Place Vendome: the one Place the Great Jewellery Houses Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet have called home
The coronavirus outbreak has been a great plague of our times but throughout history, Place Vendome, home of the great jewellers have endured wars, pestilence and recessions
There’s no other place in the world like Place Vendome. The cobbled stone streets of the First Arrondissement of Paris between the Tuileries Garden and the Opéra Garnier, are the closest it comes to being a capitol or temple of high jewellery and high luxury.
Jules Hardouin-Mansart, a French Baroque architect whose major work included the Place des Victoires; the domed chapel of Les Invalides, and the Grand Trianon of the Palace of Versailles, designed Place Vendôme to glorify the reign of Louis XIV of France.
Initially named Place Louis le Grand in honour of the King, the square was renamed a few times during some of French history’s monumental milestones – Places des Piques after the French Revolution then Place Internationale in 1871 during the Second Commune of Paris. Before it finally settled on its namesake for the former Hôtel de Vendôme, the historic mansion of the Duke of Vendôme, which was bought in 1685 by King Louis XIV to build the world famous square.
For over 100 years, the Great Jewellery Houses have called one place home: Place Vendome
Home to some of the world’s most prestigious jewellers, the contiguous facades of Place Vendome are no accident: Built before the actual buildings, Place Vendome was planned to house Paris’ most prestigious institutions including royal library, the royal mint, academies hotel, and ambassadors’ hotel but over-spending caused Louis XIV to scale back his plans and leave it to free enterprise and the markets to determine what buildings would be eventually housed in the famed district.
Indeed, these are tumultuous times, and French jewellers and luxury houses have survived many wars, plagues and economic depressions, when the coronavirus outbreak is over, the mention of covid-19 would just be another milestone endured in a legacy of many milestones. Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Chaumet, these are but a handful of names which have endured the tempests of time and in the century since, younger new names like Gucci, Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton have joined their high jewellery forebears.
While the square with its iconic angular corners are not specifically cited as an inspiration for the jewellery maisons themselves, it should not be a surprised that Cartier boxes and some Chanel watch cases bear a remarkable resemblance to this visual leitmotif. Rendered in the style of French classicism (the signature style of King Louis), characterised by the simple repetition of forms like semicircular arches and detached columns; long horizontals, and detached open spaces. The long rows of columns impart an air of elegance and grandeur, worthy homes to haute joaillerie.
Before the turn of the 19th century, when Palais Royale and the Ritz Hotel became the go-to stays for visiting aristocrats and royalty like the Maharajahs, jewellers began flocking to Place Vendome but it was the eventual rise of noveau riche American millionaires and Hollywood celebrities which cemented Place Vendome as shorthand for chic refinement and the first to cater to these bourgeois tastes? Boucheron, the oldest jewelry Maison in Place Vendôme.
Using his savings of 5,000 francs and another 95,000 francs loaned from family members, Frédéric Boucheron, the son of a draper family founded his namesake jewellery atelier in 1858. Beginning in an arcade in the Palais Royale, Boucheron’s eventual address at 26 Place Vendôme was selected for its optimal position – the most sunlight for his craftsmen and the best natural light filtered through the high windows for the clarity, cut and brilliance of his gemstones. Boucheron’s latest high jewellery collection is called ‘Vu du 26’ is named for this historic address.
Further up on rue de la Paix, Cartier has called Place Vendome home since 1899. Cartier has a long history of catering to royalty. Holding warrants from almost all the European royal houses, King Edward VII of Great Britain referred to Cartier as “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers.” The Maharaja of Patiala famously commissioned the creation of the Patiala Necklace in 1925 but one of their most high profile milestones wasn’t a commercial gesture or epic bespoke creation: instead, it was a gift of friendship: celebrating the marriage of American actress Grace Kelly when she became a Princess marrying Prince Rainer of Monaco, one of the longest European rulers, gifting her numerous jewellery including an engagement ring, set with a 12-carat (2.4 g) emerald-cut diamond.
