The history of Boucheron

Boucheron is one of the oldest jewellery maisons in Paris renowned for its creative style and characterful stones

Frédéric Boucheron was born into a family of clothiers in 1831 but broke with family tradition at a young age to open his own jewellery shop. So the story goes, having learned so much about delicacy in materials growing up, Boucheron began to work into the gold and precious stones the same suppleness he had found in the fabrics. In 1858, Boucheron opened his first Galerie de Valois boutique in Paris, under the arcades of the Palais Royal, the centre of Parisian luxury at the time. It marked the beginning of a new legacy, one that nearly two centuries later is still going strong.

Boucheron Advert
An advert for Boucheron in the 1980s featuring Wladimir, the Maison’s cat. Image courtesy of Boucheron

Success was immediate – and soon all of Paris was rushing to the door of his Palais Royal boutique. In 1893, he was the first jeweller to open a boutique at Place Vendôme: a showcase of savoir-vivre, savoir-faire and French elegance. It was Boucheron’s unique ability to capture the zeitgeist that led him to invent new ways of wearing jewellery. His success spread abroad and the order books quickly began to include the names of members of Royal families and, later, Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Boucheron the brand has long been recognised as a great sculptor of gold, giving priority to working with the metal because its magnificence is revealed when in the hands of the artisans. For example, among the Serpent Bohème collection, the animal is not represented figuratively, but symbolically, which makes the work of the goldsmiths all the more important. To bring the material to life, the chasers push the metal into shape using hammers and chasing tools. In so doing, the jewellery itself comes to life.

Boucheron Fuzzy The Leopard Cat stud earrings with emeralds, champagne white diamonds and pink gold

Whether in geometric perfection of design or in the purity of Art Deco lines, Boucheron has always displayed a passion for abstraction. An inclination for correct proportions, noble structures and majestic forms has influenced its artistic design and creation. Jewellery that comes from the Boucheron workshops is always creative and daring.

When Frédéric Boucheron left the arcades of the Palais Royal to start trading in Place Vendôme in 1893, he chose number 26 Place Vendôme for its strategic location between the new Opéra Garnier district and the Tuileries Gardens, where the upper middle classes enjoyed the area’s burgeoning opportunities: such as leisure and fashionable boutiques. The building itself, at the corner of Rue de la Paix and the beautiful square designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, featured Boucheron in capitals, engraved in fine gold lettering. And would pave the way for Place Vendôme becoming known as the Mecca of French jewellery it is today.

Boucheron the man would have much success: his first exhibition at the World’s Fair was in 1867, where he won a gold medal. This award was significant in marking the beginning of a long career: numerous honours and international recognition would follow. At the 1878 World’s Fair, the jury was impressed by the originality of the exhibits and Maison Boucheron won the Grand Prix for its creations, which included a sapphire necklace created for a wealthy American customer, Marie Louise MacKay. At the centre of the necklace is a 159 carat sapphire.

In 1879, Frédéric Boucheron and the head of his workshop, Paul Legrand, invented what would become a revolutionary necklace: one without a clasp. This necklace was admired by the members of the jury at the 1889 World’s Fair, who awarded Boucheron the Grand Prix for an outstanding jewellery collection. In 1900, Boucheron won the gold medal for his jewellery and a Grand Prix for outstanding innovation in jewellery. The Maison Boucheron won its last Grand Prix in 1931 at the Colonial Fair.

Boucheron Collier necklace

The maison’s shop, meanwhile, continued to flourish: the Chinese Salon illustrated Boucheron’s passion for faraway and beautiful horizons. The room’s elegant dimensions and made-to-measure mouldings on its wall panels made the Salon an exceptional work of craftsmanship. The deep red “Martin varnish” gave this mythical room – at the heart of the boutique at 26, Place Vendôme – a secret and intimate ambiance that was much sought-after. The Salon featured two window displays, one of which was a hidden doorway giving way to a secret space for clients who wished for extra privacy.

