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As I crossed Place Vendôme, just before quarantine immobilised us, I daydreamed of all the extraordinary jewels that passed through this iconic square, all of their secrets safely guarded in the jewellery houses’ archives. I reached rue de la Paix - emblematic home of the Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques, and stopped at Mellerio where I had the chance to visit their archives, the holy grail of jewellery lovers. Archives serve as the blueprint of a jewellery brand, compiled of drawings, cast models, production books and stone sourcing records, as well as family and client correspondence, special order ledgers, photographs and sale records. Jewellery archives are rich in all aspects of the production of a brand’s collections, from the creation of a piece to its acquisition, and sometimes its later return to the maison as part of its historical collection. Archives have also become a key marketing asset for luxury jewellery brands, often using the notion of past and future in advertising.

To better understand the value behind a maison's jewellery archives in today’s industry, I had the opportunity to sit down with three exceptional women: Mrs. Pascale Lepeu, curator of Cartier Collection, responsible for acquisitions of jewels and objects for the collection as well as of the curation and organisation of international exhibitions, Mrs. Laure-Isabelle Mellerio, CEO, creative director and head of the archives of Mellerio, and Mrs. Catherine Cariou, formerly the director of the Van Cleef & Arpels heritage collection for 18 years, and currently an expert consultant for an important private jewellery collection. In today’s volatile market, three major points echo in the industry in regards to the importance of archives: authenticity, provenance and the transmission of knowledge.

The Cartier name holds centuries of jewellery history, in 1979 the French house made the executive decision to restore and compile its archives within its 3 Cartier branches, Paris, London and New York, creating the most complete source of information on Cartier’s history and heritage. Cartier has always been a visionary brand, searching for the next trend, the next innovative technique. The Cartier brand identity is renowned for its constant reinvention. Already at the end of the 19th century, Louis Cartier was keen to promote new designs, new techniques, new materials with his vision constantly aimed toward the future and creative renewal. Cartier’s archives are a testimony to the brand’s timeless search for novelty.

Over a lovely lunch in downtown Geneva, Mrs. Lepeu explained that the only time a reproduction or a piece inspired by a previous style would appear in the archives, it would be that of a special order of a client inclined to copy a past fashion. It was never a true representation of the production of the era. Such subtle observations can only be made from studying the past order books. The Cartier archives provide an important resource for the brand in today’s market and allows them to trace pieces, identify possible provenance, rarity of the design and more importantly; the authenticity of a piece - all factors which can drastically increase prices of a piece in a private sale or at auction. The authencity of signed pieces is the biggest concern of all buyers; private or professional, confirmation of authenticity by a maison can give an unquestionable answer while adding value to a piece.

I met Mrs. Laure-Isabelle Mellerio in the historical Mellerio boutique in Paris where the archives are housed. Jewellery is part of the Mellerio family DNA. Established in 1613, the family-owned business became a favourite of kings and queens after Mellerio found a faithful client in the Regent Queen of France, Marie of Medici. The Mellerio archives offer a fascinating look into the history of the European royal courts, the evolution of style through the centuries and the buying habits of some of the greatest jewellery collectors of all time. They are the oldest surviving jewellery archives around the Place Vendôme. As the creative director of the company, the archives are an endless source of inspiration for Mrs. Mellerio.

New creations are often based on those of the past to ensure the transmission of the house’s identity and style. Through the archives, Mrs. Mellerio wants to share the important history of the brand and its craftsmanship, believing it is part of the duty of such historical brands to promote their heritage to the public.

The heritage communication of the brand created a niche in the industry for pieces such as the famous diamond and enamel peacock aigrette by Mellerio, bought for Anita Delgado by the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. The aigrette was sold in June of last year at Christie’s New York for USD $735,000, acheiving a higher result than its pre-sale estimate of USD $500'000-$700'000 thanks to the historical provenance which had been actively promoted by Christie’s with the help of Mellerio’s archive documentation.

Mrs. Catherine Cariou spent eighteen years as director of the Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) heritage collection, beginning at its inception and curating many of their incredible jewellery exhibitions around the world. Naturally, we met in a little Parisian café in no other place than Rue de la Paix facing the VCA boutique. Like Cartier and Mellerio, VCA was originally a family affair, the clients and the craftsmanship have been at the heart of their history throughout the years. The archives of the maison illustrate this history with each exhibition of the heritage collection which are curated with meticulous attention to detail. Presenting archival renderings and gouache paintings alongside jewellery in exhibitions has allowed the maison to market its craftsmanship while showing historical trends, manufacturing techniques and the legends that jewellery can carry on from one generation to the next.

Jewellery exhibitions have become a key strength in building the image of a jewellery brand, reaching wider audiences and introducing the brand’s history to the general public at large.

Information that was at one time accessible mainly to specialised dealers, jewellery historians and auction house experts is now available to all, making the market more transparent. In today’s market, promoting an image of timeless savoir-faire opens the door to new customers, better-informed clients, and potential new bidders at auction. It also caters to the world of period jewellery, giving greater understanding of the market prices for historical jewels and objects. The quest for vintage signed jewels can be clearly observed in the rise of prices at auction over the past decade.

One opinion that was shared by the three exceptional women interviewed was that their archives are essential in today’s market, sharing the history and each maison's heritage is essential. Like the precious heirlooms we wish to pass down to our children, archives are the transmission of history, knowledge and a savoir-faire to future generations. The creations of today are the archives of tomorrow, also shaping generations of jewellery lovers and professionals alike.

Helene E. Robert is a Graduate Gemologist, jewellery expert and art historian

Learn more about Helene and her passion for gemstones and histical jewellery on Instagram @h.e.r_jewels

#TheGlitterati #GlitteratiGuestEdit #HistoricalJewels #Cartier #VanCleefArpels #Mellerio #Archives

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