Sir Basil Zaharoff, G.C.B. (1849-1936) was an immensely wealthy Greek industrialist. Born Zacharias Basileios Zacharoff Mugla, Anatolia, the only son and eldest of the four children of Basilius Zacharoff (d.1878) of Constantinople, a notary, commodity dealer, and importer of attar of roses, and his wife, Helena Antonides (d.1879). Although he started his career as a tour guide, by 1872 he was working in London where he married Emily Ann Burrows, daughter of John Burrows, builder, of Bristol. That same year, he was prosecuted for embezzlement of merchandise worth £1,000 and securities exceeding £6,000. After his release on bail in 1873, he fled to Cyprus, where he set up as a storekeeper and contractor. In 1881, he settled in the USA and became interested in ranches and railroad-building. After a bigamous marriage to an heiress, Jeannie Frances Billings, in New York in 1885, he assumed the name of Basil Zaharoff.
Zaharoff later became a very successful trader in armaments; but he also invested in other ventures, such as the Express Bank, a bureau-de-change he founded in 1891, or L'Union Parisienne des Banques traditionally associated with heavy industry, the Excelsior, the popular French daily newspaper as well as a company that was a predecessor to oil giant British Petroleum as he foresaw a great future for the oil business.
He also entertained close relationships with state leaders that brought him not only enemies but also titles and medals. In order to indulge his friendship with Prince Louis II of Monaco, Zaharoff bought the debt-ridden Société des Bains de Mer, which ran Monte Carlo's famous casino. It was the principal source of revenue for the principality, which he succeeded in returning to profit. At the same time, Zaharoff had prevailed upon Clemenceau to ensure that the Treaty of Versailles included protection of Monaco’s rights as established in 1641. This close relationship with France had led him to take French citizenship in 1908 and he lived sumptuously in Paris at 41 avenue Foche and subsequently at number 53.
In September 1924, Zaharoff, then aged 74, married María del Pilar Antonia Angela Patrocinio Fermina Simona de Muguiro y Beruete, 1st Duchess de Villafranca de los Caballeros, who had previously married Francisco María Isabel de Borbón y Borbón, Duke of Marchena, a cousin of the King of Spain Alfonso XII; she was reputed to be one of the richest women in Spain. About eighteen months after their marriage, she tragically died from an infection, which also made Zaharoff dangerously ill. After her death, he adopted her two surviving daughters and began selling his business assets and drafting his memoirs. Upon his death Zaharoff's country house, the Château de Balincourt, at Arronville near Paris, formerly the property of King Leopold II of Belgium, which Zaharoff had filled with works of art, passed to the third daughter of his wife, Maria de los Angelos de Borbón y de Muguiro (1895-1964).
ZAHAROFF AND BOUCHERON
Zaharoff was one of Boucheron's best client of the period, buying in their Paris and London premises not only objects but also watches, jewellery, pendants, necklaces, cufflinks and rings. 1909 was an important year for purchases, which coincided with his acquiring French citizenship the previous year. He first ordered a toilet service with a mirror, bottles and boxes all in a fitted case with applied coat-of-arms. He also commissioned the Louis XVI style gold tea and coffee from the Place Vendôme establishment, offered for sale. This unique commission recorded under Order no. 50019 comprised a large tray, a teapot, a sugar bowl, a milk jug, a large surtout, a basket and twelve dessert plates (sold at Jewels by Boucheron, Christie's, Geneva, 19 November 2002, lot 84).
On the 22 January 1909, Zaharoff added a coffee-pot, four coasters and a pair of sugar tongs to the order. On 3 July he also added a 'grape vase', a two-tier fruit or dessert stand and an oil and vinegar cruet. On September 30th, he ordered a case for this precious service to fit in his safe and on 25 October 25 he bought a matching toast-rack.
BOUCHERON AND THE DESIGNER
Boucheron was started by Frédéric Boucheron as as small enterprise in 1858. It grew quickly, winning its first Gold Medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition only nine years after opening. By 1875 Boucheron had become synonymous with the greatest luxury and finest taste. It was one of a few firms chosen that year to represent the French Luxury Trades at the World Exhibition in Philadelphia.
In 1893 Boucheron moved to the Comtesse de Castiglione’s old hôtel particulier, at 26 Place Vendôme, the first jeweller to do so. Boucheron’s early work was greatly influenced by the Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian treasures brought back by Napoleon from his campaigns.
The Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 marked the peak of the Art Nouveau movement and Boucheron was once again its master, receiving both the Grand Prix and Gold Medal for his designs. Frédéric Boucheron’s son, Louis, assumed control of the business after his father’s death in 1902, opening branches in New York and London. Under Louis Boucheron continued to produce exquisite pieces designed and produced by the most creative and skilled craftsmen.
The design for the medallions on this service were created by the miniaturist Fernand Paillet (1850-1918), whilst the goldsmith Gouverneur created the service to the designs of Lucien Hirtz (1864-1928). Born in Nancy, Hirtz came to Paris in 1878 to study at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs where he chose to study engraving. Two years later, Lucien Falize hired him as a draughtsman working also in the enamelling workshop. He created several jewels that drew high praise from clients, prompting Boucheron to hire him in 1893. He soon became the premier draughtsman and then maître d'ouvrage, working for Boucheron for nearly 30 years.
4 January 1909
Chased tea and dessert service, Louis XVI (Paillet-Gouverneur) =
Large tray 5,175 gr.
Teapot 1,065 gr.
Sugar vase 180 gr.
Milk jug 465 gr. - cost 13,182 francs
Large Louis XVI style table surtout 90 cm. long and fitted with mirror centre, 6,614 gr.
Basket L16 6,660 gr.
Twelve dessert plates 6,778 gr. = 47,366 francs
CL 3913-3909-3914 L114-L6 p1- total: 96,932 francs - 50% discount on the making
22 January 1909
Chased gold coffee pot L16 lapis handle 841 gr. - cost 4,892 francs = £550
4 gold bottle coasters with pierced border 1,654 gr. cost 7,758 francs
Gold sugar tongs 101 gr. cosy 905 francs = £8,944, 75 - 4,472 francs - L113
30 September 1909
Fitting of a safe for a gold service: box for teapot, coffeepot, sugar vase, milk jug, tray, surtout, 12 plates and 4 coaster, basket cruet, grape vase.
25 October 1909
Gold chased toast-rack Louis XVI to match the service = 3,274 francs
10 November 1909
Fitting of the safe: interior divided in 8 compartments lined with chamois on cardboard = 348 francs