IF YOU'VE EVER wondered why Place Vendôme has become the centre of haute joaillerie, you only need to know one name: Frédéric Boucheron, the founder of the eponymous jewellery house that still operates out of a multi-storey palace at 26 Place Vendôme.
Legend has it that Boucheron chose that spot because it was the sunniest corner on the square, thus supremely suitable for the display of the dazzling diamonds and sparkling stones that for more than a century – the house was founded in 1858 and moved to the square in 1893 – have been attracting royalty, heads of state, maharajas and movie stars.
For most of its history, Boucheron stayed in the hands of the founding family, until the year 2000, when it was acquired by PPR, now Kering, previously known as the Gucci Group, and became a global player in the rarefied field of high jewellery.
In spite of its storied past and illustrious roster of clients, who range from Queen Elizabeth II to Russian czars and Indian princes, the house is now helmed by the vivacious and young Parisienne Claire Choisne, who with her lithe frame, all-black wardrobe and minimal make-up, could pass for one of those much-photographed Vogue Paris editors who have become the epitome of the cool Parisian girl.
Choisne, who joined the company as creative director in 2011, had the onerous task of bringing Boucheron back to the most prestigious jewellery fair in the world, the Biennale des Antiquaires, held in Paris every other year at the Grand Palais. With that task at hand, she set out to develop a new identity for the house, expanding its more accessible lines such as Quatre and Serpent Bohème, while always staying true to the adventurous spirit that has been at the core of the jewellery house since its founding.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU DID WHEN YOU JOINED BOUCHERON?
I looked at the archives right after I joined, but my very first mission was to return to the Biennale and to create a high-jewellery collection for it. Because of that added pressure (for eight years Boucheron hadn't shown at the Biennale) for my first collection, the right approach was to be respectful towards the history of the house, but creatively.
IS THERE A DISCOVERY YOU MADE ABOUT THE HOUSE THAT REALLY STRUCK YOU?
There's a piece that I discovered and that I had never associated with Boucheron. It's the necklace shaped like a question mark. It's very modern and you would never think it was made a long time ago by a house like Boucheron but it's one of Frédéric Boucheron's first creations. We still do it in a more contemporary way but it was invented by him and the technique is amazing – you can wear it in different ways and it's so modern.
HOW DO YOU MAKE HIGH JEWELLERY REFLECT MODERN TIMES?
When you look at the archives of Boucheron you realise that pieces such as the question mark were quite cool and audacious, especially for that time. For me, Boucheron is audacity and I try to convey that today with pieces that are fun and different from the usual jewellery creations. There are different ways of being audacious, such as the use of a new technique or in the design and in the way a jewel is worn. I found rock crystal used in some very early creations and today I still use it but I adapt it, using it polished and unpolished, for instance, to make it more modern.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT PLACE VENDÔME?
I was educated here in Paris. My school was on Rue du Louvre and I can guarantee that every jewellery student in France dreams of working on Place Vendôme. It's the heart of jewellery, the place where it all began. There are many young jewellers in my atelier. One of our best jewellers is one of my classmates but to make it at a house like Boucheron you require a certain level of excellence, you have to be at the top of your class.
CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? DO YOU START FROM THE STONES OR FROM YOUR DESIGNS?
Thierry Robert [Boucheron's head stone cutter] has been here for 40 years and his father was here for 50 years. He's the one in charge of finding the stones. I usually show him my designs and sometimes I drive him nuts, but he always finds what I want. For a necklace I designed, we were looking for two stones of the same colour and shape, and he found them after months. I often start with the design but sometimes it's the other way around. He showed me an ancient emerald that belonged to a maharaja and was part of another necklace and we readapted it for a new piece.
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE FACT THAT HIGH JEWELLERY IS NOW BECOMING MORE POPULAR WITH YOUNGER CLIENTS AND DESIGNERS?
The more the métier attracts interest, the more the field grows. I'm all for it because we're exposed to more ideas and more creativity. It's also a way for younger clients to be exposed to high jewellery. For the Serpent Bohème collection we make pieces that are more accessible and can be worn together with other pieces, for girls who are making their first jewellery purchase or someone who wants to wear them in a relaxed way.
WHAT'S YOUR EARLIEST JEWELLERY-RELATED MEMORY?
It was a ring that my grandmother had given me, a ring with a natural pearl, which unfortunately I lost. It was very old and beautiful and rare because it was a natural pearl. What bothers me is that whoever found it has no idea of the sentimental value it had for me, more than the actual value. For me jewellery has special meaning and value. It's the transmission of something that a jewel represents, the memory associated with it, with a special occasion, the emotion embedded in an object.
DO YOU WEAR JEWELLERY EVERY DAY?
I wear it every day, even when I'm at home. You feel more beautiful when you wear it. Jewellery is still inspired by l'air du temps but is more timeless than fashion. When I make these pieces, I always think that they will last forever. It's a classic beauty I try to create and when I look at the creations of Frédéric Boucheron, it's this classic and timeless beauty that appeals to me. He made things that were very atypical for his age, very audacious, but then they became classics – and I hope that what I make now in one hundred years will also become classics. I would feel honoured if that were to happen because it means that something transcends time and becomes eternal. Whenever I design, I keep in mind these words by Frédéric Boucheron: “Our raison d'être is to create emotions.” This is the final objective, so I know that I did my job right when I finally see a piece and I feel that emotion.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL STYLE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO WEAR?
I'm a big fan of Christopher Kane. I think he's a genius, a great mix of audacity and chic. It's not just modern for the sake of it but really thought-out. With jewellery we have to start from something hard like stones and make it look light and easy, flexible and soft. For someone like Christopher Kane, it's the opposite: making something light and giving it structure, which I find amazing, the idea that he's able to use textiles and give them such a strong aesthetic. Fashion plays a big role because jewellery also dresses women, so you need to keep everything in mind. I always think if a certain jewel is going to work with a dress or a top, and so on.