The French jewellery house of Boivin is associated with some of the most original and impeccably crafted jewellery of the 20th century.
Founded by René Boivin in 1890, it produced unconventional designs that proved popular with aristocrats, artists and intellectuals, earning Boivin the sobriquet ‘jeweller of the intelligentsia’.
Inspired by distant lands, Art Deco architecture and exotic flora and fauna, its brightest and boldest designs emerged under the direction of René’s widow Jeanne, who employed the talents of three remarkable designers, including the couple’s daughter, Germaine.
A brief history of Boivin
Born in 1864, René Boivin began his career at 17 as an apprentice goldsmith; by 1890, he had distinguished himself sufficiently as a designer and engraver to found his own workshop.
Three years later, he married Jeanne Poiret, sister of the renowned couturier Paul Poiret. The marriage introduced him to Parisian high society, and in 1905 he stopped designing for companies such as Mellerio and Boucheron to focus on private clients.
When René died, aged just 53, in 1917, Jeanne assumed control of the business, building on her late husband’s legacy to create superb jewels in collaboration with the couple’s youngest daughter Germaine and the designers Suzanne Belperron and Juliette Moutard.
When Jeanne herself died in 1959, Germaine took over, remaining in charge until Boivin was sold in 1976. Before retiring in 1970, Moutard had worked with fellow designer Marie-Caroline de Brosses to create jewellery that married modernity with tradition.
Semi-precious stones and organic materials
In 1905, Boivin created the first pieces in its ‘Barbare’ series, inspired by Assyrian, Egyptian, Etruscan and Celtic traditions. Anticipating the wave of Orientalism about to sweep the world of Art Deco jewellery, the maison designed avant-garde pieces such as this 1910 necklace set with five graduated amazonite scarabs.
Boivin was one of the first jewellers of his generation to use semi-precious stones and organic materials such as wood and ivory, laying the foundations for the company’s style of the 1930s and 1940s.
The ‘Corde’ bracelets below date from 1928. Featuring twisted strands of silver, and gold balls at either end, they quickly became signature Boivin pieces.
When Jeanne Boivin took over the jewellery house, she abandoned traditional ring mounts. Instead, each new jewel was considered as a piece of architecture, leading to classic Boivin designs such as the Clou (‘nail’), the Escalier (‘stairway’), the Toit (‘roof’) and the Bande.
One of her closest collaborators in the 1920s and early 1930s was Suzanne Belperron, a brilliant and daring designer who found inspiration in a wide range of sources, from Congolese jewellery to Brutalist architecture.
Belperron designed this ‘Cambodian’ bracelet in 1931, following the Paris Colonial Exhibition. It was produced by Boivin until 1943.
Her signature designs often incorporated large, bold jewels of spherical and elliptical forms, accented by semi-precious gems and hardstones such as chalcedony, rock crystal and tourmaline.
Flora in Boivin jewellery
René Boivin was passionate about nature and an expert gardener — hence the naturalistic recreations of daisies, lilies, orchids, roses and other flowers in his jewels.
The floral theme continued after René’s death. In 1937, a drawing from the 1900s provided the inspiration for a number of orchid brooches, the first of which was bought by Daisy Fellowes, fashion icon and Paris editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
As well as eye-catching designs, innovative techniques including the use of calibré-cut coloured stones — such as those in the Convolvulus brooches below — helped Boivin jewels to stand out.
This amethyst and pink tourmaline tree brooch was designed by Germaine for her mother’s 80th birthday in 1938. It was cleverly fitted with a series of folding plaques bearing the names of designers and master jewellers who had worked with her parents over the years.
Lions, tigers and other animals
The Boivin designers were also inspired by the animal kingdom, creating elaborate jewels that featured sea lions, tigers, elephants, lions, cats, fish — even shrimp.
In 1936, Juliette Moutard designed the starfish brooch, as worn by both the Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers and the French-born American actress Claudette Colbert. The articulated design allowed each arm to move in a way that mimicked a real starfish.
One of Boivin’s most famous jewels is the tiger shoulder brooch previously owned by Hélène Rochas, wife of the French fashion designer Marcel Rochas. In 2013, it sold at Christie’s for CHF677,000, tripling its estimate and setting a Boivin world record.
The Boivin legacy
After the death of Jeanne Boivin in 1959, her daughter Germaine continued to run the maison. The business then passed to Jacques Bernard, a Boivin designer, and subsequently to the Asprey Group.
The house of René Boivin finally closed in the 1990s, but its jewels — beautiful, innovative and always ahead of their time — are perhaps more highly prized than ever.