Dateline Paris: High Jewelry in the City of Light

My twin sister, Julia, celebrated her birthday in Paris last week, while I chose to stay home in Los Angeles for mine. (Despite being twins, we don’t share a birthday: I was born 10 minutes before midnight on June 30 and Jul was born 10 minutes after midnight on July 1.)

Although I’m more of a Rome girl, visiting the City of Light is a rite of passage for a jewelry editor—and last week would have been an opportune time. From July 1 to 5, Paris played host to the fall-winter 2012 couture shows, an extravaganza of opulence and eccentricity that makes New York fashion week look positively modest in comparison.

The focus of the week is clearly fashion, but lately, more fine jewelers—as well as the publicists, editors, and stylists who orbit them—have been flocking to Paris at the same time to take advantage of the critical mass of tastemakers. Harry Winston was in town, staging a “super sneak preview” of its new high jewelry collection. Reportedly, so was Cindy Chao, a talented Chinese jeweler whose work we’ve profiled in our pages, hopping from show to show and checking out the scene.

In all fairness, couture week in July is really a prelude to Paris’ real jewelry powwow, the 26th Biennale des Antiquaires, coming Sept. 14–23 to the Grand Palais.

Established by the Syndicat National des Antiquaires in 1962, the biannual event is considered the most prestigious European salon, attracting the world’s finest dealers of antiques, fine art, and jewelry. It is a Mecca for art lovers and collectors. This year’s director, Karl Lagerfeld, has promised to give the Grand Palais a Belle Époque period setting, only adding to its allure.

Over the years, the Biennale has become an important showcase of haute joaillerie, particularly for jewelers with a base at Place Vendôme. Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Dior, for example, all use the occasion to introduce extraordinary collections of unique pieces to the world’s most discerning buyers.

Judging by the selection of images that arrived in my inbox last week, Dior’s 2012 Biennale contribution is nothing short of epic. The rings, earrings, and bracelets that constitute the bulk of the Dear Dior collection are, in my opinion, as close to art as the category of fine jewelry gets. In this case, we even know the artist: Victoire de Castellane, the French eccentric who became the head of design for Dior Joaillerie in 1998. She recently told The Wall Street Journal, “In jewelry, I love strange colors and very bright, strong, almost fake color. Really bright pink, the blue of a tourmaline, and all different greens put together. I’m obsessed with opal, because it holds all the colors in one stone”—all of which helps explain the psychedelic combination of colors that distinguishes her beguiling 2012 introduction.

A bracelet from Dior’s 2012 Biennale collection, Dear Dior, in platinum and yellow gold with diamonds, spessartite garnets, tsavorites, rubies, spinels, tanzanite, and a fine Australian opal

Another jeweler to watch at this year’s gathering is Hong Kong–based Wallace Chan, who was invited to exhibit at the world-renowned event for the first time. I’ve been a huge fan of Chan’s since I stumbled upon his work in Basel about five years ago. A master of titanium and gem carving, he is a singular talent and well deserving of inclusion in the Biennale. I’m proud to say that you’ll find an original image of one of Chan’s gem-set butterfly brooches in the upcoming July–August issue of JCK.

That Chan, an Eastern jeweler who is classically trained yet very much of the 21st century, has been asked to participate in an old-world salon like the Biennale suggests that conventions are giving way to innovations. I, for one, applaud the change.

For most jewelers, Paris and the lavish setting of the Biennale may feel far removed, but there’s no denying the extraordinary work that goes on display there—especially every other September. If you’re in need of inspiration—or perhaps just some fantastic stories to share with your clients—and have some frequent flier miles to burn, here’s a crazy idea: Book a ticket.

A housekeeping note: I’m off to Europe on Wednesday for a much needed vacation: I’ll spend my first three nights in Ibiza, where I’m meeting friends, followed by two weeks in Vilnius, Lithuania, where I’m attending a writing program put together by an organization near and dear to my heart, Summer Literary Seminars. I’ll be flying from Ibiza to Vilnius next Sunday (via Madrid and Frankfurt) so I’m going to take next week off (the chain). But I’ll be back on July 23 with a post from the Baltic. Until then, happy summer!