T he importance of Paris as an epicentre of exceptional jewelry can be traced back to the Renaissance. During the period from 1300 to 1600, European royal courts explored a fascination with the Ancient Greeks and Romans, reviving many of the jewelry-making and gem-cutting techniques they had utilised as a reflection of status. Courtesans in the royal circles of English, French and Spanish kings competed for the most extravagant jewels, set with gemstones and pearls from the exotic locations. By the time of Louis XIII, his passion for the finer things in life led to a surge in jewelled adornment among men and women. As the 17th century progressed, the French court was, literally, weighed down with jewelry. Louis XIV employed his own personal jeweller, Gilles Légaré, who was considered a VIP in the Louvre Palace. During his reign Louis XIV is believed to have owned the deep blue Hope Diamond, now exhibited at the Smithsonian, while his successor, Louis XV, adorned himself with a crown now on display in the Louvre’s Apollo Gallery.
By the 19th century and the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, the ‘art of jewelry’ was a hugely desirable trade in Paris. Workshops sprang-up across the capital, producing pieces inspired by the fashions of the day. Napoleon (1769-1821) revived the fashion for classical cameos and extravagant parures, followed later by a resurgence of Gothic and Renaissance-inspired jewels. In 1812, François-Regnault Nitot, son of Marie-Étienne Nitot - the official jeweller to Emperor Napoleon and the founder of Chaumet - purchased a townhouse in a particularly important location: Place Vendôme. The square was originally created in 1702 as a tribute to the armies of Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. Its extravagant architecture was chosen to mirror the grandeur of the French monarchy, which was enjoying a peak of pomp and circumstance at the time.
By the end of the 19th century, some of the world’s most recognised jewelry houses, including Boucheron and Cartier, had found their homes on the Place Vendôme and the neighbouring Rue de la Paix. In fact, despite Nitot’s early move, it is Frederic Boucheron who is widely considered to have made moving to the square en vogue in 1893. The success of the location was cemented, in part, by César Ritz, who opened his eponymous hotel at number 15 Place Vendôme in June 1898. This luxurious residence was a meeting point for the most influential people of the day, including Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway and Coco Chanel, who famously lived in the hotel for more than 30-years.
It was this crucial time at the dawn of the 20th century that initiated the long-term love affair between fine jewellers and the Place Vendôme. By 1906, Van Cleef & Arpels had opened its doors on this architectural tribute to the Sun King, followed by the return of Chaumet in 1907 (in a new location).
By 1946, jewellers like Mauboussin entered the Place Vendôme, while new innovations and timeless designs, like the Boucheron Reflet timepiece, emerged directly from the square (notably on the wrist of Edith Piaf in 1948). Other talents filled the neighbouring Rue de la Paix and Avenue de l'Opera, including master jeweller Pierre Sterlé, while historic Italian houses Buccellati, Faraone and Nardi looked west for a distinguished clientele. Some 150-years after the fated meeting between Antoine Norbert de Patek and Jean-Adrien Philippe, Patek Philippe became the first influential watchmaking company to open a salon on the Place Vendôme in 1995. Even today, the shifting landscape of the Place Vendôme is like a window onto contemporary luxury; where the likes of Chanel, Jaeger LeCoultre, Louis Vuitton and Piaget create a modern version of the bejewelled French court.