Posts tagged Boucheron

The briolette diamond necklace presented by Napoleon to the Empress Marie Louise.  It is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

The old: Brooch in the shape of a fuchsia set with briolette and old cut diamonds.

The briolette is one of the oldest cuts used in gem faceting, reaching its height of popularity in the 17th century.  A briolette cut is a pear shaped stone whose surface is entirely cut with small, triangular facets.  It was developed in India and before the full refractive properties of diamonds were fully understood, in the 16th century it was probably the cut that reflected most light out of the stone.  The name probably comes from the Italian word ‘brio’, or vivacity, which is probably the most loquacious way of describing the way this cut reflects light, especially in diamonds. The briolette enjoyed a revival in Victorian times, before being pushed out of fashion again by the symmetrical perfection of brilliant cut diamonds developed at the beginning of the last century.

As jewellery buyers developed a taste for the unusual in the Noughties, old cut stones came into focus again, especially the briolette, and cutters in India are finding it hard to keep up with demand.  They are widely used by De Grisogono and Solange Azagury-Partridge employed them to great effect in her collection Beauté Dangereuse, her debut as creative director for Boucheron.  The briolette was derided for a long time as a commercial cut, due to the higher volume of rough material needed to achieve the finished product.  Because of this, and due to the fact that briolettes don’t concentrate light in the same way as brilliant cut stones, I think that they reflect quiet extravagance.  Napoleon may have felt the same way; he was notoriously showy in rebuilding the collection of French Crown Jewels and the diamond necklace he presented to the Empress Marie Louise proudly features a set of beautiful, large briolette diamonds.

Penelope Tree famously photographed by Richard Avedon with the Briolette of India diamond.

The new: Cinna Pampille earrings by Boucheron.

Briolettes have a refined elegance about them; they are shown to their best advantage when mounted on pendants or earrings.  The tops usually have finely drilled holes in them, allowing the setter to pass a very thin wire through them and hang them off the jewel.  If done correctly, the stones will tremble with every move, quivering and reflecting light even if the wearer is perfectly still.  Most stones lend themselves beautifully to the briolette cut, especially those with a high refractive index, such as diamonds or sapphires.  Gems with high colour saturation also look incredible as cabochon, or smooth briolettes, especially when surrounded by pavé diamonds to give a contrast in textures.

The Briolette of India diamond is an essay in extravagant simplicity.  Weighing in at just over 90 carats, it literally looks like an egg.  Its last known setting (with its last known owner, Harry Winston) had the gem suspended from a long, unadorned platinum chain and topped with a single, large pearl of matchless quality.  Set thus in the 1920s, it is a timeless jewel.

I adore briolettes, so I am delighted that demand shows no signs of abating, with champagne and cognac diamond briolettes proving particularly popular to dance on the ears and throats of jewellery enthusiasts.


Contemporary cabochon briolette amethyst, emerald and ruby earrings by de Grisogono.


Diamond and yellow sapphire Moisson d'Or earrings by Chanel

Paris couture week has just finished and the fashion world has had its fill of sumtptuousness for the moment- until they all reconvene after the summer.  It has become more interesting for jewellery designers and bloggers since the more important jewellery houses were allowed to exhibit their new High Jewellery Collections there.  And it seems that we have a glut of wheat!

The Place Vendôme in Paris, planted with wheat to celebrate the launch of Chanel's new collection, by the artist Gad Weil.

No less than three jewellery houses- Chanel, Chaumet and Boucheron- each unveiled three separate collections including the theme of wheat.  As these projects are guarded with sphinx-like secrecy, the similarities can only be coincidental.  Even so, I’m not sure I would want to be in any of the designers’ shoes right now as each collection was fanfared across the Place Vendôme to the gaze of collectors and commentators.  Chanel created enormous impact by planting the Place Vendome with golden wheat, an installation by artist Gad Weil.  Their Blé de Chanel Collection is a kaleidoscopic array of coloured stones, rendering the humble yet essential plant in a myriad of precious and semi precious stones; some of the pieces have retained that Coco-esque look of diamonds and pearls has stood the test of time.

Boucheron's Blé d’Étè diamond necklace.  Its asymmetric line is inspired by its heritage pieces.

Boucheron have looked yet again to their vast, marvellous archive; their Blé d’Étè wheat pieces are part of a set called Nature Triomphante and belong to the new 26 Vendôme High Jewellery Collection.  The asymmetric necklace is redolent of neckpieces from the 19th century and is a classic that will almost certainly never date.  They have also created two remarkable diamond set wristwatches in cream and black, also part of the Blé d’Étè line.

Chaumet’s offering is also part of a collection inspired by nature, but their interpretation is more mythological.  The wheat parure is one of four, the other three designed around the laurel, the oak and the lys, all plants which attributed certain powers to the ancient gods.  The collection is called (rather blandly) Les Natures de Chaumet.  But it is lovely to see how nature can be reinterpreted again and again and the laurel necklace in pink sapphires, which draws on the legend of Apollo and Daphne, is a joy to behold. 

The wheat and laurel tiara of the Tsarina Maria Fedorovna of Russia.  The original was dismantled and this replica, now on show at the Kremlin Armoury Museum, was made by the Soviets.

