'Jewellery has always represented power'. Boucheron's Hélène Poulit-Duquesne Wisdom
The Boucheron Chief Executive, Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, tells THE RAKE why haute jewellery on men is not as outlandish or unorthodox as you might think.
Jewel-studded brooches that double as denim patches; necklaces created using algorithms; pendants made of the lightest material on Earth; gold and lacquer hoodie drawstrings; A.I. technology recreating the biological splendour of botanicals in sparkling form; the enlisting of brand ambassadors such as Alexa Chung, Mila Al Zahrani, Han So-hee...
To call Boucheron innovative doesn’t do justice to a jewellery house — founded in Paris’s Place Vendôme in 1893, which remains its home — that has become a veritable mecca for discerning jewellery connoisseurs.
With Boucheron’s New York boutique scheduled to open this summer, these are exciting times for a maison that can claim to be a — very important clients — that we have now, they know Claire: they’ve been following her and what we’ve been doing at Boucheron in recent years. Some of them have been collecting pieces from Boucheron that are super-innovative and super-creative.
Creating so many ‘firsts’ is a consequence of our history and DNA.
Frédéric Boucheron was recognised as the most innovative jeweller of his time. He won major prizes at Paris’s Universal Exhibition in the late 19th century. He was known as very creative, both in the way he was doing business and in the way he was designing the pieces in terms of technique. He really invented many techniques. game-changer in a realm where that phrase is often, let’s be honest, used indiscriminately.
Catching up with Hélène, and delving into Boucheron’s principles (and the Lennon-and- McCartney-like relationship with Creative Director Claire Choisne that drives the brand), it became apparent that Boucheron have a glittering future — in more ways than one.
The More is More collection was probably the craziest we’ve done in the last five years. It will be probably the most creative for a long time.
Bold is the future. It’s the way we want to do high jewellery because we feel at Boucheron that we have a mission to push the boundaries, shake the market up a little, and pursue a certain number of Claire Choisne’s dreams. In the last few years we’ve discovered that we have a bunch of clients who are really in the process of understanding what we are doing and following us in our quest for highly creative pieces and high jewellery stories.
In Asia we’ve discovered a new kind of client. Probably a little bit younger — their parents might have been more classical when buying high jewellery. This new generation, though, is more about the inspiration. They want to find more creative pieces while keeping in mind that craftsmanship and quality are the basis.
Buying jewellery is becoming closer to the process of buying contemporary art compared to classical art. When you buy modern art, in general you know everything about the artist, you understand their way of thinking, et cetera. These kind of V.I.C.s — very important clients — that we have now, they know Claire: they’ve been following her and what we’ve been doing at Boucheron in recent years. Some of them have been collecting pieces from Boucheron that are super-innovative and super-creative.
Creating so many ‘firsts’ is a consequence of our history and DNA. Frédéric Boucheron was recognised as the most innovative jeweller of his time. He won major prizes at Paris’s Universal Exhibition in the late 19th century. He was known as very creative, both in the way he was doing business and in the way he was designing the pieces in terms of technique. He really invented many techniques.
The Question Mark necklace Frédéric Boucheron designed in 1879 is symbolic. He wanted to represent the liberation of women, which is why it’s a necklace with no clasp: at that time, you needed to have one, two, three maids to put on your jewels. He wanted women to be free of that. Technically it was complicated to make this flexible necklace, and we’re still using the same technique in our atelier today.
Innovation should never be just for the sake of innovation. We are not a tech company. We’re not launching new smartphones every year. When we’re using new materials, when we’re using new techniques, it’s only for the sake of pursuing a dream.
Claire and I are both very creative, obsessed by the idea of progress and very keen on innovation. If something is not moving trends forward, it’s a little bit useless. It’s stuck in the past. Our duty is to continue to improve, to create new things.
We’re also obsessed with storytelling and with conveying emotion. And we are very free in the way we achieve our dreams. This is why we can push the boundaries, because I give total freedom to Claire to express her dreams. With the Contemplation Collection in 2020, Claire wanted to capture a piece of the sky. Eventually she found a material developed and used by NASA to gather stardust. The purpose, at the beginning, was aesthetic.
We embrace new technologies to pursue our dreams. An example is our Eternal Flower pieces from the Nature Triomphante collection, which involved immortalising real petals of real flowers with scanning technology that could recreate the exact proportions of hydrangeas, peonies, roses and anemones in immense detail. Through that project Claire and I wanted to give eternity to the things in life that are the most ephemeral. It took more than two years because we needed to find an artist who could give eternity to petals. In the end we collaborated with Claire Boucl, a petalist who creates incredible giant sculptures with flowers, and we worked also with University Paris VII for the scanning technology in order to make the flowers totally realistic.
We’re above gender. Our iconic Quatre ring has been genderless for the last 20 years, and we decided from 2020 to put our high jewellery collections on both women and men. We really initiated a trend, and it was totally spontaneous. It came from a discussion with Claire, when she was designing the Contemplation collection, and she told me, “I would love to put some of these pieces on men — it would be absolutely stunning in terms of aesthetics”. I said, “Goforit”.Why?Ihadbeenfightingfor20yearsforEuropeanmen to wear more jewellery, like they have for some time in Asia. The Owl, in our Animal collection, is bought mainly by men; the Wolf is bought by men; the cat is for men and women. People choose the animal that most represents who they are.
Jewellery has always represented power. The maharajahs, the tsars, the kings of this world once all wore a lot more diamonds and pearls than their wives. Historically, the reason men of the bourgeoisie stopped wearing jewels, and in particular in France, was the French revolution. So I was super-happy that Claire offered me a reason to put high jewellery on men back on the agenda.
It’s not a statement, just spontaneous creative thinking. We simply felt like it. We’re designing for individuals, because our job at Boucheron is to help anyone express their personality.
Storytelling and jewellery are intertwined. We tell historical stories genuinely, sincerely and in a way linked to the patrimony of the brand.
Is haute jewellery in need of an energetic revamp? Yes, I think so, because I love our industry, and I respect fully the tradition, the artistic way of doing things, and also the artisans and the way they work. I’m a fan of the patrimonial way of thinking of our industry. But I think that even if you have patrimony, you need to move on to create what will become patrimony in 50 years’ time. If you want people to think about what you were doing 50 years ago 50 years from now, you have to move things on, to continue to improve, to create, to bring new things to the industry.
To be creative you need to feel safe, to feel comfortable to continue pursuing crazy ideas. The weeks before we launch our new high jewellery collections, Claire can feel nervous. That’s normal — the world is about to see what you’ve been doing. I reassure her, and try to share any risk: “Whatever is happening, I will have your back.”
For the creative team and Claire, the pandemic was difficult but also inspiring. The Contemplation collection launch came at the right point because everyone was in the mood for escapism. We were in lockdown in France and presented that collection, which was like a bit of fresh air and very creative. More is More, launched in July — which included a diamond and onyx pocket and a jewelled scrunchie — was designed during France’s second lockdown. So Claire desperately wanted it to give joy to the entire world.