She is one of only a few female CEOs in high jewellery in the world. A conversation between Essential and Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, of the 160-year-old jewellery house Boucheron.
By Edwina Liu
Photos by Hill Kuok
Nowadays, women feel more empowered than ever and have begun to make their claims for leadership. At Place Vendôme, which is considered to be the epicentre of French high jewellery, there were no chairwomen until Hélène Poulit-Duquesne was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Boucheron in 2015.
The brand was founded by Frédéric Boucheron in 1858 and it is the oldest jewellery maison at Place Vendôme. Famous throughout the world for its bold and free style, Boucheron has conquered women’s hearts by offering ever more creative jewellery sets with characterful stones.
In fact, women have always at the centre of the maison. “Our founder was really innovative in the way he was working in high jewellery, especially technically. He won plenty of prizes in international exhibitions at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century,” said the chairwoman. “When he created the Question Mark necklace, the purpose was to free women. So it’s really about the social evolution of women, because, at that time, if you had a high-jewellery necklace, you had to have a lady’s maid to help you to put it on, and he wanted a woman to be free to have a piece she could wear by herself, independently.”
What do you think sets Boucheron apart from other jewellery brands?
We are probably the most creative high-jewellery brand, which I think is what really differentiates us from other competitors. We have been working on that a lot since I joined the company and really trying to understand what is so specific to us, and you have to know that one thing which is really important to our DNA is innovation. I think this is a particular idea that came from Boucheron himself that we still have today in the way we work – we are really innovative. He used to be an entrepreneur, so he was a businessman before being a jeweller, which was really special at that time. From the very beginning, he wanted to free women, and I think this is also something which is really specific to us and potentially sets us from our competitors..
I think those are the most important points.
Could you please tell us more about the brand’s process to develop a new high-jewellery collection?
The process is very simple. First, I work very close to Claire Choisne, our creative director. We work together on the theme she proposes to me for the high-jewellery collection, which we discuss about two to three years beforehand. Once I approve the theme, she can get to work.
We select the pieces depending on the brief that was given by the marketing team, so she has the inspiration from the get-go. The marketing department will say, “We need a 1.2 million necklace”, and she draws, depending on the type of product we need. And then in the process I validate all the drawings in the committee – what we call the creation committee – where I sign off on every project.
In the committee , they can also discuss technique. One thing which is really interesting about Choisne is that she is not only a good drawer, she’s also a jeweller. In fact, she first learned how to make jewellery, not how to design it. She could have worked in manufacturing so that’s why she is very strong, because she knows what is technically feasible or not. When she discusses the product with the craftsmen, she always knows she has the same level of knowledge as them, and so she can really debate over the technique.
The whole process for high-jewellery collections takes more than two years between the deliberation process, deciding on the theme and the unveiling to the public. Every year, we present our latest collection at Paris Fashion Week during the Haute Couture show, in July.
Could you introduce the new collection?
The most important thing in the work we have been doing in the last three years was focused in our roots, our founder’s passion. The store we own at Place Vendôme was under renovation for 18 months, and we reopened in December, integrated in January. This place is so important for us, which is why renovated and reopened it. In fact, this is where we do everything, from creating to manufacturing the pieces and selling them. We have been there since 1893, which makes us first brand to set up a boutique in Place Vendôme.
We wanted to create a high-jewellery collection that was truly linked to this shop, which I would say is the heart of Boucheron. The name of the collection is Paris,vu du 26. It’s not an architectural collection, it goes beyond dreams. The creative director drew the pieces from her dreams and vision of Paris.It’s a story about stones. She worked with stones because she works in the building at Place Vendôme. She also worked on the precious gems as an interpretation of these stones.
What’s your favourite collection from the brand?
Jack De Boucheron. Probably because it’s new, so that is why I’m so happy to wear it. I love it because it’s not a classic collection, it’s something of a free spirit, which is important for Boucheron. There is nothing sadder than a piece of jewellery that is kept in the safe, you have to wear it.
I think that we have to push women to wear jewellery, even high jewellery, in their daily life. This collection doesn’t just have a bracelet or a ring or a necklace, it’s everything at the same time. You can simply put them together and design your own way of wearing it and your own jewellery. We are focused on women and their lifestyle. We can help them create their own styles to wear their jewellery as they see fit.
Timepieces are also an important part of Boucheron. How would you describe them?
I have been working in the watchmaking industry for 20 years, so I’m very knowledgeable in this field. Our watch Reflet was created in 1947 and has been an icon in the market since. The interchangeable class was patented in 1947 but it’s very contemporary, very modern. You can play with it in your own way – you can easily change the bracelet every day, and there are plenty of colours depending on your outfits.
I also think that we have very good high-jewellery timepieces, meaning very feminine, jewellery watches. I would say it’s very typical for a high-jewellery brand to also dabble in watchmaking, which is really important for some women, especially in Asia. So I love that we can also offer this service to our clients.
Sustainability is an important part of Boucheron’s philosophy. Could you tell us more about how the brand takes on this responsibility?
We are working with three different materials. The first one is gold, which is really important. This year, we are going to have 90% of our gold used in a sustainable way. Our goal is to reach 100%. We are also interested in working with stones, and here we have our second material: diamonds – completely traceable diamonds coming from the mine. The goal is to, at some point, know precisely where the diamonds come from in this industry, from the raw stage to the ring that you have on your hand.
The third material is also a stone, as we have a project going on internally in the company for precious coloured gems. It’s a bit more difficult because there are only very small mines of three to ten people. Therefore, to integrate all the chain and to be sure we follow the product from mine to market, it’s a lot more difficult, but I am sure that in the years to come it will happen. Sustainability is really important, so we are very invested in these projects.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a female leader and how did you overcome it?
I never felt that being a woman was something that could hinder my career. I know some women suffer from being a woman in business, but that is not the case for me.
What I truly believe is that men and women do not behave the same in business, but that they bring different things to the business and that we need both to work well, which is the case in my sector – we have half woman and half men. It’s super important to me to have both sides of the world because that’s what gives the best.