The Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris conjures a trove of treasures to fulfill the wildest wishes of collectors around the world.
The catalog of riches reads like an inventory of the contents of Aladdin’s cave in One Thousand and One Nights: a 10-carat scarlet-red Burmese ruby; a carved sky-blue Ceylon sapphire; an exquisite natural pearl as large as a grape that once belonged to Queen Mary of the United Kingdom, the wife of King George V; and hundreds of other rare jewels. These items, however, are not part of a tale told by Scheherazade. Rather, they offer a preview of the wonders to be showcased at the Biennale des Antiquaires, the biennial exhibition (held this year from September 11 through 21) at which 15 of the world’s most important jewelers will assemble their most extravagant creations beneath the glass and iron-fretwork ceiling of the Grand Palais in Paris.
“There is a kind of excitement at the show that only exists at the Biennale,” says Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of image, style, and heritage. “People know they will leave with a memorable experience and see something unforgettable from one booth to the next.”
Though the atmosphere of the gathering is noticeably festive, serious buying negotiations take place throughout the week, fueled by the private showings (even just of drawings) with which some of the attending brands entice key clients as early as July. “The rule of such an event is that the first [person] to say yes will get the piece,” says Rainero, whose top clients from around the world turn out for the Biennale.
Because many of the designs conceived for the exhibit express themes drawn from folklore, mythology, poetry, and art, an air of fantasy pervades the cavernous space. “The Biennale is a way to make people dream,” says Jean-Bernard Forot, head of jewelry for Piaget. “It’s an opportunity to show a brand’s creativity, expertise, and know-how—and a way to share our patrimony and history with a wide range of clients.”
This year’s program features many museum-worthy treasures, including Cartier’s Royal Pearl, which Queen Mary bequeathed to Princess Mary; Piaget’s 20-carat engraved ruby and 20.2-carat cushion-cut sapphire; and Siegelson’s 23-carat cushion-cut Golconda diamond.
The push to impress collectors, however, does not end with the display of imposing stones: The participants combine their acumen at locating important gems with artistic vision and breathtaking skill. Musa, Bulgari’s series of 26 pieces, for instance, pays homage to the Muses, the goddesses of creative inspiration in ancient Greece. The Roman jeweler enhances this fanciful motif by arranging the smooth, polished takhti-cut gemstones that were popular in the Mughal Empire in rainbow arrays of color on large-scale necklaces and bracelets. Van Cleef & Arpels’s collection embraces whimsy, drawing on the French fairy tale “Peau d’Âne,” first published in 1694, as the theme for its gemstone-encrusted fairy clips. Similarly, Boucheron’s 120-piece collection, called Rêves d’Ailleurs (Dreams of Elsewhere), celebrates the cultures of Persia, Japan, China, India, and Russia through its colorful designs.
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Jewelry houses also showcase their own microcultures at the Biennale. Chanel’s Café Society collection, for example, embodies the post–World War I era, when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and other creative luminaries forged an avant-garde style that influenced theater, music, art, and fashion. This ethos is expressed in bold, graphic necklaces made of diamonds and onyx as well as long pendant necklaces with sapphires, garnets, and spinels. Dior commemorates its long heritage as a couturier through inventive designs that reflect its signature clothes, such as a cinched-waist bar jacket with a ball-gown skirt, which artisans interpreted in the Bar en Corolle bracelet, whose emeralds fan out from a band of diamonds. And in celebration of its 140th anniversary this year, Piaget produced more than 125 pieces that hark back to its iconic creations of the 1960s and 1970s, such as a large white-gold openwork cuff with hanging turquoise and lapis lazuli beads.
The present plays as large a role as the past at the Biennale, where newcomers exhibit their work alongside historic brands. For instance, the British designer Lauren Adriana—who graduated from the jewelry-design department at Central Saint Martins in 2007—will show examples of her latest oeuvre produced for the New York dealer Siegelson, including a striking set of spinel earrings with a combined weight of 73 carats, each wrapped in a string of pearls with diamonds. Other unique pieces in Siegelson’s collection include a gold-and-steel Contemplative Object Orb by the New York artist and sculptor Daniel Brush and an art deco bracelet in aquamarine, diamond, and enamel made by Jean Fouquet for Maison Georges Fouquet in Paris in 1926.
This year’s exhibition will also see the return of the Alexandre Reza brand, which, after a 14-year absence from the show, will be represented by the jeweler’s son Olivier. “I’m focused on using the best stones and creating designs that can stand alone, make a woman feel beautiful, and that are timeless,” says the younger Reza, who now runs the family business. Using a cache of emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and diamonds largely culled from his father’s long-held stockpile, the designer offers important pieces that convey a fresh lightness of style.
The designer Giampiero Bodino, who has served as the artistic director at Richemont for 12 years and counting and worked on several brands, makes his debut at the event under own aegis. His first collection features 43 unique pieces that combine classic and contemporary elements in exceptionally crafted, statement-making designs. His diamond collars are updated with colorful gemstones, while his 19th-century cameos, which are mounted in audacious diamond settings, have the appearance of framed works of art. “When you buy something this special,” he observes, “you don’t just buy the object; you also buy the memory of a place.”
Certainly this year’s exhibit will leave each visitor with a treasure trove of memories that even Aladdin would envy.
Biennale des Antiquaires, www.biennale-paris.com