Better known for couture, Chanel launched Bijoux de Diamants during another immense crisis almost 100 years ago – the height of the Great Depression. Even though most of the jewellery was disassembled after the exhibition for their precious stones, Chanel continues to be inspired by that bejewelled spark of creativity, releasing collections like Le Paris russe de Chanel. The collection was itself inspired by the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia. Exiled to Paris during the Russian revolution, the Grand Duchess and her brother, the Grand Duke Dmitri, would meet Gabrielle Chanel — the former became an entrepreneurial partner while the latter a love affair that would infuse her high jewellery muse with a hint of Russian opulence.
Marie-Étienne Nitot was an apprentice to the jeweller to Queen Marie-Antoinette’ and in 1780, having learned enough, Nitot founded Chaumet. While he retained the aristocratic clientele he accrued during service to Master Aubert, he rose to become the hottest purveyour of jewels in Paris when he was appointed the official jeweller of Napoleon I in 1802. Nitot’s ability to communicate French splendour and power in precious metal and gemstones was unparalleled – He designed and set Napoleon’s coronation crown, the hilt of his sword as well as many other pieces for the court.
He also provided the jewellery for Napoleon’s wedding to Joséphine de Beauharnais, and later to Marie Louise de Habsburg-Lorraine. While its modern history is a little tumultuous, Chaumet nevertheless navigated the trends from the Bell Epoque to the Romantic era, preserving its traditional know-how via one Master Jeweller and his six craftsmen, which guarantees the quality of its work. The atelier uses the same wooden workbenches from the last 200 years. The “12 Vendôme” was an exceptional collection created to mark the 26th Biennale des Antiquaires in September 2012
Dior is a relative newcomer to high jewellery. According to sister publication L’Officiel Singapore, Artistic director Victoire de Castellane dreamt up a breathtaking assortment exploring geometry in the language of gemstones, gold, and lacquer. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in the realm of high jewellery, Dior et Moi puts a riff on the classic toi et moi (French for “you and me”) style, which usually features a pair of near-identical gems set side by side in bypass, symbolising the entwining of two souls to become one. Napoleon Bonaparte famously gave Joséphine de Beauharnais a toi et moi ring as a token of his love, as did John F. Kennedy to Jacqueline Onassis. The asymmetry of clashing stones meets juxtaposed stone cuts to create a distinctive, signature Dior High Jewellery look.
A work of amazing haute joallerie for the newest kid on the literal block, Alessandro Michele channeled his curiosity and curatorial instinct into Gucci’s first high jewelry collection Hortus Deliciarum—Latin meaning ‘Garden of Delights’—scouting for the best stones to adorn his creations. Crafted by hand, some of the 200 pieces inspired by the mythical garden of delights debuted in the brand’s first high jewelry boutique on 16 Place Vendôme.
With their Riders of the Knight collection, Louis Vuitton paid tribute to age-old splendour, drawn from an immersive aesthetic of medieval codes and heraldic crests of chivalry. Each figurative work of Louis Vuitton’s latest high jewellery collection tells a story where the House’s many creative facets find expression. Worthy of wondrous Amazonian Princesses or mortal queens, each gem-drenched expression transcends time in a creation of eternal elegance.
Spread across two 18th-century hôtel particuliers, Louis Vuitton on 2 Place Vendôme has façades running along both Place Vendôme and Faubourg St Honoré, a legendary return to the the Parisian square where its eponymous founder opened his first trunk shop 160 years ago.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Alfred Van Cleef and his father-in-law, Salomon Arpels, founded the company in 1896 but it was only after the passing of Mr. Arpels that the maison would move into its flagship at 22 Place Vendôme, across from the Hôtel Ritz. Introducing Parisian cognoscenti to a realm of bejewelled flowers, animals, and fairies with delicate diamond wings and ballerinas in embellished tutus, it was the full hearted embrace of signature Van Cleef & Arpels whimsy by royals and the jet-set like Farah Pahlavi, the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Perón that enchanted the world.
For its latest high jewellery collection, Van Cleef & Arpels looked to famed literary star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet collection (above) whisks us from Paris to a city on the Adige River in Veneto, Italy; Verona where the fate of the world’s greatest emblem of tragic love continues to studied across the generations.
That said, what truly sets apart a Place Vendôme High Jewellery boutique apart is that most of her historic maisons are not just a luxurious commercial showcase of its latest collection; in fact many, if not all of them still have their heritage workshops where jewelcrafters continue to perpetuate the legacy of handcrafted haute joaillerie from the last 100 years.