In the basement of 26 Place Vendome lived the Countess of Castiglione, sharing the Hôtel de Nocé townhouse with Frédéric Boucheron. She loved his creations and soon became one of the Maison’s most important ambassadors. She was also much admired, including by Napoleon III. So as to preserve her beauty from the harsh light of day, she only left her apartments in the evening, and would do so adorned in her jewels that sparkled brightly under the lights of the Place Vendôme. Legend has it that, when she returned home and was alone, she would spend hours contemplating them, fascinated by the magical dazzle of the splendid stones.

Another ambassador, albeit unofficial, was the maison mascot, Gérard Boucheron’s cat, Wladimir, who was a much-loved feature of the Place Vendôme boutique. The feline was perfectly at home, weaving through displays of jewels and precious stones. Wladimir’s presence in the private townhouse at 26 Place Vendôme added a genuine feeling of being in a family home. And he was considered to be a lucky cat, extremely affectionate, and would seek out the client’s gentle patting and stroking.

Boucheron Illusion ring

Ever since it was established in 1858, Boucheron has tried and tested different materials. The maison is interested in fine gemstones and exotic materials and incorporates into its collections lapis lazuli, coral, hematite, onyx, hemp and snakewood. In the 1980s, rock crystal became one of the jewellers’ favourite materials, chosen for its transparency with inclusions.

And nature has long provided an endless source of inspiration for the maison: over the years and across the collections, its diversity, aesthetic perfection and rich symbolism have inspired creations as diverse as they are outstanding. The maison’s own vision of Nature – Triumphant Nature – has always had an impact on its jewellery.

And year after year, to the delight of the initiated, Maison Boucheron has added to its collection of animals. A pioneer in this area, Boucheron works to capture the positive force of nature: more than just jewellery, the jewellery animals are talismans with protective powers. Whether realistic or mythical, they all carry meaning and are therefore named with care.

It was in 1866 that the peacock feather motif first appeared at Boucheron. The jeweller was quite overcome by the seductive power of its graphic structure and ethereal grace. More importantly, it was while they were playing with a peacock feather that Frédéric Boucheron and his workshop manager, Paul Legrand, had the idea in 1883 to create the famous Point d’Interrogation necklace. Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov bought it immediately. Since then, new interpretations of the beautiful feather regularly feature in the High Jewellery collections. This asymmetrical piece is of unprecedented modernity and went on to form part of the collection that won the Gold Medal at the World’s Fair in 1889.

Boucheron emerald earrings

From 1860, and for almost forty years, Russia’s Imperial Family formed a significant part of Boucheron’s clientele. The Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, the Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna, Alexander III and Grand Duke Alexei all stop at Boucheron every time they visit Paris, giving the jeweller’s name a strong reputation at the Russian court.

This is why, in 1897, Frédéric Boucheron decided to open his first shop abroad in Moscow. His strong reputation also extends to creating emblems of love. One of the most famous jewellery auctions in the world was held in 1887, at the Louvre. The auction of the French Crown Jewels was referred to at that time as “the sale of the century”. Boucheron, the only Frenchman amongst the attendance of the world’s most important jewellers, managed to acquire 31 diamonds and among them the celebrated Mazarin diamonds weighing respectively 18 and 16 carats, along with one of Empress Eugénie’s most beautiful jewels, for which the auction stakes skyrocketed. When word was out that Boucheron had bought this stone, the whole of Paris wondered who had given the acquisition order. It turned out that Frédéric had acquired it for himself so as to set it on a ring for his wife, Gabrielle, as a pledge of his eternal love. Ever since, Masion Boucheron has been the jeweller of love and tradition has it that the most passionate of men go to it to choose engagement rings.

After Frederic Boucheron’s death in 1902, his son Louis assumed control of the maison. In 1948, after she’d written “l’Hymne à l’amour” and to bring herself good luck for the song’s first audition, Edith Piaf bought a Reflet watch from the Maison Boucheron. Following the song’s huge success, she came to regard the Reflet watch as talisman. Between 1949 and 1963, she was known as La Môme (the kid), and acquired no less than 21 Reflet watches, one of which she gave to the love of her life, the boxer Marcel Cerdan.

