Any discussion of the history of jewellery, large diamonds and important coloured gemstones will always weave its way to France, specifically Paris and its illustrious Place Vendôme. That being said, it casts a long shadow and perhaps disguises many other jewellery design talents who deserve equal attention. I hope you agree that the women described below – and the jewellers mentioned in part two of our ‘French Jewellers Focus’ – continue the long and entwined history of France and jewellery design with great aplomb.
Founded in 1992, the house of Brigitte Ermel is recognised for its use of generously sized gems with the most saturated colours and refined cuts. Based at her atelier on Rue Saint-Honoré, Brigitte showcases her independent spirit and strong will, which she associates with her roots in Brittany, through her jewels that are evocative of “the sea, the stars and the natural world”. Brigitte designed her first original pieces at the age of 28 and since then she’s been at the helm of an eponymous ‘Creation Studio’ and high jewellery workshop. The House’s collections are transportive: Océane takes us to the depths of the sea with Paraiba tourmalines and aquamarines, while her Médaillons and Jardin Secret high jewellery collections burst with materials, including jade, chalcedony, Tahitian pearls and copper tourmaline.
As she is descended from a long line of lapidarists and gem dealers, it is unsurprising that Isabelle Langlois has emerged as a jeweller of distinction with a real soft spot for minerals in rainbow hues. Her signature is the tonal mixing of gems, creating canvases of autumn, rainbow and forest green shades in sometimes kaleidoscopic pavé arrangements. The jewellery collections that emerge from her workshop are inspired by petals, lotus flowers, butterflies and even the sugary sweetness of macarons, and set with large faceted gems, like blue topaz, citrine, amethyst and prasiolite, or suspended with smooth chalcedony drops, garnet domes and moonstone cabochons. Alongside Isabelle, her brothers and cousins are also continuing the family tradition of gem cutting, which dates back more than a century ago.
There’s a precision to the way Franco-Swiss jeweller Alice Fournier uses coloured gemstones in her designs, so much so that one can almost sense the thought processes the designer must have had when selecting, setting and finishing a piece! Raised on the shore of Lake Geneva, Alice studied gemmology at the Gemological Institute of America in New York and later moved to Paris to hone her jewellery-making techniques, from hand-drawing to manufacturing. Through her pieces she tells stories with two protagonists –coloured gemstones and unusual settings – which is especially notable in the Victoria ring with a deep green emerald, white gold rub-over and claw setting and smattering of champagne diamonds. The fan-shaped Toba earrings with Burmese red spinels, Akoya pearls and diamonds in 18k rose gold are especially evocative of the designer’s signature aesthetic: refined, feminine and proudly colourful.
Recognised for her dedication to the miniaturised art of ring-making, Hélène Courtaigne Delalande spent 10 years working in advertising at one of Paris’ most prestigious firms before setting a new course in jewellery design - her ultimate passion. Her trademark combination of matt gold and polished gold gives pieces a historic, talismanic quality, which is contrasted against the contemporary variety of gems in her arsenal and her unusual settings. Importantly, Hélène creates all her pieces herself, so their eventual wearer can be assured of her personal touch. And, for those who prefer maximalism over minimalism, this French talent can deliver with shapely and organic designs that confidently do away with compasses, rulers and strictly geometric forms. Within her new collection, jewellery lovers can choose from rings with slices of Australian opal, tourmalines, spessartite and ‘lychee’ garnets, and indicolite and Paraiba tourmalines.
Sophie Hoehlinger’s passionate belief in the spirituality and powerful properties of gemstones is what guides her fine jewellery creation and underpins the ethos of her brand, Hoehl’s. Her Genesis collection, for example, brought to life in collaboration with jewellery artisans Frédéric Mané and Jothi Seroj, contains pieces “aligned with every Energy Centre in our body: protection, energy, appeasement, harmony, creativity”. This manifests in rough crystals of tourmaline, Colombian emerald and yellow beryl, large boulder opals and even fragments of meteorites, set in dynamic pendant designs that would no doubt be conversation starters. These three-dimensional art pieces aren’t simply about beauty, they’re a homage to the earth encapsulated in gold and created to reinvigorate their wearer’s energy. No matter your personal beliefs, each piece is a miniature objet d’art that’s beautifully unique.
These designers all speak the same language and yet the linguistics of their design styles are remarkably diverse. Herein lies one of the most exciting things about French jewellery making – it’s rooted in centuries of tradition and, yet, it still has the scope to surprise.