Mauboussin (1827 – ) The origins of Maison Mauboussin are a complicated combination of place, time, political conditions, and familial favoritism. Women and their preferences is its key inspiration.
Nineteenth century France – especially in its capital, Paris – opened as an unstable and politically explosive time that lasted for more than the century’s first fifty years. It challenged determined entrepreneurs to be bold and far-sighted.
One such individual was Monsieur Rocher who, in 1827, took a chance and opened a jewelry workshop in Rue Greneta, near to the Porte Saint Martin in Paris. Rocher and his successor, Jean-Baptiste Noury, faced many challenges during this period, including two revolutions, a coup d’Etat, a war, and a cholera epidemic.
The ongoing political unrest also created a scarcity of materials. Consequently jewelers and other artists turned to the Middle Ages for inspiration. Etruscan, Greek and Roman artifacts were shown at the Louvre and served as models for many of the increasingly skilled jewelers of the time. The political landscape, however, glorified a social hierarchy where jewelry served mainly to demonstrate prestige and social power with ostentatious pieces in purple and gold.
When M. Rocher died in 1869, he left the company to Jean Baptiste Noury, his former partner and uncle to Georges Mauboussin (1862 – ?) whose name would ultimately brand the firm. As early as 1850, Noury had taken over the House, then called Maison de Noury. It was through his efforts that the firm gained its reputation as a fine jewelry establishment.
As the third quarter of the century unfolded, France was determined to capitalize on its colonial conquests and consequently increased the number of Universal Exhibitions held in the country. Having already exhibited its wares at the 1873 Vienna Universal Exhibition, Maison de Noury entered the 1878 Paris Exhibition and won a medal that finally brought the House long overdue and well-earned recognition.
It was also during this time that diamonds were becoming more plentiful thanks to newly discovered mines in South Africa. During these years, Noury’s nephew, Georges Mauboussin, began to work as an apprentice in his uncle’s company. By 1883, Georges had taken over management of its workshops and in 1898 he took sole control of the company
Although this period was calmer than the preceding years and an increasingly wealthy middle class aspired to wear fine jewelry, Georges faced intense competition from jewelers such as Falize, Massin, Mellerio, Vever and Wièze plus newcomers Cartier and Boucheron. At the time, these ’upstarts’ were taking their first steps onto the jewelry scene to great acclaim and Paris became the international capital of jewelry expertise.
It was also in these years that platinum was first used to make settings lighter. Popular styles that were widely represented in 19th century motifs – fleur-de-lis, foliage, palm leaves, garlands of flowers, and knotted ribbons like those worn by Marie-Antoinette – ended up falling out of fashion.
It was after George Mauboussin took charge of the company in 1896 and bought out the Noury family in 1898 that Maison Mauboussin began to be recognized as one of the leading Paris jewelry houses. After moving and expanding the firm’s Paris location, Georges started to extend its international presence by setting up boutiques and exhibiting jewelry all over the world.
After the First World War ended, Georges thought the House needed to be closer to the fashionable Opéra district and moved the firm to Rue de Choiseul. This was a much larger location with more light, more room and where he could gather many artisans under one roof. His designers, renderers, lapidaries, diamond cutters, setters and goldsmiths occupied this new space. The location was also closer to Paris’ luxury shops and suppliers.
By 1922, the firm was trading as Mauboussin Successeur de Noury and the reference to the Noury name was not lost on loyal clients. In the new location, Georges reorganized the different jobs, checking each phase of the production process and relocating the lapidary and diamond-cutting workshops to the top of the building. Designers, setters and polishers worked above the sales rooms and the showrooms were located on the first floor, where none of the windows looked directly onto the street since clients preferred to remain private about their purchases.
In 1925 Mauboussin exhibited at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs where it won a Grand Prize. After having served as an outlet for other jewelers’ creations, it was around this time that Mauboussin began developing a distinctive style of its own. It was also during the 1920’s that Georges’ son, Pierre Mauboussin (1900 – 1984) joined the company.
Pierre Mauboussin was a man of many talents and skilled in distinctly different fields including aerodynamics. Known for designing automobile bodywork and building planes, Pierre was the inventor of the Fouga Magister, the famous airplane used by the Patrouille de France.
In 1924, just after exhibiting in New York, Mauboussin Inc. opened a location at 330 Park Avenue that Pierre managed. This salon and the increasing demand for its creations necessitated that the firm open a shop on 51st Street. It was during this time that Pierre successfully pursued both of his passions – master jeweler and airplane designer and became known as a strong creative force.
Meanwhile in Paris between 1928 and 1931, Mauboussin held three themed exhibitions — Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds. These exhibitions brought the House enormous amounts of publicity, as well as many important clients. They also acquired a cache of important stones that attracted the attention of European and Eastern royalty, Indian princes, American millionaires as well as Hollywood stars including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Paulette Godard.
