930’s and 40’s, Boucheron popularized detachable dress clips and like other firms during this Retro period, its designers made ample use of three-dimensional motifs, flexible chains, and tassels.
Louis, like his father, also believed that a jeweler’s reputation comes from the beauty of the stones he uses and placed them in the Art Deco jewelry he created. One of his famous pieces is a pair of diamond “wing” clips made for Countess Greffuhle, a fashion icon of Paris’ society during that time. Louis was also inspired by Cubism, the Ballets Russe, and African Art. The African pieces were very well received after the colonial exhibition held in Paris in 1931.
Louis Boucheron also created new styles of jewelry based on technological discoveries. He cut stones in new ways (the table cut, the baguette, the prism, and trapezium cut). He also used solid blocks of onyx, lapis-lazuli, malachite, turquoise, amber, coral and jade in his designs.
Many collectors and museums such as the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England and des Arts Décoratifs in Paris purchased his designs.
Louis Boucheron also created a variety of accessories for the “new woman” of the 1920s. These included bags with sequins or pearls, cigarette holder compacts encrusted with eggshell, as well as chains, diamond-studded brooches, collars set with precious stones, belts, big and bold bracelets with rubies and emeralds, and long earrings that enhanced the newly fashionable short haircuts. These were made famous by Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford.
After World War II, Boucheron returned to earlier themes of flowers and fauna, including exotic birds, and jewelry created to be worn with the “New Look” fashion launched by Christian Dior. These were multi-colored pieces that featured plumes and bouquets. There were also star-shaped brooches, brooches in the form of a question-mark, and rosettes made of round and baguette-cut diamonds.
Other jewelry by Louis Boucheron included coup de vent (gust of wind) rings, silver cigarette lighters with matching lipstick cases inlaid with niello and set with colored gems. There were also gold cigarette cases engraved with a map of France.
At this time, Boucheron also began producing watches in various shapes. This harkened back to 1900 when his father made a wristwatch for the Léopold II, the King of Belgium. Crafted from gold, sapphires and rubies and bearing the king’s arms and royal crown. At the time, it was a first for a male client to order this type of watch. Gentlemen still preferred the pocket watch because a wristwatch was thought too feminine. Thanks to Frédéric Boucheron, the King became a pioneer of a fashion we now take for granted.
Boucheron’s designs for watches included some that were set in balls and in rings, and the (nail’s head) watches were real jewels themselves. In 1947, Boucheron launched their first Reflet watch. Its distinctive elegance and unique design made it an icon of eternal style. That the Reflet watch is back today on the wrists of trendsetters like Betty Autier and Mathieu Lebreton confirms its timeless allure.
In 1959, Louis Boucheron died and his sons Fred and Gérard were left in charge of the business keeping it within the family. Control of Boucheron passed to Gérard’s son, Alain in 1962. Under Alain’s direction, the firm returned to materials it had used at the beginning of the century including: rock crystal quartz, coral, wood and turquoise.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Boucheron designers mixed such materials with diamonds and other precious stones to create large, impressive pieces. To this day, the firm’s designs often feature design motifs from their past including carved multicolor gemstones, geometric lines, tassels and elements that mesh in combination with more modern design components.
Boucheron continued to break new ground with later designs including the chachuté (a high-kicking style) method in which stones are arranged in shapes resembling knots, cascades or the pistils of a flower. Settings were grouped in clusters on different levels to create a unique new surface and to produce an impression of delicacy combined with depth.
When gold began to become more widely used, Boucheron tinted it with unusual shades such as pink, red, green, white or grey. It was polished and ornamented with checkering and pierced with dots arranged in lattices and shaped into mesh or lace, eschewing the heavy imposing styles popular at the time. Filigree work also gave the impression of delicacy. Hard, bold, and geometric designs disappeared and were replaced by flower jewelry.
Boucheron’s most popular items during the period after World War II were the perforated and hand-engraved boxes decorated with gold on silver backgrounds and set with sapphires, diamonds and cabochon rubies. Birds, butterflies, flowers with pistils and even elephants were pierced into the metal.
