THE ART OF HEALING: Hélène Poulit-Duquesne
Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Boucheron
Boucheron’s CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne
'Goutte de Ciel' necklace featuring a drop of rock crystal in aerogel
'Nuage en Apesanteur' necklace was first created from a programmer's algorithm
'Fleche u Temps' single earrings in white gold with mother-of-pear and diamonds
'En Passant' ring in white gold with diamonds
'Fenêtre Sur Ciel' necklace in titanium with 30 layers of lacquer

Real leaders show empathy, generosity and optimism during times of crisis. Boucheron’s CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne is an example of someone with a firm grip on the wheel. Together with her team, they are using this tricky period to sort out the kinks, spot new opportunities, and remembering not to drown in doubt and self-pity.

If Hélène Poulit-Duquesne weren’t in the business of hawking gorgeous jewellery for a living, you’d be convinced she would be in the motivational speaking field. As the CEO of one of the top jewellers in the world, her role as leader in a tight-knit team is perhaps even more important now than ever. She joined Boucheron in 2015 from heavyweight jeweller Cartier and has quickly found chemistry with her creative director Claire Choisne. In a short space of time, the transformation is evident just by studying the high jewellery concepts that have been greenlit and even realised. Poulit-Duquesne’s main role might be on the business end of things but Choisne has often pointed out that the support has been invaluable to helping the creative team achieve what other storied jewellers won’t even take the time to try. It is this new-found fearlessness behind Boucheron’s thinking that is aiding them through one of humanity’s darkest times. Yes, jewellery isn’t the most important thing in this world when coronavirus is part of the conversation. But Poulit-Duquesne is determined to bring back some normalcy to the lives of many and that’s perhaps the kind of healing through jewellery that we all need.

MANIFESTO: It is a weird time for everyone on this planet as well as for businesses. How has your way of doing things changed during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns?

HÉLÈNE POULIT-DUQUESNE: We took the time to re-organise ourselves and prepare for the lockdown. We bought new computers for those who don’t have one at home. We even digitised all accounting of Boucheron so that we can be sure that if the country went into a lockdown we could continue to manage the company. And when the lockdown did happen, we were prepared within a day. We closed and worked remotely so I would say that even if it was super challenging we had a chance to organise ourselves.

One important thing in our business is to buy stones. We went to the Tucson Gem Show in Arizona just before the lockdown in France, so we managed to buy all the stones we needed. For the high jewellery collection, I told the team we needed to manufacture the collection three months in advance so we managed to get 80 per cent of the pieces completed before July. I think there was a bit of luck involved but doing all these things helped us rebound quickly when the country reopened which in turn helped us present the collection on time.

M: How has the customer’s behaviour changed during this lockdown?

HPD: I think during any lockdown, no one is interested in high jewellery. The only thing we did – and I did so personally – was to get in touch with our VIP clients. Not in a way of making sales but to find out if they are safe with their family and kids. I was very close with our top clients throughout the entire period and I had updates from most of them regarding their own situation.

Clients obviously can’t travel easily now so I told the team that the jewellery will have to go to them. That was why we presented it in Paris to some clients and French journalists and then in September the collection will leave for Taiwan and China. The local team will present it.

We invented a new way of presenting it as well. We had a live streaming of Claire (Boucheron’s creative director) presenting the collection to the respective audience and answering any questions they might have. Of course, it is frustrating not to be able to touch the pieces. We are also doing such digital meetings with our customers.

M: Do you think this is the future for Boucheron and for the way jewellery is presented or sold?

HPD: Yes. I think this new format will be complementary to the physical experience. What I noticed in Paris is that people are so happy to meet again and to touch the jewellery. Now we also know that if you can’t be physically present, there is also a new format we can use. I believe we will use both in the future.

M: Boucheron has raised the bar again with the introduction of aerogel and using computer algorithms in the creation of the new high jewellery collection. How has Claire been able to sustain such a high level of innovation and what are your expectations?

HPD: In fact we decided the theme of this collection three years ago. But I wanted the last collection to be about Paris as it coincided with the completed renovation of our flagship store. So we swapped the launch dates of the actual 2019 and 2020 collections. We were fascinated that this collection theme – which is named Contemplation – is all the more relevant now. It is about the possibility to embrace the ephemeral in your life. Again, it is about luck but this launch came at the right time.

I am excited about the Nuage en Apesanteur necklace which is the cloud-like necklace made of diamonds. I’m super innovative and Claire too so we click on the big ideas and I push her to make it real. I was psyched that it was going to be a similar innovation to what we did with the Eternal Flowers (jewellery featuring real preserved flowers). I believe what we have presented is decorative art, the kind you see displayed in museums. We are creating a link between contemporary and decorative art which also means our pieces will be displayed in museums someday.

M: How important is it to continue paying homage to the history of the maison even though the key pieces appear to be technologically superior?

HPD: I think our founder Frédéric Boucheron was super innovative and it is our duty to respect the past. I’ve been in this industry for awhile and it is in my DNA. Respecting his legacy is being innovative. When I joined the company, I had this discussion with Claire that we need to push the boundaries of jewellery again. In 10 years, I want people to say that when Hélène and Claire work together there was something strong and innovative. We are quite a small company for the time being and there is no hierarchy. I’m super close to Claire and the atelier so it is easy to be quick to innovate and develop because there is less red tape holding us back.

M: What are your thoughts about luxury and how has it changed in 2020?

HPD: We are lucky to be in an industry that is super resilient in a time of crisis. Jewellery is about investment which is an important aspect that people consider. I see some big trends happening from this crisis. One is about sustainability. For me, it will be an important aspect of jewellery even though you never throw away jewellery as it is always passed on. But now brands have to pay attention to the source of the stones and use sustainable gold. The second trend touches on digital. It already exists but the crisis has accelerated its growth and adapted it more to the physical world. I believe that the more digital of a business you have, the more important the physical retail aspect has to be. Some people say that digital will replace physical but I’m not a believer in that. In two clicks, you can buy a product but when you enter a physical store you want to leave with passion, emotions and memories. It’s what I call the new retail. It isn’t the same as 20 years ago when you enter a store because you want to purchase something. Now, you want an experience. I wanted to express that with our recent renovation of the Place Vendôme store.

M: You sound very optimistic about the future of the business.

HPD: It’s true that I’m super optimistic. The first meeting after the lockdown, I told the team to never spurn a good crisis. You either feel the burden of it on your back and always suffer or try to see the positive side of the crisis to launch new projects.

M: Has this pandemic been the most challenging one for you in the last 25 years?

HPD: We went through the SARS outbreak, which I was not at Boucheron then. In France, we have the big strikes and Covid-19. It is a sad new normal but we can now adapt quicker to anything. This has been the most stressful one because it involves the health of the people. My priority is to take care of the team. If you lose money, you can always make it back but health comes first. In business terms, yes this is a big crisis but we have all been through tough times before.


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