Pierre Mauboussin also understood the power of the silver screen and increasingly attracted Hollywood’s leading ladies to wear the firm’s creations. This served the brand well as Pierre required a credit for the firm’s jewelry when stars were photographed wearing it.
Georges Mauboussin was a shrewd businessman in addition to being creative. Between 1924 and 1931, he guided the firm’s participation in 18 expositions worldwide. This led to the establishment of branches in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Milan, and other important cities. It should be noted that in these years, it was unusual for European jewelers to offer their creations in South America.
In 1927, Georges Mauboussin bought the 80 carat Nassak diamond from the Duke of Westminster. Harry Winston bought it from Georges in 1934.
In its heyday Mauboussin was known for its chunky floral-motif brooches, pendants, and bracelets. These often featured bright enamels, diamonds, and brightly colored gemstones with many in distinctive Art Deco and Retro designs.
Less than a month after the firm opened its New York City branch, the stock market crashed and Mauboussin sold the location to the American firm Trabert & Hoeffer. Under the name, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, the firm expanded, opening additional branches in Atlantic City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Palm Beach.
In 1946, this entity became Mauboussin’s exclusive representative in the United States. All jewelry sold under this arrangement was signed Trabert & Hoeffer Inc. – Mauboussin. The relationship lasted until the 1950s.
During the 1930’s, Marcel Goulet, another nephew of Jean Baptiste Noury became involved in the business and exerted a strong influence on it. The economic depression had hurt the house of Mauboussin, as it had with many fine jewelers of the era. As a result, many jewelers began to close their foreign branches. Because this retrenchment took its toll on Marcel, he brought his son, Jean Goulet into the firm.
Jean was the same age as the Maharaja of Indore and the two became fast friends which improved the stability of the firm. Jean went to India for two months to evaluate and re-design the Maharaja’s jewels. Marcel ran the firm until 1942 with help from Jean.
In the years that followed the Second World War, fantasy imaging swept through the jewelry world. Pieces became chunkier, with a proliferation of coils and scrolls. Different types of gold – yellow and rose – took over necklaces, brooches and rings. Many creations were burnished to create shining surfaces, chased to imitate the texture of fabric or worked into delicately jointed twisted threads or flat ribbons.
The 1939 World’s Fair in New York marked one of the high points of the 20th Century’s annals of high-end jewelry. At the Fair, Mauboussin exhibited sparkling pieces dripping with diamonds that were both bold in their design and hung beautifully. It was jewelry that could be worn in different ways, a trend that was becoming increasingly popular. Examples included bracelets with detachable parts and brooches that could be worn as a pendant or separated into two.
The constraints of Art Deco style were soon abandoned in favor of a greater freedom that affected shapes and designs as well as the spirit in which the jewelry was worn. Although brooches remained dominant, rings saw a sharp rise in popularity, as did wristwatches decorated with jewelry designs.
These developments were the result of the more active lifestyles women were enjoying at the time. In 1946, the Maison moved to 20 Place Vendôme, joining other major jewelers such as Boucheron, Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels.
In another key development, the windows that faced the street were opened. This ‘open door’ policy and the fresh way of accessing the world of luxury goods was a sign of a democratization that would have been unthinkable only ten years earlier. It was now no longer unusual for women to buy jewelry for themselves.
In 1955, a new Mauboussin ’boutique’ opened selling mass-produced pieces of jewelry for a clientele who understood the value of heritage even as it was selective about brands and signatures and also demanding about quality and creativity. This gradual realization by the Maison explains why they began a more systematic signing of their pieces.
Continuing a tradition begun in the 20’s, high-end magazines such as Plaisir de France, L’Art et la Mode, L’Officiel and Vogue played a key role promoting Mauboussin’s image and its creations. These years, marked by the return of unabashed luxury, also saw a greater emphasis on elaborate decoration with extensive use of diamonds and colored precious stones.
In 1962 the family agreed to change the brand’s name to Goulet-Mauboussin. The revision was made because Pierre Mauboussin had no descendants and the Goulets were becoming directors of the brand. With the change, each could share the same family name. Around this time, Alain Goulet-Mauboussin began working at the firm and spread the company’s sales east.
From 1960’s to 1980, the House’s repertoire of designs became highly figurative. Their jewelry designs included birds and flowers with sinuous outlines and vivid colors. René Lacaze, one of the most creative designers of the era, was a master of these colorful evocations. He did a lot of work for Mauboussin and was recognized as a trend-setter.
Multicolored arrangements of precious stones – cut, carved or cabochons – became characteristic of this style. Color palettes were enriched with the introduction of turquoise and coral. It was a way of expressing a kind of gaiety while also recognizing the importance of nature.
