France boasts many of the most prestigious houses of High Jewelry in the world. These are the houses who have supplied queens, emperors , maharadjahs and superstars for centuries.
- Mellerio, jeweller to the Queens
- Chaumet, emperor of Tiaras
- Cartier, Platinum & innovation
- Van Cleef and Arpels, ergonomy & mystery
Mellerio ( since 1613) is known as the « Jeweller to the Queens ». The legend says that Queen Marie Antoinette discovered Mellerio’s creations at age 25 and never stopped buying their masterpieces. One of the most controversed pieces is the Necklace of the Queen ( Collier de la Reine), a scandalous story of diamonds and pearls necklace worth 1 million French pounds ( the worth of 3 small castles !) bought in the name of the Queen by a crook who even used an actress to play the Queen.
The Queen of France was in deep shock when she discovered that someone had usurpated her name to buy such an indecent folly. That contributed to increase her bad reputation as a crazy , frivolous money spender.
NB – Nothing to do with the other diamond scandal which inspired the Three Musketeers to Alexandre Dumas. That one involved Queen Anne, mother of the Sun King Louis XIV.
A fake copy of the infamous necklace made of wild pearls and white diamonds of incredible beauty ( the real one was dismantled in 1785) , can be seen at the Louvre Museum as well as many other royal outstanding jewels. Mellerio has remained one of the most favourite jewel houses in royal families across the world. Most European royal families own Mellerio diamond tiaras, brooches and rings. You will see many Mellerio jewels in palaces and museums across Europe ( Louvre, Fontainebleau, Hofburg in Vienna)
Chaumet is a famous jewel maker initially founded by Nitot. Chaumet came to glory thanks to Emperor Napoleon I and his first wife, the Empress Josephine. Fond of the Roman Empire style, Napoleon created a style called « First Empire » ( Premier Empire). Napoleon liked women to wear big tiaras made of pearls and diamonds, rather than big engagement rings which were supposed to remain discreet.
Empress Josephine used to be the biggest » fashion victim » of her time, she would drive the emperor crazy with all her jewels and clothing expenses… But Napoleon was so madly in love with her that he would always end up forgiving her shopping sprees…
Cartier, was founded by the three Cartier brothers in the 1840 ies. Cartier is famous for several innovations, especially for being the first to use platinum. In Cartier’s opinion , platinum delivered better flexibility than gold and enhanced better diamonds’ brigthness, especially on tiaras. Back in those days, every noble family wanted a tiara. It was very common to wear a tiara at weddings and many evening social functions ( balls) . In 2014, an incredible Cartier exhibition was held at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris. ( click here to read further).
It was THE occasion to admire all the Cartier innovations, not only the platinum jewels loaned by their royal owners ( like the Halo Tiara worn by Kate Middleton at her wedding) but also the mystery clocks made of rock crystal. Those innovations have made the brand a favourite with royal families and stars. Queen Mum and her daughters Queen Elisabeth and Princess Margaret, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, Elisabeth Taylor, Wallis Simpson ( the Duchess of Windsor) , etc.
Another important innovator has been Van Cleef and Arpels. In addition to creating easy-to-wear jewels adapted to modern lifestyle and clothing, Van Cleef remains famous for inventing in 1933 the « Serti Mysterieux » technique ( Mystery setting | ミステリー・セッティング | 神秘镶嵌法) . The principle is fascinating : gems are polished to be embedded together without any metal frame. Only 4 appointed jewel makers master this technique and they remain anonymous for safety reason. You will never see their faces on television.
Van Cleef also invented the Zip necklace to please the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson, a big jewel buyer who was also a huge fan of Cartier’s. The zip concept required several years of research . It is now a classic.
If you want to admire these masterpieces in real, go to Place Vendôme and push the doors to visit the shops. Some relatives of mine bought their Three Gold wedding bands ( another classic by Cartier copied by many firms) at Cartier’s Main shop on Place Vendôme. They were served champagne and they could even call overseas to check a ring size information.
Cartier has been a favourite amongst the rich and famous… and the noble too. The Monaco Grimaldi royal family and the British Windsor royal family are notorious fans. Edward VIII, the pro Hitler-king who abdicated in 1936 to marry the scandalous American divorcee Wallis Simpson, lavished his wife with Cartier jewels , such as the wonderful saphire ball panther.
Queen Elisabeth II collects Cartier items too. She received the Halo Tiara for her 18th birthday and the Williamson brooch for her wedding at 21. She kindly loaned a few diamond flower brooches and the Halo tiara for the 2014 Cartier big exhibition.
Prince William gave a Cartier watch to Kate Middleton after Baby George‘s birth. It’s said that his mother, Princess Diana gave him a beautiful Cartier gold watch and encouraged him to start up a Cartier collection.
Place Vendôme is easily reached by foot from Opera or Concorde Plaza metro stations. You will see all the biggest jewel houses in the world, such as Boucheron, Chaumet, Cartier, Van Cleef, Mellerio, and the other ones, Rolex, Bulgari, Piaget, etc.
In addition to the beautiful central column, take a look at the Ritz Hotel, which is on the Place Vendome. It will reopen at the end of the year after a renovation that started in 2012. The reopening has been delayed.
Full of legends, the palace is remembered for welcoming stars like Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin. This is where Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed had their last dinner before that tragic night of 1997. You could see a superstar popping up like Madonna , Sharon Stone….or Sophie Marceau. But, we’ll talk again of the Ritz Hotel when it officially reopens.