Sun, 25 Nov 2001

Mauboussin: The jeweler of kings, the king of jewelers

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Mauboussin is well-known among members of high society around the world. Most other people, however, are probably unfamiliar with the name.

This Paris-based jeweler has created exclusive pieces for royalty around the globe, high-profile politicians, famous singers, actresses and other wealthy clients. That is why Mauboussin is known as the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers.

Mauboussin boutiques are found in various countries, with a headquarters in Japan to oversee boutiques in Japan, Taiwan and a subsidiary in Singapore, from where the firm serves buyers from neighboring countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"The Middle East is one of our largest markets, but Mauboussin also has potential Indonesian customers. We don't have a boutique here in Indonesia but we have a list of Indonesian clients," said the firm's general manager for South Asian markets, Mink Ong, during a recent exhibition at The Dharmawangsa Jakarta.

The history of Mauboussin is filled with interesting stories concerning its famous clients. Comedian Charlie Chaplin presented his broken-hearted wife Paulette Goddard with a Mauboussin gold cuff studded with cabochon emeralds to console her after she failed to win the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind.

Legendary actress Marlene Dietrich was rumored to have a secret passage connecting her Paris house to a Mauboussin boutique, and singer Celine Dion had her engagement ring designed by the jeweler.

Because of its outstanding craftsmanship, the French government entrusted the firm with the task of designing a crystal goblet to be presented to the visiting Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in 1994. Two years later, French President Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Japan, presented Empress Michiko with a pendant with gray Polynesian pearls made by Mauboussin.

Started as a family business, Mauboussin was set up in 1827 by Roche Mauboussin. The firm was the trendsetter for art deco jewelry from 1925 to 1930, and during this period Mauboussin's exhibitions attracted the attention of jewelry connoisseurs. The firm, which made great use of emeralds, rubies and diamonds, became known as the "jeweler of color".

It survived the global economic crisis in 1929 and from 1934 to 1939, orders from monarchs around the world flowed in. Among its many clients, Mauboussin created a number of exclusive pieces for the Maharajah of Indore and Queen Nazlie of Egypt.

From 1940 to 1970, the firm's cabochon-shaped precious stones gained popularity among Hollywood's leading actresses, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Paulette Goddard. During this period, Mauboussin also became known for its luxurious ornamental designs, like birds, butterflies and flowers.

In the 1980s and '90s, Mauboussin designed various softly nuanced and full-shaped pieces with figurative and minimalist motifs.

The firm decided to extend its product line in 1994 by producing a wristwatch collection, which combines Swiss watch technology with French craftsmanship in fine jewelry.

Mauboussin later introduced a perfume for women.

Patrick Mauboussin, a member of the family's sixth generation, crafted a new Mauboussin image in 1999. This new image reflects modernity and simplicity. A new motto was also created for the firm: "Mad about Beauty".

With its famous name and long history, the firm has chosen to maintain its exclusivity, which is why the name Mauboussin remains unfamiliar to many people.

"Unlike Prada or Bulgary, which are publicly listed to capture a larger market, the Mauboussins want to remain very exclusive," Mink Ong said.

She added that the firm designed exclusive pieces, like its unique Carnet collection, while other collections were only produced in limited numbers.

Another thing that differentiates the firm from other jewelers is that the Mauboussin family not only directs the firm, but is also involved in designing its jewelry.

"Patrick Mauboussin designs some of the pieces and other designs from our artists have to be approved by him before they are manufactured. But he (Patrick) comes up with the most innovative designs," Ong said, pointing to some brilliant crystal rings displayed at the exhibition as examples.

The crystal rings are part of Mauboussin's Ligne Transparence collection. Each ring has at least one .15-carat diamond in the center, layered with a full-shaped crystal.

"The crystal magnifies the diamond 10 times," Ong explained.

She said that the design of these particular rings were copied by a leading French jeweler, which Mauboussin sued, with the case in the end being settled out of court.

Also at the exhibition was the luxurious Collier Chevrefeuille, a diamond-studded white gold choker with a pair of earrings.

Some of the firms wristwatches, namely the Lady M and the Fouga, were also showcased. The latter was created by Patrick, who was inspired by the Fouga Magister, a lightweight jet- propelled aircraft used for military training which was designed by Pierre Mauboussin in the early 1950s.

Ong said that when France won the 1998 World Cup, Patrick presented Fouga watches to members of the team.

She said Mauboussin has the largest collection of exclusive watches, with around 350 unique watches with an average price of US$80,000.

Mother-of-pearl has always been a favorite of Mauboussin, Ong said. The firm has created several pieces using mother-of-pearl for its Ligne Pearl, which includes the Swan, Wave and Aloha rings.

Among the products Mauboussin plans to launch next year is the Alliance ring collection and a few other items, whose designs are being closely guarded.

Stressing that Mauboussin always highlights novelty, Ong said that the pieces displayed in the firm's boutiques were constantly rotated.

"We move (the unsold) jewelry out every three months and send them to other subsidiaries, while we will receive the unsold jewelry from other subsidiaries. The jewelry travels so our customers can see other designs," she said.

"And hopefully, we will be in Jakarta very soon," Ong said.