The Histoire de Style, New Maharajahs collection provides a whimsical revisit of one of Boucheron’s most significant moments. Artistic director Claire Choisne tells us why she’s so inspired by the archival designs.
At the beginning of every year, Boucheron’s artistic director Claire Choisne takes a stroll down memory lane to rediscover and bring to life once more a part of the house’s heritage. For the latest Histoire de Style collection, it was the story of the Maharajah of Patiala that caught her eye.
The special order placed in 1928 by the Maharajah at Boucheron’s Place Vendôme boutique remains the largest in the brand’s history, replete with magnificent stones: diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls by the thousands.
Louis Boucheron at the time imagined 149 designs for this most important client.
Now, Choisne has taken inspiration from the original designs, transposing them for the 21st century and reinventing them for the kings and queens of today.
Was it a challenge to reinvent the Maharajah’s jewellery for the 21st century?
That’s a good question, because it’s really important for us to pay tribute to our past. I’m quite lucky to have all these sketches in the archives, but I wanted to avoid doing the same things. It’s really important for me to be sure that the collection is for today, even if it’s inspired by the past. So for this collection, I was impressed by two things.
The first was the size – it was designed for men and the Maharajah was almost 2 metres tall. He was a really big guy. But those pieces, like the belts, won’t be easy to wear today. So we played with the scale of the drawing. I took a drawing of a necklace and kept the design as it is, but we reduced the size and turned them into earrings. And the second thing I was impressed with was the colour. You can see a lot of green with the emeralds in the archives, but we wanted to give more purity to the collection. So we did one set with emeralds and everything else is white.
Even though the Maharajah brought the stones to Paris for Boucheron to design the jewellery pieces, while designing this new collection did you also find inspiration in Indian culture?
Yes and, you know, I didn’t have to work a lot, because I had the chance to go to India on two really interesting trips a few years ago for a previous collection. I was invited by the Maharajah of Jaipur and I had the chance to spend time with him, understand the culture and avoid cliché, which was really important to me. You’re full of cliché when it’s not your culture. So I had this information when I started this collection. For example, we did these bracelets that were inspired by the ones
Indian women wore during the wedding as a symbol of protection. It’s inspired by Indian culture, but I hope we’ve given it new interpretation in a Boucheron way.
How much pressure did you feel when reinterpreting such a legendary collection?
It was like a big mountain in the beginning, because I knew I couldn’t compete with the stones – they’re amazing. I had to find something else to express the spirit of this special order without the quantity, without the same number of stones. There’s also the comparison with the past. If you choose a theme that somebody has worked on already and you have to give your vision for something that works for today, it puts pressure on you.
Out of the whole collection, which was the most challenging piece to create?
I’d say the Choker of New Maharani. It’s traditional jewellery so, I agree, it’s not innovation or anything like that, but to make sure it fits well with the body and moves with the body, for me that was the most difficult to craft in the collection. On one of the drawings of the special order, I saw a lotus pattern and I loved it. So we used this pattern a lot in the collection. On the choker it’s like
a lace of diamonds.
So you created smaller-scale pieces, but you’re also unafraid to recreate bigger pieces, like the huge breastplates and belts in the special order.
I’m not afraid of big things. They’re smaller than the original pieces but they’re not small. But I think each piece is more delicate. For me it was important to have this delicacy in the details. In the past the big designs were perfect for a big guy like that, but today it’s a bit too heavy. It’s better to have some delicacy and purity.
Did you rediscover any old techniques to use in this collection?
We worked on sculpting rock crystals, called glyptique. It’s an old technique, so we didn’t invent anything new, but we played with the material. Glyptique is usually made on a mould or with precious stones, but we used rock crystals. We worked with a specialist on it – a glyptician. There are only two or three in France so there’s not a lot of people who are able to do that.
Are there a lot of transformational pieces in the collection?
The New Maharani Sautoir – you can do seven things with this piece. You can wear the full necklace, all three pieces together. Or you can detach the part at the end with the pearls and you can wear them as bracelets. You can even wear it as a choker. You can reduce the length of the necklace. You can wear it as a brooch. I love creating multi-wear pieces.
Even though the special order was for the Maharajah — a man — did you design the collection with any specific gender in mind?
I didn’t start by thinking of it. It was something quite instinctive. After we do the drawings, we put the pieces on different women and men, and when something catches my eye, that’s good. But I only see the aesthetic parts of it. I want a strong effect and I realised, for example, that brooches on men are super-strong aesthetically. But I didn’t start the collection thinking I was designing for men or for women. What I love is, I don’t want to design for men or for women. I want to design something great. And if they can match both, that makes me happy. It goes beyond gender.