France has awarded its highest civilian award, the Legion of Honor, to Severin Wunderman, owner of Corum, known for its innovative Swiss luxury watches (with U.S. offices in Irvine, Calif.). The honor recognizes Wunderman’s numerous cultural and philanthropic acts, according to a Dec. 31, 2004, decree by Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic.
Wunderman was formally made a Chevalier (or Knight) of the National Order of the Legion of Honor on June 17 by Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, France’s minister of culture and communication, in a ceremony in Paris attended by government and cultural dignitaries, including the chief curator of the Museums of France, the director of the department of cultural development at the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the deputy mayor of the city of Menton.
The Legion of Honor is awarded by the president of France. Instituted by the Emperor Napoleon I in 1802, it is one of the most prestigious French awards and the country’s highest civilian honor, regardless of whether recipients are French citizens.
Wunderman, a naturalized American citizen, was born in Belgium but came to the United States during World War II. He is an avid and knowledgeable art enthusiast whose collections include works of French artist Jean Cocteau as well as many by great artists of the 17th through 20th centuries.
As his business success in the watch industry and personal fortune grew, Wunderman established and worked with philanthropic and humanitarian interests. They include the Severin Wunderman Family Foundation (which finances research into incurable illnesses); The Severin Wunderman Collection of Child Survivor Testimonies From the Holocaust (Wunderman himself is a Holocaust survivor); and establishing a Jean Cocteau museum (now closed) in Orange County, Calif.
Aware of the ties linking Cocteau to the French city of Menton, Wunderman helped initiate an ambitious museum project there dedicated to the artist. He has donated more than 200 of his own Cocteau works to Menton to perpetuate the artist’s reputation in his home country. These works will reside in an architectural showcase in Menton on the coast of France in the near future.