René Boivin was born in Paris in 1864 and after graduating high school he joined his older brother Victor’s business as a goldsmiths apprentice at the age of 17. He learnt his craft making small boxes and producing inlaid metal work and over time become extremely accomplished. He took drawing lessons at art school becoming a highly skilled draughtsman with a talent for design both on paper as well as metal as an accomplished engraver. By 1890, René felt the time was right to branch out on his own and over the course of the next three years he bought up several workshops beginning with Grifeuille which cost him 5,000 francs, a sum he borrowed from his family. He registered his makers mark and by 1893 he had acquired all the machinery and skilled labour he needed and he moved his assembled team into 38 rue de Turbigo. This was also the year in which he married Jeanne Poiret, (1871-1959) sister to the famed couturier Paul Poiret, with whom he would go on to have three children – Pierre, Suzanne and Germaine.
To begin with the majority of his work was produced for prominent jewellery houses such as Mellerio and Boucheron and he identified himself as a manufacturer. However alongside this he also began to develop a group of private clients for whom he created jewellery largely inspired by the natural world such as flowers and animals, both real and mythological. By 1900 his success necessitated a move to new premises at 27 rue des Pyramides where elegant reception rooms, in which he could receive and entertain private clients, sat alongside the workshop. He was creating fine diamond jewellery as well as chased gold work including jewels and decorative objet and now referred to himself as a ‘jeweller’. As well as creating jewellery, Boivin also greatly appreciated antique jewellery and bought and sold fine period pieces as a hobby. His premature death aged 53 in 1917, swiftly followed by that of his only son Pierre, could easily have spelt the end of the Maison Boivin. That it didn’t, was thanks to the courage, determination and imagination of his wife Jeanne who over the following decades took her husbands legacy and turned it into something extraordinary.
Madame René Boivin (as she preferred to be known) began by completing orders and perpetuating the style of jewellery created by her late husband with whom she had worked so closely for over 25 years. However she had strong ideas of her own about what constituted good jewellery and over time she began to create more and more pieces to her own designs. Unconcerned with the prevailing fashions of the period, she favoured bold, voluminous pieces set with large coloured gems and hardstones, used interesting textures and sculptural forms and created jewellery that was unapologetic, commanding and yet still feminine. In 1921 she employed a saleswoman Suzanne Vuillerme (later Belperron) who would be the first of three women to contribute significantly to the design ethos of the firm. Suzanne’s technical rendering skills were excellent and by 1925 she was helping Madame Boivin translate her ideas onto paper as well as contributing thoughts and suggestions of her own. Madame Boivin believed her “creative energy is indispensable to us, and she plays a major role in the artistic life of the Maison” however this was to come to an end in 1932 when Suzanne left and was replaced by Juliette Moutard.
In 1931 the firm had moved to new premises on the Avenue de l’Opéra but remained as a private salon known only by referral. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, their success continued to grow and they attracted an increasingly large circle of wealthy and distinguished clients who appreciated the uniqueness of a Boivin jewel. Juliette worked closely with both Madame Boivin as well as her daughter Germaine a talented designer who, after a career designing for her uncle Paul Poiret, formerly joined the family business in 1938. For many years these three women forged a unique partnership, each with their own strengths and areas of expertise, working seamlessly together to create some of the 20th century’s most exciting jewellery. Whilst Juliette and Germaine allowed their imaginations to flourish in the designing of the jewellery, Madame Boivin oversaw the production of the pieces with a fastidious attention to detail and eye for style. Madame Boivin retired in 1954 and died a few years later in 1959 leaving the company in the capable hands of Germaine who continued to run it along her mother’s principles until 1976. Juliette Moutard had retired a few years earlier in 1970 and Germaine was now ready to do the same. With no descendants to inherit the firm, selling it was a necessity but fortunately a buyer was found amongst the Maison’s own employees ensuring a seamless transition. Jacques Bernard was a talented jeweller, trained at Cartier, who had joined the firm in 1964 and assumed technical directorship shortly afterwards. His work thereafter continued to respect the Boivin tradition and high levels of craftsmanship demanded by his predecessors.
The firm was sold to the Asprey Group in 1991 and business ceased. However the name of Boivin continues to live on and is regarded as highly today by jewellery collectors and connoisseurs as it was in 1933 when on one balmy June day, the Maison accepted thirty three separate commissions, proving that exceptional jewellery will always be admired and desired.