Boucheron’s royal clients included England’s Prince Albert Edward who bought 75 pieces from the London Boucheron for his fiancée Miss Dudley Ward. He later bought a diamond clip for Wallis Simpson, whom he would marry. Other royal clients included the Tsar of Russia, the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrova, Queen Isabella of Spain, the Duchess of Rothschild, and the Shah of Iran.
Acclaimed actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, and the chanteuse, Edith Piaf were also among the Maison’s notable clients. Wealthy purchasers include Mrs. John Jacob Astor and the Vanderbilts.
In 1988, Boucheron launched its own perfume, “Boucheron.” The perfume was such a success that in 2005, new scents were presented. Some of the most well-known fragrances include Jaipur, Jaipur Saphir, Boucheron Pour Homme, Trouble, Initial, Trouble Eau Legere and Jaipur Homme Fraicheur.
In 2000, the Gucci Group (later acquired by Kering) purchased The House of Boucheron. In 2006, Boucheron opened its first boutiques in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. When, in 2008, Boucheron marked its 150th anniversary, it did so with a year-long celebration that included a collaboration with Hatton Garden trained designer Shaun Leane. The collaboration produced (perhaps inspired by Mrs. Mackay’s 1878 ‘Foliage’ Necklace) a piece that included a blue sapphire hidden in a cascade of thorn-like foliage.
To coincide with the 150 year anniversary, Boucheron entered into a joint venture with the mobile phone brand Vertu and created the world’s first High Jewelry limited edition cell phones from gold and precious stones. This collaboration continued with a line of 7 Vertu mobile phones, called the Enchanting Boucheron anniversary collection.
In the collection were only eight of the Cobra model in rose gold set all round with rubies and using pear-cut diamonds and emerald eyes. Entwined around the rose gold case, the Python model, a serpent set with multi-colored sapphires, diamonds and two sapphires, was brought out in 26 pieces.
Today, Boucheron has boutiques worldwide and an online e-commerce website launched in 2007. Claire Choisne was appointed Creative Director in 2011. The company’s estimated sales from 2010 to 2011 were €50 million in total sales and €5 million in watches.
In July 2015, Forbes reported that Kering had named Hélène Poulit-Duquesne as chief executive officer of Boucheron effective September of that year. Kering is a Paris-based apparel and accessories conglomerate that owns brands in the luxury, sport and lifestyle retail categories. These include Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Brioni, Christopher Kane, McQ, Stella McCartney, Tomas Maier, Sergio Rossi, Dodo, Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard, Pomellato, Qeelin, Ulysse Nardin, Puma, Volcom, Cobra and Electric.
Boucheron also produces “every day jewelry” targeting a much wider clientele that is considerably more affordable. These include items like the “multiple” pieces. These are rings, bracelets, necklaces or brooches all mounted in gold or in gold and diamonds that are combined with different colored stones and detachable to let the wearer to change the look for different outfits or occasions. Boucheron has also re-introduced lapis-lazuli, coral, onyx, tiger’s eye, and other less valuable materials into their designs.
The House of Boucheron remains known internationally as one of the most famous and respected French jewelry houses that combines splendor and prestige.
Also of note is the Boucheron classification system known as the Boucheron International Rating of Diamonds (B.I.R.D.). It was devised to determine the value of a diamond and developed on the basis of the diamond’s international currency. This method is registered under the name B.I.R.D.
This system is based on an evaluation of diamond quality and relies on a combined analysis of two criteria (1) the degree of clarity and (2) the color of the stone. The point at which these two variables, “clarity” and “color” intersect gives rise to a mark of appreciation of between 90/100 and 99/100 for the quality of the diamond. A mark of 100/100 indicates that a stone possesses the ultimate degree of perfection according to the Boucheron criteria.
Inspired by the inscription below a sundial first placed in the sun’s path at the Palais Royal and that sent a daily reflection of sunlight into Frédéric Boucheron’s first boutique, he adopted the inscription, ““Horas non numero nisi serenas” – “I count only the joyful hours” as his firm’s motto. Boucheron’s first creations reflected his desire to be the watchmaker of “Joyful Hours. Through this vision, he and the Maison create and sell watches that even today continue to celebrate life’s special moments.