#SuzyJewels – Place Vendôme: Jewellers Change Settings – For Customers And Gemstones
Is it the most elegant of building sites, or just the most glamorous wall of advertising ever to grace the walls of Place Vendôme?
On one side, a vast Hermès billboard is hung high across the historic façades. And at street level, a diamond as big as the Ritz (recently remodelled, true to its classic style) is displayed by the hotel’s entrance as a teaser for the refurbished Graff flagship store on rue Saint-Honoré.
Twirl your eyes over the square’s central slender column, topped by Napoleon’s statue, and you will see many of the graceful buildings shielded by covers hiding major construction projects behind. Across its façade, Chaumet has a mighty screen inviting potential customers to an “ephemeral” or ”pop-up” store around the corner; ditto for Van Cleef & Arpels, with a screen painted with butterflies.
And then there is Gucci’s giant advertisement announcing the arrival of a bijou bijoux boutique, with colourful stones and striking watches luring customers to a narrow corridor towards bolder, brighter jewels.
Historic brands have found that elegant areas and helpful staff are no longer enough pull in the big spenders. Boucheron’s CEO, Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, has transformed the traditional building with more light and space and introduced a further temptation: an invitation to dine on the upper floors with a meal provided by the Ritz.
As to the jewellery collections themselves, here are my impressions of the dazzling displays.
Van Cleef & Arpels: Romeo and Juliet
“We want to revisit the classics in a way that is relevant; not to look at Romeo and Juliet as the epitome of a love story – no hearts, no cupid – but as a setting in the city of Verona with the two colours of the different families as sapphires and rubies,” said Nicolas Bos, who is both Creative Director and Chief Executive at Van Cleef & Arpels.
“I was looking at finding an aesthetic for the background of the collection, very renaissance and ornamental,” he continued, explaining how previous inspiration for ballet with French star Benjamin Millepied is also part of the current story.
The concept of an evocative and historic tale, done in a modern way, is the essence of the Van Cleef collections and the surrounding decor hand-painted by illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti. The collection was displayed in the temporary space, while Van Cleef’s building is being refurbished.
Most notable is the mix of technique and design – the two brought together by the use of colour in 100 pieces from figurative to abstract. The warring Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare’s tragedy of 1597 created a dense story line shown at its most dramatic as clips with garlands of emerald “ivy” and the young lovers on a diamond balcony. The detailed work moved towards its climax with “the kiss” – modern earrings revealing, with dedicated craftsmanship, the eternal language of love.
Cartier: All in the mix
Diamonds embracing quartz for an unexpected coupling, or the unlikely bond of sapphire with opal… Cartier proved that modernity in jewellery is about juxtapositions.
Perhaps the name given to the new season’s offering – “Magnitude” – is Cartier’s way of underscoring the exceptional, and even unlikely combinations of high and fine jewellery. Think of emerald with rock crystal, or pink diamond with morganite and coral.
The renowned Cartier is perhaps the only brand with the courage and clout to put unlikely elements together, echoing what is currently happening in the fine and decorative arts, not to mention architecture.
But the skill is to make a story out of stones, while giving each piece an eternal beauty. For example, you don’t have to mix diamonds with different gemstones. One necklace is designed to suggest different shades of the sun, all in diamonds, but using varied colours from a central glittering yellow to a quieter tea-brown. By contrast, a pink-gold necklace includes different shades and stones, while a bracelet has an enormous opal.
The effect is to make high jewellery seem younger and more daring, while still showcasing Cartier’s legendary skills.
Graff: Diamonds are forever
Laurence Graff is the King of Diamonds, sourcing most of his stones from Africa to create his lavish jewels.
The new Paris flagship store on the corner of the rue Saint-Honoré has that icy white sparkle from high ceiling to high jewellery, with “flawless” being the operative word for both the cut and the stones. Yet vibrantly coloured gemstones, including coloured diamonds, are now challenging the jeweller’s single choice.
Now the owner of the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona, the largest rough diamond discovered for more than a century, Graff is on top of the world when it comes to fine stones and their workmanship. Yet the new store is making an elegant nod to what might be described as “entry level” diamonds (from five to ten thousand euros.) They form a collection called “Kiss”, with the deliberate desire to bring younger clients or perhaps those interested in jewellery that can be worn every day.
At the other end of the scale are jewels in a “treasury room” kept for the top 20 pieces which, when I visited, included a 25-carat flawless diamond and a rare blue diamond. This new Parisian store, with its generous space, allows potential clients to see the breadth of the Graff offering, as well as the quality of the stones.
Significantly, while jewellery has often been presented at the high end as a love story, today’s clientele is interested in new techniques, such as the way that Graff, a collector of modern art, has been inspired by the late Cy Twombly’s textural work. Art and craft, although not always associated with jewellery’s high line, is giving it a new definition.
Buccellati: Celebrating its first century
Maria Cristina Buccellati opened her hand to show me a particular diamond as I walked into the Italian jeweller’s Paris home on the rue Saint-Honoré.
“It took one year to study the right shape and have a good, fiery refraction and colour,” said the scion of the family jewellery company as she pointed to earrings with honeycomb workmanship and matching pendant, multi-band rings and bracelets.
Only a few weeks after the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) officially recognised Buccellati’s new cut – a 100th anniversary present to itself – the Paris store was able to show how far it has come since 1919, when Mario Buccellati opened a store in Milan near the La Scala opera house.
Maria Cristina explained that the house was known for its “traforato” or “pierced gold” work, with some historical pieces on display. Yet the current co-Creative Directors, Lucrezia Buccellati and Claude Taché, of the Taché diamonds group, are now creating a more streamlined effect.
The ideal is the “Cnosso”, referring to the Buccellati diamond at the centre of an openwork border, combining the sleek and the complex within a single jewel.
Ana Khouri: Selling outside the high-jewellery club
Ana Khouri has the delicacy and modern attitude of the jewels she designs. And her background – born in Brazil, based in New York, sculptor by early profession – gives her presentations a feel of art on the move.
She creates the shapes and forms of a wearable art that never forgets the contours of the human body. No wonder she was the winner of the prestigious Accessories Prize at the 2017 French ANDAM (National Association for the Development of Fashion Arts) awards.
“This is harmony,” the designer said of her high jewellery collection for both sexes. “The concept is about going back to nature, back to your essence and creating the pieces with one year to prepare,” she continued, as she showed her collection of pale pieces with bushy flowers and leaves as background decoration.
There was also the sense that the heavier, gender-free jewels were deliberately in a state of flux, with a ring not necessarily sitting firmly on a finger but able to move gently around.
“I had a few men ask me to design men’s jewellery,” Ana says. “But I’m not good when I think about men. That’s why I say that this is not unisex – not for man or for girl. But when I did chunkier pieces, in my head I felt they would work as gender-free.”
Another significant part of this designer’s story is that she is not linked to any particular boutique – and definitely not for sale on Place Vendôme.
She has been selected by thoughtful retailers from Bon Marché in Paris to the international Dover Street Market stores. But Net-a-Porter is enthusiastic about her work, setting a question that jewellery retailers, however mighty, are having to answer: Could high jewellery succeed online – even without personal attention and dinner from the Ritz?