Madame Boivin: The Legacy Continues

Chic, intelligent, business savvy and ahead of her time, Jeanne Boivin was a force to be reckoned with in the jewelry world. When her husband René Boivin, died in 1917 Madame Boivin made a decision that was unheard of for the time: She decided to continue the Paris-based firm. That decision made her the first woman to preside over a jewelry house in France, a world that was dominated by men.

Boivin Pomegrante brooch, 18-karat yellow gold with emeralds, circa 1930s, courtesy Ernst Faerber.

Madame Boivin had been running the business-end of the company while her husband handled the design end. After working together for twenty plus years, she knew and had relationships with the artisans in the workshops and she knew how to run the business. Beyond that, Madame Boivin had a great deal of style and her own eye for design as well as ideas for new creations.

While she herself did not sketch, draw, or have technical jewelry making skills, Madame Boivin employed designers who had those skills.  She would explain her ideas and what she wanted, which were then rendered for her by the designers. A woman of great style, Madame Boivin  had an innate understanding of how to wear jewelry. She wasn’t one to follow trends (Madame Boivin was after all the sister of couturier Paul Poiret who set the trends) instead she created bold, sculptural jewels brimming with color. The look was so recognizable that Boivin jewelry was only signed if a customer requested it.

Not wanting to deal with the general public, Madame Boivin never opened a street-level storefront, relying on the reputation of the company to move the business forward. Instead she had a private salon for those in the know who found Boivin through word-of-mouth.

The Suzanne Belperron Years

Boivin “Moineau de Paris” Bird of Freedom brooch from a drawing by Juliette Moutard, blue sapphire and pink tourmaline set in 18-karat yellow gold, circa 1945, with certificate of authentication from Francoise Cailles, courtesy Gros Difussion.

In 1919, Madame Boivin hired a young designer fresh out of Ecole des Beaux Arts — Suzanne Belperron. The Art Deco movement was in its early stages at this time and the trend of the moment was minimalist — streamlined jewelry with geometric forms that was often comprised of diamonds combined with onyx, enamel, sapphires, rubies or emeralds. Instead of designing jewelry in that style, the two women forged a new look that was known for its innovation and color as well as its rounded architectural shapes, such as elliptical or spherical. In 1924, Madame Boivin named Suzanne Belperron co-director of the house. Belperron held that title until she left the company in 1932.

Madame Boivin, along with Belperron, created jewelry that mixed precious gemstones with hardstones and other colored gemstones, which was not done at the time and it opened a new path in design that set the firm apart. She also used wood, rock crystal and chalcedony, materials not generally used in jewelry in that era.

The Juliette Moutard Years

Boivin Starfish, one is garnet with bluish-green garnets, the other is peridot with bluish-green garnets set in 18-karat white and blackened gold, courtesy © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

After Belperron left the firm, Madame Boivin hired Juliette Moutard who stayed with the house until she retired in the 1970s. Working very closely together, Moutard designed and Madame Boivin supervised production. Over time the pieces continued to become larger in scale. Nature was an important theme for the design house with florals and fruits being two favored motifs. Wild animals and aquatic life were also favored themes of the company. One of Moutard’s most recognizable and also one of her most famous pieces, was the articulated jeweled ruby and amethyst starfish brooch created for movie actor Claudette Colbert, who was widely photographed wearing the oversized (it measures 4 inches by 4 inches)  fantastical creature. In 2019 Claudette Colbert’s starfish was acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Very few of these brooches were fabricated and heiress and model Millicent Rogers also had a starfish brooch in amethyst and ruby. In addition, there was a version made in sapphire and moonstone as well as another version made of emerald and aquamarine. The firm later made some of these brooches in a smaller scale.

Boivin Quatrecorps ring, diamonds and white gold, circa 1970, from a private collection.

Claudette Colbert and Millicent Rogers were just two of numerous celebrities that favored Boivin jewelry. Through the years, Boivin had built up a stellar clientele that included such luminaries as artist Edgar Degas, songwriter Cole Porter, neurologist Sigmund Freud and photographer Cecil Beaton among others.

The Later Years

Boivin 18-karat gold, silver and opal, leaf brooch, 1938, with certificate of authentication, courtesy Palais Royal.

René and Jeanne Boivin’s daughter Germaine joined the firm  in 1938; she took over managing the company after Madame Boivin passed away in 1959, leaving the business to Germaine, who sold the company in 1976. The firm continued to craft jewelry in the Boivin legacy until the Asprey Group purchased the firm in 1991 and shut down the business. It is notable that in 1970, designer Caroline DeBrosses joined Boivin, where she stayed until the sale of the company twenty years later.  DeBrosses had a bold style that emphasized voluptuousness and felt like a natural continuation of the look that Juliette Moutard had forged for the company.

