The Paris Biennale – an event dedicated to the finest art and antiques in the world – has once again wowed jewellery lovers by playing host to an eye-popping abundance of jewels with price tags in the millions, says Claire Adler
By Claire Adler
This September, Paris saw jewellery presented to the super-rich and connoisseurs on supremely elaborate exhibition stands. It was all part of the Paris Biennale – the bi-annual invitee-only art and antiques fair – which recently took place for the 25th time, in the palatial setting of the Grand Palais.
The Paris Biennale des Antiquaires is the most prestigious fine art and antiques fair in the world. First held in 1962, the exhibition’s original organisers hoped the beauty of the objects on show would rival the beauty of the women who came along to ogle them.
French jeweller Cartier has been an exhibitor since the show’s beginnings, while this year Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels showed for the third time, and Dior for the second time. Harry Winston is the only American jeweller at the show, but with a shop in Paris since 1955, it first exhibited at the Paris Biennale in 1974, then again 2000 and has been a regular ever since.
“The Paris Biennale is a rendezvous of all the world’s jewellery connoisseurs,” said CEO of Harry Winston, Frederic de Narp, before the show opened. “As a French person, I’m thrilled to be part of it. We have 20 salons round the world, but this is where we’re launching our newest collection, the Royal Garden collection, and we’ll meet with all our important clients here.”
When it comes to the rarest, most exquisitely crafted and precious jewellery on the planet, it’s all very much a ‘by appointment, guest list only, price on application’ affair.
Behind the scenes information is hard to come by, but at the same event two years ago, jewellery transported by Harry Winston alone was said to be worth £50 million, though it may easily have been more.
This year, Chanel’s most expensive piece on show was the intricate Plume necklace, for sale at a cool €1.6 million, along with the matching brooch – yours for €220,000.
The Plume, or feather, is a variation on a theme originally dreamed up by Mademoiselle Chanel for the launch of her very first fine jewellery collection in 1932. The brooch might be a tad expensive, but it’s certainly versatile. The experts say it can be worn over a shoulder, as a sparkling headdress, or pinned onto a hat or a (inevitably Chanel) skirt suit.
Over at Van Cleef & Arpels, certain individual pieces just skirted the €3 million mark, with some jewels having already been snapped up by July time, based on drawings alone. Dior’s display included pieces designed up to 11 years ago, including delectable, intricate cocktail rings by Dior designer Victoire de Castellane, from her collection Les Incroyables et les Merveilleuses, made in 1999, which went on to spark a trend for enormous, bold and beautiful rings.
Chanel upped the ante this year by filling a booth twice the size of the space it took in 2008, and bringing in New York architect Peter Marino to design it. Marino is the man behind Louis Vuitton’s Bond Street flagship store, which opened early this summer.
Meanwhile, the display of this year’s Van Cleef & Arpels collection, Les Voyages Extraordinaires, inspired by the books of Jules Verne, bore a far greater resemblance to a fantastical art installation than any display you’d expect to see at an antiques fair. But that was hardly surprising, given that Alfredo Arias – the Argentinian artist, actor and director who had created it – has conceived sets for opera houses from La Scala in Milan to the Opera in Paris, and is the proud owner of a five-page CV enumerating his books, films and fantastical theatre productions, as well as the accolades he has received in Italy, Argentina and France. This includes the multiple French honour of being appointed Chevalier, Officier and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.
“I would not miss this occasion, which is a high-level artistic event, for anything in the world. Jewellery is an art form,” said Arias.
“The dreamlike world of Jules Verne resonates with that of a Maison whose artistic heritage is built around the beauty of flora and fauna, the sky and the stars, imaginary creatures,” said Nicolas Bos, creative director of Van Cleef & Arpels.
One question remains. Is there a market for this extraordinary and outrageously expensive jewellery? New York-based luxury expert, CEO of the Luxury Institute Milton Pedraza believes there is: “There will always be a market for these products and especially in Greater China, India and the Middle East, where wealth continues to grow. Wealthy people just want the best and they will pay for it. The concept is an old one with new price levels,” he says.