Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, CEO of Boucheron discusses the new high jewellery collection and the plans for the jewellery house in the Middle East.
As one of the oldest jewellery brands in the world, Boucheron has a rich heritage and an impressive catalogue of some of the most forward-thinking jewellery pieces ever to be made. Since the beginning, the jewellery house has been dedicated to innovation and continuing to constantly push the boundaries of creation. Under the guidance of CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, the brand’s Creative Director Claire Choisne, continues to find new, out-of-the-box ways to create high jewellery pieces while at the same time having a strong dedication to sustainability and transparency for its clients.
With the Middle East as a key region for the brand, Boucheron is planning to roll out its new boutique concept over the coming months, starting with the new Al Faisaliah store which recently opened in Riyadh. This, along with the recent La Maison exhibition which also took place in the city, is strengthening the brand’s presence in Saudi Arabia, as well as the Middle East as a whole. As Boucheron launches its latest high jewellery collection Holographique, we meet CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne to discuss the latest pieces and the plans for the jeweller in the region.
We recently visited the La Maison exhibition in Riyadh how was this received and what can you tell us about Boucheron in the Middle East?
We have been working on increasing our visibility in Saudi Arabia as it is a country that is key in the region and key for Boucheron. As you know, we just opened the Al Faisaliah boutique which features the new Boucheron store concept and it is the first boutique with this concept in the region. And then, of course, we had this beautiful exhibition. We recently decided that it was the right time to have a reset on who we are. We wanted to reignite the storytelling behind the brand as we have moved forward quite a lot in the last five years and I think that our clients in KSA were really happy to have this event happening in their country. And we were super happy to have it taking place in Riyadh.
We loved seeing the heritage pieces on display and we realised how they are still so relevant today…
Yes, that is very true and this is why it is so interesting for Claire Choisne to reinvent them when she is working on the high jewellery collections. The purpose of our collections is to use our history to inspire new pieces and we have come to realise that a lot of our archival pieces are super relevant today. It’s nice for our clients to see part of our past because we were quite surprised that especially in Riyadh, even though the brand is very well known, it’s not as well-known as other French high jewellery brands. People tend to forget that we were the first jeweller to have a boutique at Place Vendôme in Paris and there is a long history behind us. I have been in the industry for many years so I am familiar with the history surrounding the brands and at the end of the 19th century, there were only two key jewellers: Cartier and Boucheron. So it’s nice to tell clients our story because they don’t always know the incredible history that we have. When clients come to Place Vendôme and see our flagship boutique that’s when they truly understand our history. Since the recent renovation, we have a full library where all of our books are on display and you can understand how rich and incredible our heritage is. I think it’s a given today that customers what to understand and experience the history and also the craftsmanship and know-how of what we do.
Tell us a little more about the new store concept and the image that you are starting to roll out across the world?
All of the stores in the Middle East have always had a super-elegant design, the history of this concept came from a classic, typical French hotel. I think the brief was good, but the way it was executed was quite cold. Everything was very white and in my opinion, too clinical. Something that’s very important to our company that comes from its history is that we want to be a human company. Frédéric Boucheron, the founder of the brand was a warm, incredibly friendly person and I couldn’t feel this warmth in the previous boutique concept. I wanted our clients to be welcomed like friends so that they feel at home when they come to our boutiques and that’s what I believe we have achieved with the new design. We worked with three different architects, one for the Place Vendôme store and two young talented architects for the international concept. The brief was the same and the young architects took inspiration from the renovated Place Vendôme boutique and exported this same idea to our stores around the world. There are key aspects of the new concept including the green marble and the white stone which are typical of French architecture, and even in the way we accommodate the clients is very unconventional. All of the architects suggested that we have a round table, which is something that you do not find in any traditional jewellery concepts. Historically, all tables within jewellers were rectangular because they were originally used to trade and deal stones. So it was important for people to be face to face when they were doing these deals. And this is something that has stayed in the industry ever since and that’s why in most high jewellery boutiques you see these kinds of desks. But I don’t want our friends and clients to feel like they are in a trading company, I want them to feel like they are part of a family and when you sit at a round table, you immediately feel at home. I like to invite our clients to come into the boutique for a cup of coffee and a chat and have the chance to experience the friendly environment.
Secondly, I didn’t want every boutique around the world to be the same. I have travelled all over the world and in many cases, you see the same concept in every destination and you could be anywhere in the world. We wanted to avoid this and to ensure that every boutique is different. So all of the VIP areas are different and it’s been very fun and creative for us. We decided to buy antique pieces and to have them in every store around the world so each one is unique.
Can you tell us a little about the new Holographique high jewellery collection – the vision behind it some of the highlights and what this collection means to the brand?
Claire Choisne, Creative Director at Boucheron loves to work with very pure colours – white, black etc. – but with this collection, I wanted to push her out of her comfort zone to experiment with colours. What I love about the way Claire works is that she doesn’t do anything in a traditional way. The classic way of working with colours on high jewellery would have been to select green emeralds or red rubies, or blue sapphires as many brands are doing. But Claire decided to work with light; because light includes all colours of the spectrum. She didn’t want to select specific colours but instead, she wanted to have all of them incorporated in some way. She found two ways to create a holographic effect like what you see in nature, in rainbows etc. The first is by using the opal stone as it intrinsically integrates all the different colours. It’s a stone that we love at Boucheron and you will see that there are many opals in this collection and they create a super interesting holographic effect. And then secondly, the team worked to find a technical solution to get a similar effect on the high jewellery pieces, especially on the rock crystal. It’s a very interesting way of doing things but myself and Claire have exactly the same way of thinking. We love to put a twist on the norm, to do things in a non-conventional way and try to find out-of-the-box solutions.