It was in August 1928 that the Maharajah of Patiala arrived at number 26 Place Vendôme, escorted by servants carrying six boxes full of precious stones, including 7 571 diamonds and 1 432 emeralds. Impressed by Boucheron’s reputation and the special link the maison had established with India, he ordered an exceptional set of jewellery to be made up of 149 jewellery pieces with the thousands of diamonds, rubies and emeralds from his treasure. To this day, this is the most important and extraordinary order ever seen on Place Vendôme.

Boucheron Jack de Boucheron bracelet

In 1930, Louis Boucheron was commissioned by the Shah of Iran to assess the Imperial Treasure of Iran: a great treasure of the world, comprising the most amazing precious stones and extraordinary objects he had ever seen, namely a solid gold throne entirely set with precious gems and a terrestrial globe set with 51 336 stones. It took the new Boucheron several months to complete the appraisal and the final estimation was kept a secret forever after. Louis Boucheron and his descendants were made the official Curators and Guardians of the Iranian Treasure, which remains in Tehran.

Another notable customer, appearing 102 times in the maison’s special order books between 1876 and 1902, was Marie-Louise Mackay, a wealthy American who made the most impressive orders ever known by the maison. She first arrived at Boucheron with no specific creation in mind, simply asking the jeweller for an extraordinary stone. To express his love, her husband asked Frédéric Boucheron to secretly seek out the most exceptional sapphire to match the intense colour of her deep blue eyes. He finally selected a 159 carat blue sapphire from Kashmir that he had set onto a necklace, which delighted Mrs Mackay, who was then said to own the world’s most beautiful sapphire. Frédéric Boucheron had already understood that the beauty of a precious stone or jewel is above all a means to highlight and enhance a woman’s radiance.

Among the most well-known collections is the Serpent Bohème, which boasts an air of mystery. A captivating design, since first emerging from the workshop in 1968, the Serpent Bohème Collection has endured over the years to become as a Boucheron classic. The collection embodies the free spirit and the creativity of the house. Fifty years after it was launched, Serpent Bohème is being reinvented with coloured stones to complement the diamond-paved creations.

Incredibly, since 1893, Boucheron’s artisans have worked on the top floor of the Place Vendome townhouse. So as to enhance the radiance of each stone, the maison masters all of the existing setting techniques and invents its own, such as the mosaic setting, mirror setting and airy setting. The latter seems to magnify the stone, which appears to magically float in thin air.

As an ambassador of France’s jewellery industry, Maison Boucheron is committed to preserving and enhancing the know-how, skills and techniques of the industry. Recognised as an audacious and visionary maison, Boucheron values innovation at all levels from raw materials to boutiques in order to take responsibility for its impact on the environment.

Boucheron Churiyan bracelets with diamonds, mother-of-pearl, pearls and white gold

Since 2006, it has been a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), which is a standards-setting organisation that has been established to advance ethical, responsible, human rights, social environmental practices through the diamonds, gold and platinum metals jewellery supply chain.

Boucheron has been a part of the Kering Group since 2000, which has developed a Gold Code defining a common ethical gold supply framework for all its brands. The Gold Code also determines a system for the responsible purchasing of gold, the Kering Ethical Gold Framework (KEGF). The KEGF advocates a responsible gold buying process based on a system of traceability, with a cost that is acceptable to the brands. In 2014, Boucheron started sourcing gold through the Kering Responsible Gold Framework, which supplies fully ethical, responsible and traceable gold. It includes gold from Fairmined certified small-scale mines that respect working conditions, human rights and environmental standards. It contributes to the social and economic development of the regions where it is mined. The diamonds purchased by Boucheron comply with the Kimberly Process, which sets strict rules of trade between the signatory countries and bans areas where the trafficking of diamonds helps finance guerrilla groups.

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