Crystal Ball

Baccarat livens up its jewelry line thanks to a pairing with edgy Lanvin designer Elie Top

Baccarat is a venerable maison, with two and a half centuries of experience as a premier creator and manufacturer of luxury crystal. But while the company showcases its wearable designs in a small boutique in Paris, its jewelry line is less familiar to American consumers than the tableware and lighting that grace many a bridal registry.

That’s about to change, thanks to Baccarat’s attention-grabbing collabo­ra­tion with reputed Lanvin designer Elie Top, a man who understands that size does matter. The union between the traditional house and the edgy artist has produced a 12-piece collection, priced from $5,800 to $15,000, guaranteed to catch the eye as well as the light. Inspired by and named for bouchons de carafe—literally, the stoppers for elegant crystal bottles and also French slang for giant diamond rings—the pieces may be limited in number, but not in imagination. A large, clear crystal pendant drapes around the neck with ribbons made of white or yellow 18k gold; custom gold cuffs—only 25 will be produced—look like a child’s lollipop ring worn on the wrist, with one giant clear crystal mounted on top. Rings get the same treatment—should you eat it or wear it?—with a single gobstopper of either clear or red crystal.

The collection, says Baccarat CEO Michael Belleveau, will change misperceptions that Baccarat’s jewelry is defined only by pieces like the simple heart pendants introduced in the early 1990s. “And this collection almost exaggerates our values and capabilities. It’s very bold and very audacious.”

JCK caught up with Top and Baccarat’s VP of global marketing, Guillaume Gellusseau, to talk about the ease of their creative process, the challenges of working with crystal, and how they were inspired to take the bling out of the bottle.

JCK: How did your partnership come about?

Guillaume Gellusseau: We were really in love with Elie from the jewels he was doing for Lanvin, and when we met with him, we realized he was in love with Baccarat. He appreciated our tradition, and also saw the strong creativity in everything we do.

Elie Top: They said, “We like what you do and we would love for you just to imagine something for us.” At first I said, “I would love to do it but I cannot, I’m too overwhelmed, I don’t have time,” and then suddenly two months later, I was thinking, “Oh! I will just do bouchons de carafe!” The idea just came out like that.

JCK: What inspired the motif?

ET: I saw a woman who was wearing a diamond as big as a bouchon de carafe. I thought it would be quite funny to do this for Baccarat because it fits very well with them. For me, their jewels were too small, and I really wanted to do something sharp and shiny and close [in sensibility] to their chandeliers. So I asked Baccarat to see the real bouchons de carafe they used to do in the past.

GG: The idea was really to find a creative way that would be a statement for Baccarat jewels, showing how far we could go with the extravagance of the brand but still be true to our origins. When Elie said he wanted to do a real bouchon de carafe, like a lady’s big diamond ring…well, we found the idea crazy, but it was definitely in line with what we wanted. We then had him look at our archives, both the products and also the drawings from the past since we keep everything, including the sketches.

JCK: How did the collection evolve from there?

GG: We said, “Let’s start with three kinds of rings,” and then Elie had the idea after that to also do the bracelet and pendant. When we started, we were using a lot of clear crystal but after talking with Elie about the brand, we realized that one of our iconic colors is the red. So we said, “We will do the rings in clear crystal, except one design will be in red.” That red is so very specific to and legendary for us; you have to put some gold in the clear crystal, and it is the alchemy between the two that makes that color. Every one of our chandeliers has a red pendant as its signature.

Guillaume Gellusseau, VP of global marketing for Baccarat

JCK: How long did the process take from the first meeting to the creation of the first piece?

GG: I think we met over two or three months, then we got back the first drawings. Then we would send them to the manufacturer, and they would give us comments and we would share those with Elie. It wasn’t easy because Elie was working with Lanvin, and is also doing handbags for Roger Vivier. Trying to reach him two weeks before a fashion show is a nightmare!

ET: I think the process actually took about a year. I’m not accustomed to working with gold and ­silver—it was the first time I went to that kind of level of ­jewels. Usually I’m doing fancy, couture jewels for the shows, and I personally do those collections in three weeks. It’s not the same technique at all! ­Baccarat really took the time to do it the right way.

JCK: Does the time involved help explain the price point? Baccarat’s jewelry collection generally runs between $300 and $1,800. The pendant in white gold retails for $8,900, and the cuff is $15,000.

GG: The crystal was cut by some of our best workers in France. They aren’t workers, actually—they are artists. Then, you are working in 18k gold and at the end of the day, they are very expensive pieces to make. But the perfection is there.

Elie Top, who designs for labels like Lanvin and Roger Vivier, partnered with Baccarat for a custom line.

ET: For instance, there was one designer who took care of everything through the whole process, following the first prototype and correcting all the details. All the crystal is cut by hand, so it became quite a big thing. It ended up being very expensive.

JCK: Is that why you decided to limit the number of pieces and why they must be ordered at Baccarat stores?

GG: The pieces take a lot of time to produce, and in the case of the bracelet you have to adjust it to the size of the wrist. At that price it’s important it be custom made.  

JCK: What was the most challenging part of the collection?

ET: There were some technical problems because of the weight of the crystals, but Baccarat really accepted that it was the only way to make the project really beautiful.

GG: The size of the crystal in the ring is very heavy, and it’s not that easy to wear. You don’t want to get tired after only wearing it for an hour! We had discussions about it but Elie loves big pieces, so we didn’t say no. We simply adjusted and made corrections. This is why it’s so important for the designers we are working with to understand the technical aspects of crystal. There are certain things that can be done and certain things that can’t, and it’s crucial to speak to the workers, some of whom have been working for Baccarat for 30 years. Sometimes we will say to a designer that something isn’t feasible, but because they’re so keen on it we just keep working with the engineers and make sure we figure it out.

A cuff from the collection (and Top’s favorite piece)

JCK: Elie, is there a particular piece you are most proud of?

ET: The cuff is my favorite—it really is. I like the shape of it and I like that fact that, finally, it’s really comfortable. It wasn’t easy to do, but it doesn’t turn around the wrist, and it’s not too heavy.

JCK: Guillaume, does the result make you want to continue collaborating with other designers?

GG: I would love to do something like this every two years. We have other designers in mind. We like to work with designers who are not yet working with their own brands, or are working in the fashion world so they’re not yet famous. That was more or less true about Elie—everyone loves the Lanvin jewels but no one really knew that Elie was the one behind that. We like to take someone like that and put them in the light, and Baccarat is all about light.

JCK: Is there more you would like to work on together, or is this the jewel in the Baccarat crown, as it were?

ET: I’m really, really happy with the collaboration. I think we finally succeeded at sending something out that is very symbolic of the brand, too.

GG: Actually, we are working together on another project but I’m not going to talk about that yet!

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