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Claire Choisne: “Today, the purpose is style”

Ming Liu
April 15, 2024
4 min

Boucheron holds the coveted title as the first jeweller on Paris’s Place Vendôme, the spiritual home of high jewellery, where the Maison firmly planted its flag in 1893. But the advantages of “firsts” can often prove equal parts blessing and curse. How to honour the weight of history while agilely moving forward and how to entice the next generation without alienating loyal customers, are questions that any individual taking the reins of such a house would need to consider.

If such thoughts weigh heavy on Claire Choisne, you’d never know it. The creative director of Boucheron has been with the maison for 12 years – and in the jewellery industry for double that – but Choisne carries herself with an atypical lightness of being. In person, her Cheshire-Cat smile and almost child-like enthusiasm are palpable and infectious, exuding a spirit of openness and freshness that, most of all, shines through in her work.

Choisne’s creations naturally submit to all the high jewellery rules – jaw-dropping gemstones, precious materials, exceptional craftsmanship – but she breaks them at the same time by using unexpected, recherché materials. Rock crystal, sand and meteorite are omnipresent, but they are accompanied by hollowed pebbles, Makrana marble, holographic-treated ceramic, and even a Nasa-approved aerogel (it’s one of the lightest materials in the world).

 Boucheron brooch from the Opalescence necklace, set with a 71.69 ct oval cabochon white opal from Ethiopia. Photograph © Boucheron

Choisne’s vision is anchored in a simple guiding tenet: to wear jewellery, as much as possible. “It’s sad when jewellery is reserved for the safe,” she says, adding that she considers jewellery bought for status alone equally unfortunate. “Of course jewellery is expensive, but if you can express something more personal with it, the better. Today, the purpose is style – to express who you are. Style, and the way you wear the piece.”

That goes some way to explaining why Boucheron’s jewellery has become a byword for multiwear. But these are not the stuffy transformable jewels of yore – where a tiara can be worn as a brooch and necklace. This is about that word: style.

“Even though they’re the same piece, they’re totally different, I want to propose different and interesting ways to wear the piece, so it won’t stay in the safe.”

With present-day opportunities to wear a statement-making gem to a fancy gala dinner few and far between, Choisne is determined to empower the wearer to style themselves. “What are the possibilities we can offer?” Choisne asks. “It’s not a competition around the number of ways to wear it, but (a question of) how to change your style.”

Boucheron follows other venerable maisons in syncing the high-jewellery calendar with couture fashion weeks in Paris. The maison has also consciously structured its bi-annual launches around two key themes – January as historic retrospective, inspired by a key gem from the archive; July as carte blanche and forward-looking, enabling Choisne to embrace any theme. In recent years that’s ranged from contemplation and reflection to, during lockdown, transporting oneself to far-flung deserts and exotic lands. Nature is the biggest muse for Choisne, who credits travel as an inspiration, from recent trips to the Grand Canyon, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or her personal escape near the Portugal coast that’s surrounded by forest. (But, ever-grounded, she’s equally likely to seek inspiration when walking the local Palais-Royal garden near her Paris home).

That downtime, no doubt, helps Choisne compartmentalise a workflow that sees her effectively working on two polar-opposite themes a year, three years in advance, and at various stages ranging from conceptualising to design, production and communications. It’s easy to see why Boucheron juxtaposes a historic collection against a modern one – to meet that omnipresent tug and tow of past and future at Place Vendôme’s oldest jewellery house – but how it executes it so seamlessly is another thing.

Choisne admits the shift in perspective was challenging at first. “July is total freedom – you have to dig inside yourself to find something,” she says, while January is easy in the sense that the theme already exists. “You can find it in your history. But then you have to modernise it – be respectful of the past, yet give it new vision.”

BoucheronOndes necklace and earrings. Photograph © Boucheron

“It’s not the past against the future,” Choisne emphasises of her approach to the archives. “If the design was great long ago, it will be timeless today.” Neither is the creative director one to shy away from technology in her work. She has been known to use futuristic materials derived from the aerospace industry, or to coat an entire collection in a space-age holographic finish. To Choisne, technology is just a tool that pushes necessary boundaries. “I’m in love with old techniques as much as new. Again, it’s that linear timeline: I don’t see the past as outdated techniques, the new as future techniques. For me it’s all technique. They’re just more chances to achieve your dream.”

In many ways, Choisne channels the innovative spirit of founder Frédéric Boucheron in her approach, affectionately calling her workplace “a really, really old start-up”. That phrase was first coined by Boucheron’s CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne – when she was appointed in 2015, Poulit-Duquesne and Choisne together made history, marking the first time a major Place Vendôme jeweller has been helmed by two women. Having that kind of feminine backing has no doubt propelled Choisne to where she is now – a wizard at the height of her creative powers.