In your opinion, what are some of the highlight pieces from the collection?
The first most impressive piece would be the betta fish set, because of the incredible stone. Before the lockdown, in February 2020 I went on a trip with Claire looking for stones and we found this magnificent opal. Then the second piece would be the Holographique rock crystal set because this was the first set that has been designed by the team. What I love about this design is that in the last five years moved jumped from the traditional way of doing things in high jewellery to designing pieces without any drawings. Claire and her team designed the Holographique set by cutting slices of plastic to create a mock-up and I have been looking at that mock-up for two years. Every time I saw it made from plastic I have been wondering when they would make it for real, and so to see it finished now is really amazing and I love it.
How does Boucheron continue to push the boundaries in innovation and balance this with traditional craftsmanship and honouring the heritage of the brand?
Our founder Frédéric Boucheron was very innovative from the beginning. So when it comes to respecting the past, innovation is part of our DNA, so we feel that we have a duty to continue to innovate. We don’t want to be a brand that is stuck in the past because if we are just replicating what was done by Frédéric Boucheron there is no progress to the brand. So we feel that we still have to innovate and look at new techniques and we always want to feel that our founder would be proud of us. In fact, I am very close to Alain Boucheron who is a fourth-generation member of the Boucheron family. When I joined the company I wanted to meet him so I could get to know more about the brand from its family. Alain had been running the company for years so I met him and we became quite close. I show him pretty much everything we are working on and he is a great fan of what we’re doing. When we presented him with this high jewellery collection he said “Frederic would have been proud of you”. And this is precisely what we are trying to achieve. We want to innovate not just so we are innovative, but to ensure the progression of the brand and to push the boundaries of high jewellery. We are working in a very traditional industry and we want that industry to move forward and for us to be an example to others. Because we want to progress doesn’t mean that we want to destroy the past – it’s actually the opposite – we dive into the past to have the brand progressing on a creative level. The second very important thing is that while we love to innovate, it is never just for the sake of it. We are not a tech company. We innovate to sustain poetry, emotions and the dream and vision of Claire. So if we want something from a piece and we don’t need any innovation, we don’t do it. When we use unusual materials and techniques it is usually related to sustaining the dream.
Can you give us any insights into what we can expect coming up in the Middle East from the brand?
In the Middle East we have many different partners and the top priority today is to convince them all to renovate our boutiques. It’s a region that is extremely important for Boucheron, and it’s probably the region in the world where our clients understand the brand the best and I’m very proud of that, as it’s not the case everywhere in the world. But I do feel a little sad because while the brand is well understood and our sales in the region are tremendous, we want to accommodate our clients in our new concept. So the top priority is to renovate the network of stores in the coming years.
What can you tell us about sustainability at Boucheron?
We’ve been working very hard on that subject for the last five years and it is a very high priority subject at Boucheron. Last year we appointed our Chief of Staff to handle the responsibility of sustainability within the organisation and I made it a priority at the President’s level. I want everyone in the company to be involved in the subject overall. For jewellers, the main aspect of sustainability that we can try to control is the raw materials as this is 90 per cent of the impact that we have on the environment. Five years ago we set a goal to achieve 100 per cent of sustainable gold in our products and we have now achieved that. And we are working on the sustainability of stones which of course is very important but it is a little more complicated than with gold. There are two different aspects related to stones. The first is diamonds and the second is coloured stones. When it comes to diamonds the industry has been moving quickly over the past few years and I think now there is an understanding that we have no choice but to ensure the traceability of diamonds. It’s becoming a given and I think within the next ten years all brands will be working with traceable diamonds. We started to work on this last year and we now have eleven diamonds in our Place Vendôme boutique that are fully traceable and then all of our made-to-measure solitaire rings are now featuring traceable diamonds. From next year we will have a project to ensure that all of our diamonds will be traceable so each piece will come with a certificate giving clients all the information on where the diamonds came from starting with the mine and the rough stone, through the full life of the diamond. This will be a big milestone for us.
Then we have the subject of coloured stones which is a lot more complicated. There are thousands of mines in many different countries, some of them are very small and in fact, the stones that we are using at the Place Vendôme level are probably 0.5 per cent of the total stones that are extracted. So it’s very difficult to create a full supply chain with these stones for the time being because we select so few from so many different mining systems. Fortunately, the entire industry wants to move forward with this and we now have a group of high jewellery brands who are working together on the subject. In the meantime, each time we can find a stone that does meet our criteria and is beautiful and traceable, we will buy it. And on semi-precious stones, we have been working hard on Mother-of-Pearl. All of our Mother-of-Pearl stones are coming from one location in Australia which is a full-traceable, totally green way of sourcing the stones. So step by step we are developing different ways of sourcing stones.
What is a message you would send to your clients in the Middle East?
A big thank you. I am very proud of the clientele that we have in the Middle East so it’s a really sincere thank you to our clients for understanding our brand so well.