At this time, enameling became chic again after a long period of being out of fashion. With its range of different shades, enamel was used, for example, to depict the diamond pattern on a Harlequin’s clothes.
The Harlequin would become the Maison’s ‘mascot’, both symbolically and figuratively. He embodied the night, celebration, laughter, music, carefreeness, friendship, and love. In short, he symbolized a spirit of gaiety and pleasure with diamond, triangle and diabolo designs featured on brooches, necklaces and bracelets in an infinite number of variations.
The emergence of new ideas during these years, such as the notable ‘return to the land’ effort, also brought surprising materials from Africa into the creations. These included wood, malachite, and ivory.
Between 1980 and 2000, Jean Goulet-Mauboussin appointed his two sons, Alain and Patrick, to the business’ management team. The two brothers’ passion and youth injected new energy into the Maison.
They streamlined the House’s creations into essential stylistic elements emphasizing tactile qualities like curves. With this change of generation came a bestseller: the Nadia ring, whose name comes from the first two syllables of its component materials, mother-of-pearl (‘nacre’ in French) and diamond (‘diamant’). These two materials, one precious, the other not, were combined around a ring made from yellow gold.
With its smooth, sealed-in design and entirely enclosed setting, it offered both tactile and visual appeal. While still precious, the Nadia ring was more intimate and more luminous because of the lunar shimmer of the mother-of-pearl in the design.
In the 1990s, Maison Mauboussin took an unusual path that began when the entourage of the Sultan of Brunei became enamored of the quality and creativity of Patrick Mauboussin’s jewelry. Several additional designers were taken on, bringing the number working in the studio to six. New workshops were opened and followed by boutiques in Taipei, Seoul and Avenue Montaigne. Going against the affected minimalism that characterized the period, the Maison’s designers created sinuous shapes and subversive color combinations.
In 1994, Mauboussin entered the world of watchmaking. The venture was led by a team chaired by Alain Mauboussin and managed by Richard Mille. The House promoted their timepieces as “combining Swiss technical expertise with French creativity.”
Consequently, a new collection of watches was born in a wide, recognizable range for men and women. These included vibrant sports models, automatic chronometers, scientific chronographs and elegant, ultra-slim models for evening wear.
In its watch designs, the Maison sought an overarching visual unity that could be seen in the outline and curve of the simple yet elegant bezel. This first collection gave rise to further developments including the Lady M watch and, in 1999, the more masculine Fouga watch with its built-up shapes and notched gadroons.
From the outset of the 21st Century to now, Mauboussin has remained independent. This is a remarkable achievement in the world of French jewelry especially when almost all family-owned jewelers have been taken over by big financial groups. The Maison has been owned by Dominique Frémont since 2002.
Even as it strives to give new impetus to the brand, Mauboussin aims to continue to create collections that are firmly rooted in the spirit of the time while also remaining accessible to a wider clientele that wants to acquire creations from a nearly two hundred year-old firm.
Marketing is currently entrusted to Alain Némarq, a man from the world of fashion who understands that women expect what they wear to match their lifestyle. Although they want their jewelry to become a symbol of their integration into today’s world, they also realize that their chosen jewelry accompanies them on a life journey that is fast and inevitably changing from one decade to the next.
Mauboussin currently offers collections with colorful names that embody the essence of the jewelry. These include the Petite Rose d’Amour (Little Rose of Love), Etoiles (Stars Stars), and Vraiment Toi (You Really).
These collections include earrings, necklaces, rings, as well as some innovative cell phone charms. The creations feature numerous colored gemstones, an assortment of the finest metals, and are all are infused with the Mauboussin style.
The Le Premier Jour collection is Mauboussin’s entry level range of jewelry and consists of delicate, beaded threads of gold, combined in rings, pendants, sautoirs, and earrings.
The Bonbons collection consists of pieces directly derived from the Mauboussin archive and features the brand’s classic collections of the 30s, 40s and 50s updated for modern times. Some of the pieces use black lacquer that gives them a bold Art Deco appearance. A variety of colored gems, including sapphires, smoky quartz and citrines are used as center stones making it the most flexible of the brand’s US collections.
The Etoiles collection features the Mauboussin star logo in combinations of white gold, mother of pearl, and diamond pavé. It’s the only collection among the US collections that is available in silver.
The pieces in the Moi Non Plus, Toi Non Plus collection incorporate a simple band of meshed high-grade stainless steel available in black or white and ornamented with a gold clasp. In 2013, it was a big hit in Europe with a friendly price point starting at $400.
Maison Mauboussin is the only French jeweler to have sought and found new talent from around the world for almost half a century insuring it has the best cut stones and most finely crafted jewelry sculptures. Mauboussin designs continue to evolve to reflect the jewelry styles of the times. As such, it remains one of Paris’s fine jewelry houses with a commitment to never compromise on its definition of art and to keep creating French pieces for women in France and around the world.