Boucheron’s Jean-Christophe Bedos talks to PJ

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Guest editor Shaun Leane poses insightful questions to luxury boss.

By Shaun Leane

Boucheron has been creating tiny works of art within its jewellery collections for more than 150 years. Award-winning jewellery designer and Professional Jeweller guest editor Shaun Leane interviews president Jean-Christophe Bédos about the enduring allure of the French house. 

In 2008 I unveiled The Queen of the Night necklace, an exquisite collaboration between myself and the house of Boucheron. The one-off neckpiece was inspired by the fleeting flower of the same name whose buds only blossom at night and was created with secret buttons that allow the gold flowers to open and close.

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The Queen of the Night is one of my favourite pieces that I have created to date. It has an incredible story, is technically brilliant and it allowed me to meld my darkly romantic style with the heritage of Boucheron.

I have long been an admirer of the work of Boucheron and worked with its president Jean-Christophe Bédos on our collaboration. To me, Boucheron is the vanguard of art jewellery which is why I was delighted when Jean-Christophe agreed to allow me to put some questions to him about his thoughts on jewellery as art and find out more about the past, present and future visions of this exceptional and inspiring jewellery house.
 

Boucheron has works that span more than 150 years, which period do you feel was the most distinctive of Boucheron and how will you drive the brand forward?
Boucheron is a typical brand of the late 19th century. Its sources of inspiration are to be found in symbolism, Orientalism and Art Nouveau. The body of work from Boucheron is a constantly evolving, growing and developing thing. I like to go through the archive and truly look at the pieces that are part of our brand heritage all of which we are incredibly proud of. For me this brand has an incredible past that created incredibly strong foundations. However it also very important for us to challenge the future. Asking the very best in contemporary designers, jewellers and artists to collaborate with us on pushing Boucheron and celebrating the original Boucheron aesthetic.

I believe Boucheron’s jewellery is a work of art in its own right – what are your views on this? Do you think there is a crossover as to when a piece of jewellery becomes art?
Every piece created at Boucheron is a piece of craftmanship’s excellence, not a piece of art. Our high jewellery collections combine a depth of knowledge with the attention to detail and passion needed to create such a one-off piece. Hence, our customers regularly travel to Paris in order to preview our new high jewellery pieces as a lot of them are keen collectors. Yet, Boucheron’s jewellery is not exactly about art, it is about arts and crafts.

Do you think the term jewellery is undergoing a transformation?
Jewellery has meant different things to different cultures for centuries. It is not a static word but an evolving, constantly changing art form. I think there is and always has been a true connoisseur of jewellery who helps push us to redefine the art of body adornment further every day.

You once sent staff at Boucheron on an art refresher course . Why did you feel that was necessary and did it benefit the creative output of the house?
It is important for Boucheron to support our creative minds behind our new collections and my job is it to keep them engaged in their work and to keep up their passion. Art is a really important ingredient to our work, therefore it felt right to reconnect them with the origins of our work which of course benefited the company. I also like the challenge of them working in different media. We are about colour, artistic expression and creativity. What better way to appreciate this than through different art forms.

When it comes to valuing a piece of jewellery, its worth is often judged by the sizes of stones. Do you feel a piece of jewellery can outsell its equal by its concept, craftsmanship and design alone, just like art?
For me creative expression should be valued more highly than the weight of a stone. With a piece of jewellery, it is slightly different as the stone is the heart of the piece, especially if we are talking about high jewellery. However there is a similarity in jewellery. Like a piece of art, part of the value is based on the rarity and creativity used in the piece. The brand style is its signature. The brand value is its style. This is what matters over decades and centuries.

Do you have an archive of works that you would never sell? If so, are there plans for a great exhibition?
We have some very special pieces in our archives. We are participating in some exhibitions throughout the year all over the world as it is important for us that our customer gets the chance to indulge into the past glories of the world of Boucheron and see how much we celebrate our heritage within our current collections.

