Icons of Design: Boucheron

Icons of Design: Boucheron

O ne of the great Parisian heritage Maisons, Boucheron was the first jeweler to be established in the Place Vendôme. The company was founded in Paris in 1858 by Frédéric Boucheron (1830-1902), the son of a merchant draper. Aged 14, he began an apprenticeship with the jeweler, Jules Chaise, and later worked as a jewelry salesman, so developing both craft and commercial skills that laid the foundations for his business.

Frédéric Boucheron

So successful was his first shop selling fashionable, lavishly gem-set jewels in the Galerie de Valois, in the Palais Royal, (the destination for luxury goods), that he set up his own workshop in 1866. Now, Boucheron found himself at the centre of the extravagant luxury-loving Second Empire, acknowledged as one of the most innovative jewelers of the day, with an illustrious international clientèle, including royalty, nobility and high society. He also created extravagant ornaments for the most famous of jewel-adoring demi-mondaines, including La Belle Otero and Liane de Pougy.

In 1893, Boucheron moved from the Palais Royal to 26 Place Vendôme, to the Hotel de Nocé, where the Maison remains today, having recently renovated the entire building. At the time, the Place Vendôme, situated between the new Opéra Garnier and the gardens of the Tuileries, was just beginning to draw the attention of the new wealthy, upper middle, merchant class, as purveyors of luxury goods spilled over from the rue de la Paix.

Boucheron chose the corner site, it is said, for the daylight that flooded into the boutique and showed the diamonds to full advantage. There was however another inhabitant of the building: the reclusive Countess de Castiglione. She had been a great beauty in her youth,a mistress of Napoleon III, and it was said she so mourned the loss of her looks that she only ever emerged from her rooms under cover of dark, wore a black mask and covered all the mirrors in her apartment with black crepe.

Photograph of the Countess de Castiglione, 1895.

A brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, with his finger firmly on the pulse, Frédéric Boucheron surrounded himself with some of the most creative designers and skilled artisans of the day. He collaborated with the designers Jules Debut, Paul Legrand and Lucien Hirtz, with the noted chaser and engraver, Louis Armand Rault, and the enameler, Charles Riffault, who perfected the technique of plique à jour, translucent, open-backed enamel.

Boucheron encouraged the revival of this lost art, neglected since the Renaissance, acquiring the patent for the technique. Riffault made exceptional Renaissance-inspired, richly-coloured plique à jour jewels and objects for Boucheron from around 1864, and enameling remained a speciality of the Maison.

Boucheron was also celebrated for sculptural gold modelling, for engravings on diamonds, and for exquisitely engraved and inlaid steel. Innovation in materials, such as wood and rock crystal, and the techniques to work them, has remained a defining Boucheron characteristic. In the 1880s and 1890s, Frédéric Boucheron worked with designer Paul Legrand to create the signature ‘Question Mark’ necklace: open fronted, with no clasp, curling round and down on one side, falling into a flexible, naturalistic motif, flower, plant or feather. So ahead of its time, as resolutely modern today as it was then, the necklace made the perfect transition from realistic naturalism into the lyrical Art Nouveau style.

"A brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, Frédéric Boucheron surrounded himself with some of the most creative designers and skilled artisans of the day."

During the early years of the 20th century, Boucheron expanded globally and continued to create jewelry for royalty and aristocracy. Frédéric Boucheron was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1900, winning huge praise for his display at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. At the 1925 Paris Exhibition, Boucheron triumphed with a series of dramatic jewels designed by Lucien Hirtz, mounted by Bisson and with lapidary work by Brethiot: striking compositions of pure form and colour, mosaics of carved hardstones, in daring new Orientalist-inspired combinations of green and blue, jade and lapis, and black and red, onyx and coral.

One of Boucheron’s biggest commissions of this period came from the fabulously wealthy Maharajah of Patiala, who arrived at Boucheron in 1928, with chests full of gems and jewels from his treasury, which he wanted re-set in the fashionable Art Deco style.

Frédéric Boucheron was succeeded in the business by his son Louis, and in turn, Louis’s sons Fred and Gerard joined him in 1936, taking over the Maison on their father’s death in 1959. In 1968, at a time of social and cultural revolution, Boucheron translated one of the company’s 19th century signatures, the allusive serpent motif, into the Serpent Bohème collection. The stylised serpent’s head, paved in diamonds, or set with fashionable hard-stones, was set into heavily textured gold recalling the serpent’s scales. Gerard’s son, Alain Boucheron, took over in 1980, reviving the founder’s use of materials including rock crystal and wood. The company was sold to the Gucci Group in 2000 and Claire Choisne has been Boucheron’s creative director since 2011.

Jewelry The Hong Kong Sales

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top