Paris: Baubles, Bangles and Bijoux

Paris: Baubles, Bangles and Bijoux

Along with Cartier, Boucheron and the other world-renowned luxury jewelers on Place Vendôme, Paris is also home to a host of sparklingly original independent jewelers and designers.

Tucked away in a tranquil street behind the Assemblée Nationale, Naïla de Monbrison‘s gallery is the kind of insider address the fashion elite exchange in secret. The Egyptian-born Naïla came to Paris to study international relations at Paris’s famed Institut d’Etudes Politiques, but shortly after graduation she married renowned Parisian primitive art dealer Marc de Monbrison. Inspired by an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art tracing the affinities between primitive and contemporary art, Naïla opened a gallery showcasing limited-edition and unique jewelry by contemporary artists and sculptors alongside ethnic works. Over the past twenty years the committed globetrotter and passionate defender of the avant-garde has devoted herself to “discovering, promoting and following the work of each of my designers over time”. Naïla alternates themed collective shows with exhibits by individual designers. Following a stunning exhibition by Taher Chemirik, whose asymmetric link necklaces, dramatic gold and ebony armbands and voluminous rings received massive press coverage, this month the gallery spotlights jewelry by Christiane Billet, a talented French sculptor who trained at the Beaux Arts in Paris and has created jewelry for the haute couture collections of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix. Billet’s extraordinary bronze art brut brooches and chokers appear to have been rusted by the waves or etched by the passage of time—exceptional jewelry aimed at women who believe a piece of jewelry should be a work of art.

6 rue de Bourgogne, 7th,

With its striking red facade and its interior walls painted in blocks of bold metallic colors, the Galerie Elsa Vanier is a warm and welcoming place. When inspiration takes her, Vanier can be found out back in her atelier making preparatory sketches for a new creation, but most often she’s out front on the shop floor with gemologist Béatrice Trelcat, promoting handcrafted and limited-edition pieces by the international designers on the five-year-old gallery’s regular roster. Visitors will find permanent collections by such established jewelry stars as Hélène Courtaigne-Delalande, Thierry Vendome (who also has his own boutique at 39 rue François Miron, 4th) and Sao Paulo-based Yael Sonia whose award-winning creations include the Spinning Tahiti, an intricate gold and diamond pendant cradling a spinning Tahitian pearl at its center. Several of Vanier’s protégés worked in other branches of the arts before turning to jewelry making—Yannick Mur is a former ballet dancer who intuitively developed her own “embroidery” technique, weaving filigree necklaces out of gold and silver wire; Claire Wolfstirn worked as a graphic designer before reinventing herself as a goldsmith, and Laurence Opperman, whose ingenious “Constellation” ring is one of the stellar attractions in the gallery, trained as a sculptor.

7 rue du Pré-aux-Clercs, 7th,

John Agee‘s miniature jewel-box boutique is surrounded by the upscale art galleries and antique shops of Rue Jacob, in Saint Germain des Prés. The Texas-born American designer trained in fashion in New York but dreamed of moving to Paris, “the city of Yves Saint Laurent”. He opened his first boutique here in the fall of 2006 and began creating bold, theatrical-looking pieces that acquired an instant following. Agee’s jewelry, all handmade and mostly one-of-a-kind, is ethnically inspired but extremely refined and there is a clear emphasis on craftsmanship in his work. Precious metals are hammered, brushed and polished to perfection and then juxtaposed with unexpected stones—delicate vermeil playing against turquoise cabochons and jagged shell beads threaded through 18k gold. John draws inspiration from an eclectic range of sources including African and Chinese art, and there is often a touch of Art Nouveau in his swirling, organic shapes derived from the natural world. But his primary muses have always been iconic women, including legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and the glamorous American socialite Millicent Rogers. One of the most charming things about this independent jewelry boutique is that the elegantly dressed Agee himself is found in his boutique most days, ready to pluck a bottle of champagne out of his secret refrigerator to celebrate a client’s finding her personal coup de coeur.

11 rue Jacob, 6th,

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Originally published in the September 2009 issue of France Today.

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