You studied in London but are based in Paris, how do you find the difference between the two cities in terms of jewellery offers and jewellery collectors?
The appreciation of truly beautiful jewellery can take place in many different corners of the globe. For me London represents the best of the modern mixed with a true appreciation of the best of vintage jewellery. It also still has a vibrant jewellery trade with gem dealers from all over the world coming to London to trade stones. Paris is about premium craftsmanship celebrated at the heart of the city and for us it will always be special as we are the only jeweller still creating jewellery in Place Vendôme.

Boucheron has been crafting wonderful jewellery for more than 150 years – what is it about the brand that still captures the imagination of the jewellery shopper?
I think when you walk into the world of Boucheron you walk into an environment that has been graced by kings, Maharajhas and movie stars, and as a customer of Boucheron we treat everyone with the same respect and appreciation. But at the end of the day this magic is only in our jewellery – as long as we create pieces that delight, enthral and captivate the hearts of our customers we are doing our job.

What effect do you feel the past years of recession is having on jewellery design today?
It brings you total focus. You have to have a totally unique product, exquisitely executed and perfectly presented. If you are not operating at your very best at a difficult time then when the customer is looking for a moment of escape from the real world and wants to step into a world of magic, why would they come to you?

What do you feel is the mood of consumers in the luxury sector as we move into 2011?
We believe 2011 will be a year of reinvesting, recreating and new adventures. Although we are not quite through our recession as yet, people are adventurous and willing to invest. At Boucheron we have some great new collections up our sleeves and we are looking for a positive and inspiring start to the New Year with our new high jewellery collection launching during the couture shows in Paris.

Is Boucheron forging ahead with previously reported plans to open more stores around the globe? And if so, which markets are of interest to you and why?
Boucheron is ready to expand and one of our biggest focuses will be in Asia. We are planning on opening new boutiques in China and Japan.

Boucheron has developed a 3D programme to allow shoppers to virtually try on jewels online and an iPhone application – are online and new technology becoming more important areas for the house?
Augmented reality is a great tool to bring Boucheron jewellery into the homes of new and existing customers. We are also selling our jewellery online which was a very important step for our business. Boucheron continues to balance tradition with new technology and using augmented reality was a great tool to make that happen. Boucheron has always pushed the boundaries of technology. The house has always been known for taking the raw materials of jewellery and turning them on their heads; making gold look like fabrics, making emeralds look like exquisite pieces of foliage, asking Marc Newson or the wonderful Shaun Leane to push the boundaries of our design. Technology is the new complement to the jewellery bench for us. We never forget the traditions but we can look at those traditions through new eyes.

We seem to see many fashion houses moving into fine jewellery, from high end to commercial collections. Do you think this affects the heritage of the jewellery industry?
There is room in this industry for everyone as long as the brands preserve their DNA – whether that is from fashion or a heritage in jewellery making.

Boucheron is famous for creating some of the world’s most beautiful and exquisite jewellery for the Maharajas, an iconic image. Do you feel such moments in history will ever be repeated in our industry today or in the future?
The jewellery we created for the Maharajas were very beautiful, special pieces created with the best stones in the world. Although those are memories of the past, we recently created an entire collection in collaboration with Guy Laliberte, founder of the Cirque du Soleil. INSPIRIA is a singular collection of fine jewels for keen aesthetes around the world who respond to the magic that only extraordinary things can encapsulate – the same drive and passion as for the pieces created for the Maharajas. We admire and love to work with new patrons of art but one should remember that it takes up to 15 years to train a good artisan jeweller. This is not given to any newcomer in the industry.

The last time we met, I felt that we both shared a great passion for concepts and designs. How important do you feel is it that a piece of work has a story to tell? And do you think this is what makes a piece of jewellery a work of art?
The story is everything. It is the magic that brings stones together in a poem. Whether it is art or not is up to you to decide but if you get lost in the magic of its beauty and it transforms or challenges your view point then yes, for me that is what art should be about.

Excluding Boucheron, I would like to know which of our past masters you felt revolutionised our jewellery industry?
For me Renee Lalique was a great master – he created something unique and beautiful and was a radical of his time. He literally put sculpture on the body.

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