Boucheron a collector’s guide

Boucheron: a collector’s guide

The jeweller Frédéric Boucheron opened his first shop in the arcades of the Palais Royal in Paris more than 160 years ago. Today, the maison he founded is a world leader

From the Palais Royal to Place Vendôme

The history of Boucheron dates from 1858, when Frédéric Boucheron opened a boutique under the arcades of the Palais Royal. His family were in the clothing business, and he transferred his knowledge of fashion to jewellery. 

In 1867, his innovative designs won him a gold medal at the Paris World Fair, and in 1893 he became the first jeweller to open a boutique on the Place Vendôme — choosing no. 26, so the story goes, because it was the sunniest and therefore sparkliest corner of the square. 

As the years progressed, the maison  added timepieces to its output. The Countess of Castiglione, the Italian mistress of Napoleon III, was a client, as were members of the Russian royal family and stars such as Edith Piaf.

Set of diamond and emerald jewellery, Boucheron. Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York
Set of diamond and emerald jewellery, Boucheron. Estimate: $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York

The Polar Star

Frédéric Boucheron was a true gemologist. He travelled the world in search of the best of the best: sapphires from Kashmir, rubies from Burma, emeralds from Colombia.

One such gem was the Polar Star, a 41-carat Golconda diamond that passed through the hands of Napoleon’s brother Joseph and Felix Youssoupoff — a Russian prince who married the niece of Tsar Nicholas II. In 1980, it fetched $4.6 million at Christie’s Geneva, a world record at the time. The actual diamond has not been seen since, but in 2006 it resurfaced — albeit in different guise — at auction on a Damien Hirst canvas that sold for more than $350,000.

Damien Hirst (b. 1965), Polar Star, 2006. Oil on canvas. 48 x 36 in (121.9 x 91.4 cm). Sold for $362,500 on 12 May 2011 at Christie’s in New York
Damien Hirst (b. 1965), Polar Star, 2006. Oil on canvas. 48 x 36 in (121.9 x 91.4 cm). Sold for $362,500 on 12 May 2011 at Christie’s in New York

The Grand Mazarin

In 1887, Frédéric Boucheron was the only French jeweller invited to the Louvre to participate in the auction of the French Crown Jewels. There, he acquired several stones, including the Grand Mazarin, a diamond that had passed from Cardinal Mazarin to a tiara belonging to Napoleon’s second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise.

Boucheron bought it for his own wife, Gabrielle, as a token of eternal love. It was later acquired by the von Derwies family and offered at auction at Christie’s Geneva in 2017.

Le Grand Mazarin, a historic coloured diamond. Sold for CHF 14,375,000 on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in Geneva
Le Grand Mazarin, a historic coloured diamond. Sold for CHF 14,375,000 on 14 November 2017 at Christie’s in Geneva

The Boucheron serpent

The serpent has been associated with Boucheron since Frédéric gave his wife a necklace in the form of a snake as a token of love and protection while he was travelling. Nature in general — flora as well as fauna — continued to be an important source of inspiration for the jeweller, as seen in this diamond and emerald Salamander brooch.

Coloured diamond and emerald Salamander brooch, Boucheron. Estimate $20,000-30,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York
Coloured diamond and emerald Salamander brooch, Boucheron. Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York

The Point d’interrogation

In 1883, Boucheron took inspiration from a peacock’s feather to create an emblematic necklace called the Point d’interrogation  (French for ‘question mark’). Purchased by the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia (the fifth child of Alexander II), it was part of a collection that won Boucheron another gold medal at the Paris World Fair, this time in 1889. The form remains important to the brand, which continues to create asymmetrical jewellery.

Ruby and diamond necklace, Boucheron. Estimate $12,000-18,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York
Ruby and diamond necklace, Boucheron. Estimate: $12,000-18,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Timepieces

A sundial invented by the watchmaker Rousseau, which gave the exact time at 12 noon, had been installed in the gardens of the Palais Royal in 1785. Boucheron could see it from the office of his first boutique, and he became mesmerised by the concept of the ‘joyful hours’ alluded to in the motto, Horas non numero nisi serenas  (‘I count only the joyful hours’), inscribed beneath the dial. 

From then on Boucheron began to create timepieces for special occasions, presenting its first collection of pocket watches in 1859, and wristwatches in 1885.

Lapis lazuli, coral and agate table clock, Boucheron, 1929. Sold for CHF 64,625 on 13 November 2001 at Christie’s in Geneva
Lapis lazuli, coral and agate table clock, Boucheron, 1929. Sold for CHF 64,625 on 13 November 2001 at Christie’s in Geneva

The Belle Epoque

Having studied the French Crown Jewels at close quarters for the 1887 auction, Boucheron embarked on a series of delicate designs that would come to epitomise the Belle Epoque. Business flourished — so much so that in 1903, just after Frédéric’s death, the company was able to open a boutique in London and an office in New York.

Set of gold and diamond ‘Delilah’ scarf jewellery, Boucheron. Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York
Set of gold and diamond ‘Delilah’ scarf jewellery, Boucheron. Estimate: $15,000-20,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Art Nouveau

After winning yet another gold at the Paris World Fair in 1900, Boucheron reinvented himself. He became a pioneer of Art Nouveau, alongside René Lalique and Henri Vever, creating colourful semi-precious and enamel jewels inspired by nature.

Art Nouveau enamel, sapphire and diamond brooch, Boucheron, 1902. Sold for €355,500 on 15 November 2018 at Christie’s in Paris

Art Nouveau enamel, sapphire and diamond brooch, Boucheron, 1902. Sold for €355,500 on 15 November 2018 at Christie’s in Paris

Art Deco

Later, Boucheron’s taste for straight lines and geometrical shapes led to Art Deco pieces featuring diamonds and a controlled palette of coloured stones. 

In 1928, the boutique at Place Vendôme witnessed the ‘order of the century’, when the Maharaja of Patiala marched in followed by 12 Sikh guards in full armour carrying trunks of precious gems — and demanded that the stones be turned into jewellery. Henceforward, Boucheron gems began to incorporate elements from other cultures, a tradition that continues to this day.

Art Deco diamond bandeau, Boucheron. Sold for $243,750 on 6 December 2017 at Christie’s in New York
Art Deco diamond bandeau, Boucheron. Sold for $243,750 on 6 December 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Post-war innovation

World War II was a turning point for Boucheron: with access to precious metals and gemstones severely limited, jewellery designers had to show rare ingenuity — and Boucheron reinvented itself again, prioritising innovation.

Set of multi-gem and diamond jewellery, Boucheron, c. 1955. Estimate $20,000-30,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York
Set of multi-gem and diamond jewellery, Boucheron, c. 1955. Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 8 December 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Modern times

Animals and flowers still feature prominently in Boucheron’s designs, while precious and semi-precious gems are now complemented by new materials such as PVD — as in the ‘Quatre’ collection. Since the 1960s, Boucheron has been one of world’s leading jewellery brands — rooted in history and driven by new ideas.