Pursuit of Diamond Perfection: Visionary Atelier Boehmer et Bassenge Debuts at Christie's

04/11/2016 15:43

On 15 November in Geneva, Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction will be led by the exceptional jewels of Bulgari, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, David Webb, Harry Winston and Boehmer et Bassenge, the newly launched Maison de Haute Joaillerie. The auction will feature the first jewels ever designed by this House: Miroir de l’Amour, the world’s largest perfect pear-shaped diamond drops, and a beautiful diamond necklace, Le Jardin d’Isabelle. The drops comprise two D colour, Flawless clarity diamonds of 52.55 and 50.47 carats, with perfectly symmetrical cuts (estimate: US$/CHF 20 to 30 million). The necklace weighs a total of 140 carats and features three central diamonds accounting for 51.56 carats – two pear-shaped diamonds of 31.38 and 12.11 carats and one brilliant-cut diamond of 8.07 carats. All diamonds are D-Flawless, perfectly complementing the 3.92 carats of intense pink diamond accents (estimate: US$/CHF 8 to 12 million). Both of these lots will be offered without a reserve price, something unseen in the auction world for jewels of such importance. 

The Diamond Loupe had the opportunity to sit down in Antwerp for an exclusive interview with the man behind the brand.

The Diamond Loupe: Launching a Maison de Haute Joaillerie at auction is not exactly a conventional move.

Boehmer et Bassenge: Yes, I know, but nothing we do is conventional. It is exceptional. I do not exaggerate when I say this is the first time a High Jewellery House launches through an auction house. Nobody has ever done this. The world of high luxury, and particularly High Jewellery, is a time-honoured, heritage world with very specific codes. We respect and have adhered to them without question. However, the method we chose to debut our first collection is, in fact, disruptive. It is straightforward in an industry replete with subtlety. We have said, “This is who we are. This is what we are about. This is what we stand for. Only the best.” We have been daring. We intend to show the world what the highest quality of diamond jewellery looks like, and ask a simple question: “Do you understand its value? We leave the answer to the experts: Our clients.”

TDL: You are selling these jewels without a reserve. Aren’t you taking a very big risk?

B&B: Yes, it’s a tremendous risk … and also an intelligent one. We understand what we are doing. The entire process of acquiring D-Flawless stones, manufacturing the first piece of rough into polished, and then the second piece into polished, making hand-made jewellery without compromise; every step is a very big risk. But they are risks managed with expertise. We work with surety and love, and this is what we offer to the world.

I am sure there will be some sleepless nights before the auction. But we are very confident. This is not something we decided to do overnight. We have been working on this project for four years already, and these are our first pieces.

DL: Could you explain why it was such a risk to create the pair of earrings? Is it the sheer size of the stones?

B&B: It is much more than that. Assembling two matching stones of this size and quality is nearly impossible. Diamonds are typically acquired one piece at a time, and it can take years after the acquisition of the first to acquire and polish rough material for the second. Rough diamonds of this size and quality are extremely rare; then there is the tendering process where you compete with the top companies to acquire fantastic rough; then the cutting and polishing, which is time consuming and can easily go wrong. Everything must be perfect. Every detail is painstaking. Luxury takes time. A lot of time and patience and skill. You need staying power.

In this case, the first piece of rough was 134 carats. There were only two or three options. After completing our intensive mapping process we knew this stone was destined to be a pear. So we created an incredible 50.47-carat polished diamond. And of course for me, this wasn’t enough … (smiling) … so I dreamt to go in search of a second rough stone to try to make a match. Eventually we found the one we wanted at tender – a 128-carat stunner from Botswana. Rough diamonds straight out of the ground never yield a match. This is the beauty of nature. That second stone could have yielded a single 58-ct. D-Flawless, but we kept on dusting, kept on shaving until we had the pair. I don’t know anyone else crazy enough to put something of that size on the wheel and sacrifice all that weight, but that is the risk we took.

