Watch & Jewellery
SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW: Boucheron's Ailleurs High Jewellery Collection
Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Boucheron
Boucheron's Ailleurs Collection

They say that to travel is to live. But we all know how the last couple of years turned out. So how did Boucheron’s Claire Choisne design one of the most innovative high jewellery collections to date – inspired by wanderlust – without continent-hopping for ideas and precious materials? We reckon she has mastered teleportation but she said the Ailleurs collection was the result of having a wild imagination.

We sound like a broken record when talking about Claire Choisne and her undeniable level of talent which she has showcased with such regularity at Boucheron for the last 11 years and counting. It is easy to take for granted that she is able to churn out these ideas relatively swiftly by industry standards. In comparison to other seasoned pros, they might even question their efforts in the bar-raising department let lone pushing the boundaries in techniques and craftsmanship. If you didn’t already know, this miracle worker has made it all look easy: a pendant necklace made of Aerogel (the world’s lightest material), rings featuring preserved flower petals, holographic coating on precious metals, and a star map-like necklace created using a precise mathematical algorithm, just to name a few. Let’s not forget that this is high jewellery we’re talking about, with very little wiggle room to innovate beyond what is already known. Choisne, however, is one of the rare few able to tiptoe around these stumbling blocks and even find a middle ground that won’t rub purists and peers the wrong way. She explained, “I’ve realised with time, and through the different collections that I’ve worked on, that the meaning of precious – which seems obvious to other jewellers on Place Vendôme – is quite different to me. What is precious is what is beautiful. It’s not necessarily what’s expensive. And what I usually find beautiful is what I find in nature: if there is one single creative talent on this planet, it’s nature.”

The latest high jewellery collection is named Ailleurs, which means elsewhere in French, and is her team’s effort in igniting our imagination to envision other places – make-believe or otherwise – that we have been longing to escape to since 2020. Choisne and her team didn’t do much travelling during these last couple of years when they embarked on this collection. What they did was to use their imaginations to dream of “the most beautiful elements” from faraway lands and parallel universes, find a way to source similar keepsakes gifted by Mother Nature, and then apply the most advanced techniques to preserve these items for eternity in the form of high jewellery.

Choisne imagined five different chapters in this collection named Ailleurs, each unlocking a different world, perhaps even inhabited by a special tribe of humans. In Sand Woman, a Dune-like world is imagined, where the sand covers our feet with every step and there is perpetual sunlight watching over our every move. Choisne is in her element here, showcasing another armour-like collar necklace that has become one of her favourite go-to designs to command the room’s attention. Fit for today’s version of a sun goddess, this Rotin Diamant necklace features interwoven rattan with complex twists and turns mimicking light trails bouncing around in a designated zone. Lined with precious metal and diamonds, one would be surprised by the lightness that this necklace offers thank to the openworked design which also allows for gorgeous shadow play depending on environmental light. Accompanying the look is a pair of Coquillage Diamante shell earrings that aren’t your bargain gift shop buys. These gorgeous white shells (Fusinus Colus) were carefully selected for its size and look, then scanned by the studio in order to replicate certain textures on the shell which were later outfitted in white gold and diamonds.

In Leaf Woman, the second chapter, Choisne details a rainforest landscape that is home to forest fairy-types. Here, the Papillon brooches look just like real butterflies resting on your body like a Disney princess – and they sort of are. Boucheron has found a way to encase real butterfly wings in a titanium frame that will tickle the fancy of any lepidopterist or those with a cabinet of oddities. And before your woke meter starts going into overdrive, just know that no endangered butterflies were harmed here as the jeweller only collected its wings after it died due to natural causes. But not everything here has been plucked from nature and repurposed. A Feuillage cuff bracelet features what appear to be interwoven green leaves but is actually aluminium coated via a pigmented water bath, a process that involves electric currents in order to alter the colour composition of the metal. Oh, and this composition also stars a 37.97-carat green tourmaline.

The third chapter, called Earthan Woman, takes us to a locale where light is dim and the surroundings are quiet. Like the name of its inhabitant suggests, this world is warm and earthy. Here, Choisne returns us to the memories of her special flower petal preservation technique that she deployed a few years ago that rocked the high jewellery scene. But rather than using real flowers, she has tapped on the Santos Rosewood to create life-like petals for the Boise Diamant magnetic shoulder brooch. How Boucheron added realism and volume to these petals is thanks to the simple idea of scanning actual flower petals in order to replicate the uneven lining and delicate textures of the real thing. The pistils on this brooch are made of titanium threads that vibrate rapidly from any slight movement.

Meanwhile, Pebble Woman, the fourth chapter, is arguably the most intriguing. Choisne imagined a completely silent world filled with soft shapes and a muted colour palette, which sounds like heaven cushioned with fluffy pillows and powdery snow. Here, the marble pebble is the main star and is perhaps the most unexpected material choice to appear in recent memory. Although the first thought is that these pieces would probably feel like a perpetual gym session during wear, Boucheron surprises us with its unprecedented lightness. This is due to the unorthodox process of scooping out the contents of a pebble and leaving only a thin shell that wows with its glittery exterior which are also set with diamonds. The Galet Diamant necklace becomes a strong reference point recalling snowballs and snow crystals, a perfect cameo at any yearend festivities. Another statement piece is the Oursin Diamant necklace, which features a realistic urchin shell replicated by the studio via computer scan. This was done in order to achieve the exact volume and texture which are then embellished with pearls and diamonds. Boucheron’s prowess for creating jewellery with multiple wear shines through here as the shell can be worn as a brooch or as part of a long necklace.

