Artisan Jewelers

Artisan Jewelers

On my most recent visit to his splendid boutique on rue Oberkampf, Yves Gratas was musing over the mysteries of the Hope diamond. This is no surprise, since Gratas has an uncanny knack for bringing out the best in a gemstone—one reason his workshop-boutique has thrived for the last dozen years. But it’s not just the stones, which he handpicks in Thailand and India, it’s also his genius for creating just the right setting inspired by each gem’s unique brilliance and color. Although influenced by the rounded shapes of the ancient Mediterranean basin—he favors the cabochon shape and a high-karat yellow gold—the simplicity of the settings and the fluid designs are thoroughly modern, as is their aptitude to go from day to night, sneakers to sequins.

An important element chez Gratas is mix and match. Each piece, whether a bracelet, necklace or ring, can be worn several ways, according to mood or occasion, and built upon from year to year. A necklace of tiny sapphire beads might be worn long or doubled, while dangling from it could be any number of translucent gold-framed charms, including a Tahitian pearl the size of a marble or a brilliant golden sphere. The charms can also be transferred from a necklace to a simple gold bracelet that opens to receive as many charms as a visiting buyer makes trips to Paris.

Among the most popular designs are stackable rings in matte silver or saturated gold, with or without a gemstone. The single rose-cut, black-diamond version is a knockout, avidly collected by women who gladly pilfer from their bank accounts until they can afford as many as will fit nicely on a finger. Another must-have is a simple but sublime necklace with a single burnished-gold orb suspended on a cord between two slipknots that can slide from choker length to décolleté.

Although prices on many items can be steep—a gorgeous necklace of diamond-shaped gold links with pink sapphire teardrops is €6,400—there’s also plenty here to attract even a frugal jewelry lover. 9 rue Oberkampf, 11th,

Poetic and playful

Vincent Vaucher, the designer behind the new Avenches boutique in the arcades of the Palais Royal, has one great inspiration—women. “When a woman feels good in my jewelry, I’m happy,” says Vaucher. And they are happy too, as Vaucher’s creations are some of the most original, one-off pieces to be found in Paris.

Vaucher is part artisan, part poet. Proud of continuing a long French tradition of skilled artisan jewelers, he works obsessively on each piece until he considers it perfect. At the same time, he loves the little surprises that come along during the creative process. “This is the raison d’intérieur of a piece—what makes it unique and provocative,” he says.

Vaucher’s jewelry is not for wallflowers. Whether it’s a long, feathery necklace of painstakingly coiled golden filaments or a pin made of white or yellow gold wisps (inspired, allows Vaucher, by the tresses of the perfectly coiffed Krystle Carrington of television’s Dynasty), each piece demands to be noticed. Not that the jewelry is theatrical—it usually isn’t, although a whimsical Cocteau-like pin in the shape of an eye on a long gold stem, with a dangling scarlet enamel teardrop, does seem to have a story to tell. Simpler pieces include a delightful pair of blackened-gold earrings cast from quail eggs, each containing a Tahitian pearl inlaid with tiny full-cut white diamonds; and playful “confetti” earrings—double squares of white or yellow gold—which could easily be worn every day for a lifetime. Prices range from €250 for the earrings to €18,000 for a long, intricate chain-mail necklace with a black-diamond fringe, where each of about a million tiny gold circles were meticulously linked one by one over four months to create the most exquisite piece imaginable.

Vaucher’s greatest moment, he says, is when a customer connects with the jewelry, whether she’s barely 20 or over 70—what matters is how she feels when she wears the piece: “when she feels most beautiful, immortal, like a goddess.”

43 Galerie Montpensier, 1st,


Just in Time

There is a trend in Paris toward simple, wearable jewelry that could easily have begun with Sylvie Gilbert. The designer’s Gilbert Gilbert, a svelte boutique in the lower Marais, is the gold standard for simple, affordable and utterly irresistible jewelry.

Each collection—Gilbert does two a year—has a theme, with titles like Magic, Moon or Black. The latest collection, called Time, was inspired by the intricate cogs, wheels and hands of a clock. For Gilbert the material precedes the design. “For me it’s tactile. There’s something that feels right and I follow it,” she says. Everything is made by hand in her atelier in the suburb of Montreuil, an artists’ haven just outside the city limits, which is to Paris what Brooklyn is to Manhattan.

The common element in Gilbert’s designs is their slenderness, grace and lightness on the body. An elegant silk-cord bracelet attached with a tiny double gold chain, for example, is so light and gossamer that you barely know it’s there.

A few of my half-dozen favorites—it’s impossible to choose just one—are a slender bracelet with a band of black and metallic lurex connected by five delicate gold filaments, like something out of an Etruscan tomb (there’s a necklace to match); a dainty oxidized silver chain necklace holding five or six gold spheres that can be worn long or short; a simple gold ring with a single faceted gem that seems to hover over the finger.

Gilbert also designs a handsome men’s line offering pieces that men actually want to wear. Sharing all the simplicity of the women’s line, the men’s jewelry uses a bit more leather, and there’s a distinctly masculine heft to the metals.

One of the best things about Gilbert’s jewelry is its affordability. Prices range from €25 for a simple cord bracelet to €300 for a feathery gold necklace. The nice prices are very welcome, because with Gilbert’s work, to want one piece is to want them all. 35 rue François Miron, 4th,

Originally published in the January 2011 issue of France Today

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