All three houses have strong links to the wheat sheaf; Coco Chanel was a fan of the motif and wheat aigrettes, tiaras and brooches feature heavily the Boucheron and Chaumet archives.  It was popular in the 19th century as a symbol of plenty (very apt for Couture Week).  Queen Elizabeth II often wears a very pretty pair of wheat sheaf brooches passed down from Queen Victoria and one of the most famous wheat jewels is the diadem of the Empress Marie Fedorovna of Russia.  The original was lost, but a near perfect replica was made by the Soviets (ironically) and is now on view at the Kremlin Armoury Museum

Detail of Chaumet's wheat sheaf necklace, part of their Natures de Chaumet High Jewellery collection.


The 1902 Rocaille Egg given to Varvara Kelch by her husband.

The dollar princesses who married into European nobility at the turn of the last century have been well documented; they have a Russian counterpart who spent so prodigiously and collected jewellery so assiduously that it is a marvel that her existence was not really noted until the 1970s.  Her name was Varvara Kelch.  Born Varvara Petrovna Bazanova, her exact date of birth is unknown, but she married in 1892 at the age of around 20, a minor nobleman called Nicholas Kelch.  She was the sole heiress of a vast fortune founded by her grandfather that included gold mines, railways and a maritime transport company.  Nicholas died two years after they were married and the Kelchs, eager to keep all that lovely money in the family, somehow managed to convince her to marry her brother in law, Alexander.  In a move that was astonishingly forward for the age, the marriage contract specified that Varvara not only keep ownership of her fortune, but also the management it.

The somewhat gloomy Neo Gothic mansion the Kelchs built themselves in St. Petersburg. 

The second marriage was not happy; for five years, the Kelchs lived in separate houses, she in Moscow he in St. Petersburg.  In the meantime they built a monolith of a neo-Gothic house in St. Petersburg, in which they finally lived together for 7 years.  The Kelchs have become famous because of the seven Faberge Easter Eggs Alexander commissioned for his wife during this time.  Epitomising the craft and design for which Faberge was famous, these eggs were catalogued as Imperial until the discovery of the Kelch name in the Faberge archives in 1970.  The couple more or less decided to call it quits in 1905, and Varvara moved to Paris, Faberge eggs and all.  The reason her compulsive spending is known of at all is because of the meticulously kept Boucheron archives.  It is recorded that between 1897 and 1924 she spent a staggering 7,169,000 francs at Boucheron, a sum that would even have made a Grand Duke blush.  Varvara spent only on precious stones, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls; she bought, collected, re-set, re-designed, sold and acquired some more.  She celebrated the end of the First World War by buying an 8.3 carat ruby.  This spending pattern suggests that her patronage was probably not exclusive to Boucheron, so towards the end of her life her knowledge of jewellery must have reached professional standards.

Archive photograph of a diamond necklace Varvara Kelch bought from Boucheron at the turn of the 20th century.  After she died, her jewellery was never seen again.

Varvara sold her Faberge Eggs probably towards the end of the war; she had no financial worries, so we can only speculate that by then she found them old fashioned- with the arrival of monochrome and Art Deco, a view held by many people.  Let’s not forget that Consuelo Vanderbilt donated her Faberge Easter Egg to be raffled at (it must be said very exclusive) a charity bazaar.  Varvara Kelch peters out of sight in 1924, the date of her last recorded jewellery purchase.  It is not known when or where she died and her magnificent jewels were never seen again; we only catch a glimpse of her through jewellery ledgers.  Her ex-husband, Alexander, survived the Russian Revolution only to be swallowed up by the Gulag system in 1930.

The 12 Panel Egg of 1899, commissioned from Faberge by Alexander Kelch as a gift for his wife.  This piece is now housed in the Royal Collection.


The Delilah Necklace by Boucheron, in 18 carat yellow gold and diamonds.

As I walked through Bond Street yesterday, I saw in their bright, white window the Delilah necklace.  Since its creation, it has been one of my favourite pieces of jewellery.  It was designed by Solange Azagury Partridge as part of the Dangerous Beauty collection, the collection with which she debuted her tenure as Creative Director of the maison in 2002.

It was inspired by an archive piece over 100 years old: a pearl and diamond drape necklace bought by the Grand Duke Vladimir in 1883.  True to form, Boucheron updated the piece by removing the pearls and replacing it with gold and diamond fringing, which did not compromise the original, playful nature of the piece.  The updated version is about 1.2 metres long, made with over 200 grams of eighteen carat gold.  The modern Delilah necklace is also made out of knitted gold fabric, the threads of which are cut on an angle.  These tiny facets catch and reflect the light in an entrancing manner.  As it has no clasp, the necklace can be worn in many different and imaginative ways- even in the hair as a seriously upmarket headband.

The name of the necklace is highly appropriate, as it instantly brings to mind the Biblical image of Delilah shearing off Samson’s golden locks as she cradled him in his sleep.

Boucheron have also created a bang-on trend version in rose gold and for those who want to be less glitzy, Delilah is also available with no diamonds.  But for me there is no contest: who wouldn’t want to be caressed in diamonds and gold?

Archive photograph of the pearl and gold wrap necklace bought by the Grand Duke Vladimir in 1883, which inspired the Delilah necklace.