Bear in mind that all of a sudden it could turn into a D-colour VVSI, and then there is no matching pair. One cannot predict whether the diamonds will truly match in the end or not, yet you have to ‘waste’ so many carats to make a perfect match. At this size, every point lost is a lot of money. A lot of money. Once you have started down that road, there is no way back. But imagine you succeed? So we took a calculated risk requiring expertise, patience, and yes, nerves of steel. But look at what we achieved. The largest perfect diamond drops in the world.

We are not competing with anyone else in the world. Every single diamond we use is D-Flawless, right down to the little 20-point round at the back of the necklace that no one ever sees. We differentiate ourselves by creating pieces nobody else has dared to create. So humbly, I say, we stand alone. We took our calculated risk to honour our vision. We pushed ourselves and our craftsmen to the limit. And now we are asking, “How much do you appreciate what has been created?”

DL: Take us through the process of creating these jewels.

B&B: At the beginning it was humbling. We had contracted with a former artistic director of a major jewellery house, searched for and interviewed scores of designers, settling on a handful. Then we contracted with very seasoned experts from heritage ateliers, one of whom told us, “In the old days, you dealt with Mr. Bulgari. You dealt with Mr. Arpels. Today, a team of people come in from a major house and you have no idea who you are dealing with. But with Boehmer et Bassenge, it’s like the old days. We cannot believe somebody is doing this again. We are making real jewellery again.”

We have been working on this project for four years already. Just to manage the finishing I spent nearly all summer working with the jewellers in Paris. All our pieces are made the old fashioned way. Our ateliers are the ateliers of the High Jewellery houses. There are only a few left in Paris. We went to the best designers in Paris and told them: here are our diamonds and this is the vision we have for the brand. We told them we want to be better than anybody else in the world. We provided our boundaries in terms of quality. We pushed them for designs that fit our brand image and then said: “Now please, go and dream.”

They have never worked like that. They have all worked for the big houses, but have never had the freedom to work like this, to really run with it. We told them, “There is no limit to how much time you put into it; there is no limit on what type of materials you use, there is no limit, period.” In the beginning we had some creative differences. But we insisted there would be no compromises. No mercy. We want the ultimate product, and if it’s not the perfect product, we don't want it.

No other organization today implements this methodology. They can’t. They are public companies which must do whatever they can to maximize shareholder value. They have heavy management systems. They are big machines. We are nimble. We can react quickly. We make our own choices. We don’t need board approval. Our operation creates nearly a direct link between a rough diamond tender and the client. Our designers and atelier truly create Haute Joaillerie: one-of-a-kind pieces that can require one year of labour. So for us to debut at the highest echelons of the jewellery world, and to do so without anybody noticing - this is called disruption.

DL: Your atelier is named in honour of Charles Boehmer and Paul Bassenge, Parisian jewellers of the 18th century who created an exceptional and historically famous diamond necklace during the reign of Louis XV. As jewellers to the court, the King’s orders drove the pair to achieve perfection and inspired them to create the most lavish designs. It sounds like you have assumed the position of Louis XV.

B&B: Exactly. The King chose the jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge to make the ultimate necklace because they were the best. We are doing the same because we truly believe we are reviving their way of creating, and our jewellery reflects this. Is Boehmer et Bassenge creating jewellery for the Kings of today? I suppose we are. Who are the kings of today? That is for you to determine.

But we approach it as if we are making jewellery for the kings of today. People who truly appreciate quality and understand the expertise and longevity of a piece. A connoisseur prepared to spend 5, 10, 20 or 50 million is not a first time buyer; they know exactly what to look for. Connoisseurs of fine jewellery understand that the best investment in diamonds is always D-Flawless. We have created investments of passion that can be enjoyed, rather than just hidden in a safe. Happy wife, happy life… (laughing)… At the end of the day, these masterpieces are just so breathtaking. They are awesome. We love them.

DL: And will you find this client?

B&B: Absolutely. This world is so sophisticated. So knowledgeable. There is sheer joy in being able to acquire something very exquisite, very rare, and hold it dear to you. There is sheer joy in acquiring a beautiful piece of jewellery and wearing it in the family, for special occasions, and then passing it down to other generations. There is history not only in the rarity of the piece, but how personal and important it becomes in the lineage of a family. This is a beautiful part of what we do. When you make the ultimate jewel, it has a destiny.