Finally, the series wraps with the Volcano Man, who dwells in a hellish and volatile landscape. Boucheron markets these pieces for men, but they could very well appear in any woman’s style game too. One of the more swervy outputs is the Bois Brûlé Diamant necklace, a choker that features a portion made of charred wood. Choisne sourced a marsh wood from Poland that is several thousand years old and found underground, then applied a Japanese technique called shou sugi ban that preserves the wooden material via burning (it’s more complicated than it sounds really). The jeweller added layers of lacquer later to raise its luxe factor and comfort during wear. The mixture of the burnt wood’s blackness paired with the high shine of diamonds is a monochromatic pairing that we can see today’s gents pulling off with their shirtless tuxe. We spoke with the talented designer on what sparked these ideas in the first place and her determination to have us see our own reality in a different light.

MANIFESTO: The Ailleurs collection reminds us of little trinkets of memories picked up from around the world. How did this high jewellery collection come together eventually considering the complicated time we are living in? 

CLAIRE CHOISNE: The creative work on this collection started in 2020 and we were in lockdown. My dream at that time was to escape and travel. We made imaginary trips as we weren’t able to travel freely then. But I wanted this collection to be otherworldly too.

M: How did you acquire some of the more unorthodox pieces like the shells and butterfly wings considering that travelling wasn’t possible?

CC: We started designing the jewellery through a moodboard so we didn’t have actual pieces of jewellery to work on in the first place. We were thinking about where we wanted to be. We made up five worlds and thought about the women and men who belong in these worlds. Then, we thought about the jewellery designs. We chose to mix with raw materials with precious materials which eventually gave us a lot of new ideas.

For the Sand Woman series, I wanted to work with real shells. We have an innovative and resourceful team at Boucheron and they showed me many shells. And I was quite picky. To find one shell is easy. To find two of similar colour, texture, and size was a nightmare. In the beginning, I thought that these earrings would be quite easy to achieve.

For the use of butterfly wings, it was the most complicated one in the collection. I didn’t want to place a metal backing on the wings like what I did with the flower petals before, as I wanted light to illuminate the wings. They had to find a way to achieve this and to protect the wings too – it took six years to realise. In the beginning, I chose really colourful butterfly wings. But the techniques we used couldn’t be executed on my favourite butterfly wings so we had to adapt.

M: There are more animal and bird motifs this year than before with a polar bear, toucan, wolf, magpie, gazelle, snake, octopus, and an elephant making up the collection. How do you know which creatures would make a cameo?

CC: For this collection, it was about which animal would match the atmosphere of the worlds we created. I didn’t place too many constraints on myself. For example, the Pebble Woman is about a white beach that is calm and quiet. I envisioned an elephant and polar bear walking on that landscape. There is no logic for them to belong in the same place but these animals reflect the mood I wanted.

M: The burnt wood used in the Bois Brûlé Diamant necklace is a standout. How did that idea come about?

CC: I saw a house made of the same material in Japan a few years ago. I love those houses and they are real pure, simple, and strong. I wanted to use it for this collection as I saw it as a perfect contrast with the diamonds. I chose marsh wood and it has been underwater for a long time and we used this Japanese technique to burn it. The wood doesn’t burn in the same manner and it showcases the different textures. In Japan, this burnt wood is able to last a long time. To be sure, we added a special coating on the wood for this jewellery.

M: You’re known for introducing new technology each year when creating high jewellery, from computer scans to 3D printing. Were there any new processes this time around that you are proud of?

CC: There were many because we used new raw materials in this collection. Even the rattan and diamond necklace (Rotin Diamant necklace) was a crazy process too because the craftsmen are used to working on metal and then trying to make them appear flexible. But the rattan is already flexible in nature, the opposite of metal. So they had to find a way to retain the position of the rattan as well as introduce gold into its construction.

There were also the pebbles in the Pebble Woman series that were hard to work with. In order to scoop out the insides of the pebble until it was just a 1.5mm-thin shell – it was as thin as an envelope – we had to create new tools to do so. We are already working with rock crystals so we knew how to manage it.

M: The Volcano Man is another push in the right direction that men can wear high jewellery too.

CC: I really love to work on pieces that are gender-neutral. I showcased these pieces on men because many aren’t used to the idea of jewellery appearing on males. I want people to see that jewellery design can be strong too. I created the Octopus earring and the wolf ring (Loup ring) particularly for men, and I’m glad that a male customer actually bought them.

M: If you were paying attention to this year’s Cannes Film Festival red carpet, the Ailleurs collection actually gave us a first look in May prior to the usual high jewellery presentation in the summer. The likes of Nour Arida, Viola Davis, and Rossy de Palma modelled some of the key pieces. How did you feel when you first saw it debut on this important platform?

CC: It’s not because they are stars who are wearing my jewellery. To me, I see them as people. And I love to see the jewellery being worn. It was also the first time it appeared in public. It was so cool. It took a long time to achieve this collection as well.

M: If you had to pick a word to describe what we should be feeling about the Ailleurs collection, what would it be?

CC: Emotions. Pick any emotion. Because for anyone to feel something about this collection, I already think that’s cool.


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