As Boucheron marks a milestone and brings boutiques to the UAE, the CEO Jean-Christophe Bedos explains why people should turn their backs on stocks and put their money in luxury jewellery. What do you do to celebrate 150 years of one of the world's most exclusive, sought-after jewellery brands? You invite designers to come up with one-off pieces to mark the event and hold a global party that lasts a year, starting in Paris and taking in 11 other cities before a grand finale in Dubai.
"We chose to end in Dubai because we see the region as a bridge to our future," says Boucheron's CEO Jean-Christophe Bédos. "It is a crossroads between East and West, there is a cosmopolitan energy here. We see this party as not the end of our celebrations but the beginning." Fighting talk from a man whose company is selling something people don't actually need in the middle of the worst economic crisis the world has seen for decades. Au contraire, Bédos would argue. In fact, he sees the economic crisis as an opportunity for the company.
"In times of crisis people have historically invested in jewels," he says. "I cannot say whether this will happen now, but if people can't trust their banks, where will they put their money?" He tells me he has already had clients in Paris come into their flagship store in the Place Vendôme saying they "need something eternal to invest in". At a speech during the recent party in Dubai, he made a direct plea to the audience. "I invite you to forget about the stock exchange for one minute and invest your money in something of real tangible value, something that will not collapse tomorrow."
With the necklaces on show retailing at around Dh8 million and the rings carrying a price tag of several hundred thousand, we are not talking a minor investment. But Bédos is far too romantic about his product to view it as a mere financial transaction. "Jewellery is not just about money. It is about love, emotion, a sense of power, conquering someone you love, pleasing someone you love. And whether there is a crisis or not, people will always fall in love, thank goodness."
(From left) Beauté Dangereuse sapphire snake brooch with 298 emeralds and ruby eyes, 2002 | Beauté Dangereuse diamond snake bracelet with ruby eyes, 2002 | Jaipur pink sapphire necklace, 2004 | Chouette pendant in blackened gold, 2007 | Node brooch, 1883 Click here to see more of Boucheron's bedazzlement He describes a woman's relationship with her jewellery as something extremely "intimate and sensual". One of the things that attracted him to leave Cartier to come and work for Boucheron was the sensuality of the jewellery. "It is very feminine," he says. "I meet women who tell me they forget to take it off when they go to bed. This makes me extremely happy. It shows that the jewellery is not just about vanity, it is deeper, more significant, almost part of them."
Boucheron has been worn by such glamorous and celebrated women as Queen Rania of Jordan (who favours the Ava collection inspired by Ava Gardner), Nicole Kidman and Cameron Diaz, as well as the legendary film stars Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth. The French family dynasty was founded in 1858 by Frédéric Boucheron and four generations helped the brand become a leader in the high-end jewellery market.
Although there are now 40 boutiques around the globe, Boucheron began in Paris in the Place Vendôme, where legend has it he chose number 26 because it was the sunniest corner of the square and he believed the diamonds in the window would sparkle more brilliantly. Although it is now owned by the Gucci Group, Bédos says it is still very much a family business. "The ethos is still intimate and close," he asserts. "The company will retain that atmosphere, just like it has retained coherence in its designs throughout history."
Bédos is keen to emphasise the history and style of Boucheron. "I love the sense of mystery of the brand. If you look at our animal themes for example, the vast majority of them are silent animals. This is not a loud brand, and a lot of them are night animals. This nocturnal theme is something Boucheron has had throughout the years; a sense of mystery, darkness - even the corporate colour, deep aubergine, is dark. You see this idea starting with our advertisements in the early 20th century."
There probably is no average Boucheron client, although they are all extremely rich. Bédos says he has seen a noticeable development in clients in the UAE in that they used to come to Paris to shop but now prefer to buy their jewels at home. At the moment there are two boutiques in Dubai and plans to open in Abu Dhabi within the next couple of years. "We are just looking for a suitable location," he explains. A suitable location to spend the next 150 years.
(From left) Naomi Watts, emerald Cinna Pampilles earrings | Katie Holmes, Exquises Confidences necklace | Tilda Swinton, Giupure bracelet in white gold and diamonds | Nicole Kidman, Delilah necklace as hairband | Julianne Moore, emerald earrings | Queen Rania of Jordan, Princesse tiara in emeralds on black gold.