In 2020 the Boivin archives was purchased by Geneva-based G. Torroni SA, a six-generation firm specializing in antique jewelry with an international reputation as leading authorities on precious colored gemstones, diamonds, natural pearls, and antique jewelry. The company is currently  authenticating and making special order pieces while re-establishing the business so that the legacy of Boivin lives on for a new generation.

Featured image (top of page): Boivin Leaf Brooches, 1930s, 18-karat yellow gold, diamonds, emerald, ruby and sapphire, come with certificate of authentication from Francoise Cailles dating them at 1938, courtesy Lucas Rarities.

Authored by Amber Michelle

René Boivin: A Natural Talent

A keen interest in botany and naturalism were prime influences in the work of René Boivin, the Parisian jeweler who shifted the way that jewelry was designed and perceived at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. His bold jewelry that countered the traditional fashion and styles of the era was considered quite avant-garde for the time.

Natural pearl, old mine diamonds, rose cut diamonds, silver topped 18-karat gold, by René Boivin, circa 1890 to 1900, with certificate of authenticity from Francoise Cailles, courtesy Gros Diffusion.

Born in 1864 in France, Boivin followed his older brother, Victor, into a position as a jewelry apprentice when he was just seventeen years old. René Boivin trained as a goldsmith and engraver and along the way learned other jewelry making skills in various workshops. He also attended art school where he studied drawing. In 1890, when Boivin was in his mid-twenties, he was considered a master jeweler by the guidelines of the time. He struck out on his own, purchasing a workshop in Paris that allowed him to acquire jewelry making tools as well as skilled jewelers to fabricate his unique designs.

Boivin was known for his exacting standards of crafting as well as his eye for design. The combination of those two skills made his workshops very successful. His work was in demand by other jewelers and initially Boivin was creating for other design houses including Mellerio and Boucheron.

René Marries Jeanne

Rose cut and old European cut diamonds, silver topped gold, by René Boivin, circa 1900, courtesy Pat Saling.

In 1893 Boivin married Jeanne Poiret, who was the sister of the haute couture fashion designer Paul Poiret, one of the most influential couturiers of the pre-World War I period. His clothes were colorful, flamboyant and daring, almost costumey. Importantly, Poiret was tapped into the wealthy, high society set who purchased his clothes. Poiret had extravagant parties and he invited his sister and brother-in-law. It was through these parties that René and Jeanne Boivin met many of the glitterati of the day who became their clients. René was the design talent behind the firm and Jeanne, who was an astute businessperson in her own right, took care of the more practical matters of running the company.

While Boivin produced the light, lacy white-on-white garland styles of the early 20th century and the sensual forms of the Art Nouveau movement that was happening concurrently, he also created innovative pieces with distinctive designs that broke the model of how most jewelry looked at the time. His jewelry was large and sculptural attracting a more artistic clientele. Boivin became known as the “jeweler to the intelligentisia”, catering to a sophisticated customer who wanted something different and developing an elite clientele of artists, intellectuals, foreign visitors and nobility who admired both his unusual designs and superior crafting. Most of Boivin’s pieces were custom made for his discerning clients.

The Assyrian Jewels

Assyrian style Silver brooch, by René Boivin, circa 1913, with certificate of authenticity, courtesy Pat Saling.
Silver pendant with cabochon amethyst by René Boivin, circa 1913, courtesy Pat Saling.

Boivin used lots of moonstones, aquamarines, sapphires, amethyst and diamonds. He had a knack for combining unexpected materials to break barriers in design while still creating chic, wearable pieces. By 1905, Boivin’s business  was such a success that he no longer needed to manufacture pieces for other jewelry houses.

In addition to botany, Boivin was also inspired by Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, drawing upon motifs from ancient cultures and making them into jewelry that appealed to the aesthetic of the time. Known as the “Assyrian Jewels” many of these pieces featured lion’s heads.

In 1917, at the peak of his career, at the age of 53 René Boivin passed away. The firm continued under the direction of his wife, Jeanne Boivin and flourished for many more years.

For more on Boivin, read next week’s blog, “Madame Boivin: The Legacy Continues”.

Featured image (top of page): Japonism style engraved dice cups by René Boivin, circa 1890, courtesy Palais Royal.

Authored by Amber Michelle