The jewels capture the rich history of a family that fled from Turkey to Syria and then on to Lebanon and finally Europe. We trace their journey
Kissing Stones jewellery and other gems of the silk route, by Boghossian
Grand auction houses pride themselves on sourcing unusual pieces from contemporary jewellery maisons to tempt collectors and connoisseurs. And later this month, an exceptional bracelet that flows with the fluidity of silk and is set with some extraordinarily rare coloured diamonds will headline the Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s Hong Kong.
The masterpiece is made from a collection of red, pink, blue, green and yellow diamonds that form dainty flowers on twisting stems. These, in turn, rest lightly on a mesh of luminous pearls. The design is based on a medieval manuscript that was on display in Stuttgart and was spotted by the Boghossian family. It took Albert Boghossian 10 years to assemble the diamonds and a further 18 months to produce the finished piece. It is a fine example of the daring things that this family does with precious stones.
The Boghossians are European jewellers that have been based in Geneva for the past 40 years, but have strong roots in this part of the world. The entrepreneurial family is of Armenian descent, hailing from Mardin in Turkey, where it is believed they were involved in the jewellery trade as far back as 1750. Official records show that six generations of the family, dating back to the 1880s, have traded gems and produced fine gold filigree and gem-set jewellery – first in Mardin, then Aleppo, followed by Beirut, until the 1970s, when fifth-generation member of the family Jean Boghossian moved to Belgium and his brother Albert Boghossian, the company’s CEO, to Geneva. Now Jean’s sons, Ralph and Roberto, are carrying on the tradition in London.
“The Armenian community is always on the move; it is inherent to our roots,” says Albert Boghossian from the headquarters of this small high-end jewellery business, which overlooks the Rhône river and the gleaming facades of Geneva’s big-name jewellery brands. “So that is our approach. We are always on the move into uncharted territory and innovation, as far as jewellery design is reflected. Seeking new ways of doing things,” he explains.
Kissing Stones and other techniques
The Boghossians make a point of developing groundbreaking techniques, crafting new combinations and beautiful illusions from high-carat stones. “For the past 15 years, we have pushed ourselves to be out-of-the-box jewellers, to really push jewellery design,” says Albert. The first innovation they dreamt up focused on the art of inlay, inspired by the magnificent inlay work decorating the Taj Mahal, which Albert visited in his 20s. “We thought how magical it would be to inlay one precious stone in another, rather than setting a stone in gold with diamonds around it.”
A cradle is scooped out of a larger stone so another gem can nestle safely inside. For example, a large blue sapphire sits within an aquamarine ring, or colourful brilliant-cut diamonds are embedded in a mother-of-pearl bangle. It took a few years to master the technique, and the Boghossians are constantly fine-tuning the process, adding to the intricacy by carving the base gem into Mughal motifs in the case of one pair of earrings.
The enchantingly named Kissing Stones technique evolved from this inlay method. “It is like two stones are holding each other in a poetic embrace,” explains Albert. This is illustrated by a ring with a pink diamond resting on a larger white diamond and reflecting its light. “Hard metal is a waste, so we remove it as much as possible to give the stones the freedom to dance and hold each other.”
In London’s jewel box boutique on Old Bond Street (the brand also has shops in Hong Kong and Geneva), Ralph Boghossian reveals a third signature technique for which the family is famed. This one is of his own devising. Les Merveilles is so sophisticated that it makes the diamonds look like they are floating in thin air. It took four years to develop and completely free the stones from their settings. A thin, almost invisible core of white gold holds round, brilliant-cut diamonds on each of its four sides, creating an uninterrupted flow of light. The technique is used on the Creoles earrings, wedding bands and a dazzling pink sapphire, ruby and diamond bib.
“Buyers want to be amazed by something new,” explains Albert. On display are other wonderfully unique pieces, like an 11.87-carat Colombian emerald that is held aloft on a ring by a bed of minty-green beryls, and an audacious necklace featuring precious emeralds inlaid into crystals that, in turn, magnify the pavé diamonds in the gold setting that lies beneath.
Boghossian has exhibited at fairs in Riyadh, Jeddah and Bahrain, where Ralph says customers enjoy a more personalised experience. “Today it is about a more considerate, more personalised service than about having shops everywhere,” the young jeweller explains. “The Middle East is an important market for us as a source of inspiration, and as a source of support and admirers of our work.”
Travelling along the Silk Road
Later this year, the Boghossian family will launch its first high-jewellery collection inspired by the Silk Route, tracing the path that the family has travelled over the decades. Albert describes the work as a dialogue between East and West: “The intricacy and femininity of the East, and the innovation and modernity of the West.”
It starts with a Chinese design that acknowledges the work of Boghossian’s Hong Kong-based creative director Edmond Chin, but is also where Albert’s father, Robert, spent time during the Communist era sourcing pearls. The collection then travels through India, since Albert went to learn about emeralds and gem-cutting in Jaipur, the Rajasthani capital renowned for gems. There are also designs that chart the family’s highly personal retreat from Turkey.
A recently discovered memoir penned by Albert and Jean Boghossian’s grandfather Ohaness describes his flight to Aleppo in 1915 from the genocide in Mardin, where his grandfather, Ovaness, had run a flourishing jewellery business. He found work there making bracelets and filigree necklaces, and then started trading in gems. He was only 25 but by 1919, had made enough money to open a shop in the city. Both his business and his family grew, and he was trading in gems all over the world by the 1930s. His son, Robert, went to China to source fine pearls in the 1950s, and the Boghossians became a leading supplier of natural pearls in the Middle East, as well as experts in high-quality gems.
In the 1960s, the family moved again to Beirut, where Robert’s sons were raised. From the age of 10, Albert and Jean spent summer holidays in their father’s shop, playing, observing and learning, before travelling the world buying gems and developing a connoisseur’s eye themselves. But the civil war and a devastating fire in Beirut’s city centre in 1977 destroyed the family’s shop and archives. “We fortunately were able to save the jewels and the stones, but everything else was destroyed,” remembers Albert. By 1980, he was in Geneva, beginning the next chapter in the family’s story.
In a nod to their history, the Boghossians established a foundation in Brussels, today run by Roberto and Ralph’s cousin, Louma Salamé. Impressed by the leadership, resilience and optimism of Ohaness Boghossian, who survived genocide and wars, and was determined to help the poor in his community by funding an orphanage and medical services, his grandsons were encouraged to follow the same course. The Boghossian Foundation now works on humanitarian and educational projects in the places that have been a backdrop to the family’s story, whether helping the victims of Armenia’s earthquake in 1988, funding a school for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon today, or funding a medical clinic that travels through the refugee camps.
Much like the jewels themselves, these projects serve as a reminder of – and nod to – the family’s rich and turbulent history.