Diamonds Are A Dude’s Best Friend?

That’s the message at Boucheron, the consistent rule-breaker in the well-behaved world of high jewellery.
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Who do you picture when you imagine a man decked out in the finest jewellery that Paris’s Place Vendôme has to offer? Perhaps the actor Timothée Chalamet, who has made a habit of tricking out his eclectic red-carpet ensembles with antique Cartier brooches. Maybe it’s the basketball player Russell Westbrook, who draped a sapphire necklace over his trad tuxedo at the Met Gala in September with the insouciance of a workplace lanyard.

The Maharaja of Patiala puts modern-day male peacocks to shame.

Hulton Archive

The man who really should come to mind, however, is the Maharaja of Patiala. A strikingly tall Indian royal and keen cricketer, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had a taste for Rolls-Royces and suites at the Ritz; aircraft (he was the first person in India to own a plane) and diamonds as big as golf balls. In 1928, he arrived in Paris with 7,571 diamonds and 1,432 emeralds. Then, he paid a visit to Boucheron, where he placed an exceptionally grand commission for 149 designs.

A diamond collar fit for a prince (or princess).

The technical drawings for those extraordinarily extravagant pieces still reside in the Boucheron archive, and were first viewed by its current creative director Claire Choisne when she came to the house just over 10 years ago. “For me it was like a fairytale,” she recalls, of studying the designs and soaking up the history. “Normally, I don’t like such cutie things, such girly fairytales, but this story – it was strong.” How did it feel to see a man wearing such opulent gems? She punches the air in reply. “The majority of our clients at the beginning of Boucheron were men,” she muses. “After that, I don’t know why, we didn’t do so much for men, almost everything for women. And I am really happy to see that it’s coming back. Men are bold enough today to assume to wear this kind of piece.”

Boucheron’s New Sarpech brooch can be worn on the body or in the hair.

Choisne’s gift is in taking outré designs and making them wearable (at least, for the one per cent’s gilded lifestyle). “I try to create a collection less about status and power, and more about style, something you can enjoy for yourself,” she says. The stand-out in this collection is the ‘New Maharani set’, comprising three necklaces – a collar, a five-strand princess-length style, and a longer sautoir – in white gold, diamonds, rock crystal and pearls. Like many of her designs, each necklace can be converted into shorter styles, and sections can be portioned off as brooches, mostly modelled by men in the accompanying lookbook. 

A splash of colour from nearly 40 carats of emeralds in the New Maharaja necklace.

“When I design with my team, we never think, ‘Oh, we will do something for a man, or for a woman,’” says Choisne. Nevertheless, for the last three or four years, she and her team have worked on drawings, then Photoshopped them onto photographs of men and women to see how they look. The exercise has “helped us a lot to have a better vision – the same piece can go well on a woman, and can be even stronger on a man”.

When off the arm, a stack of bracelets lives on a high luxe mother of pearl bobbin.

Just one item in the collection features colour: nine cushion-cut Colombian emeralds that weigh in at 38.73 carats, to be precise. A flamboyant collar necklace, in addition to the emeralds it boasts diamonds covered by rock crystal, creating a visual effect of droplets with blurry sparkle inside. “I wanted to give lightness with the crystal, and purity with the almost monochrome palette,” explains Choisne. Then there is the mother-of-pearl bobbin that is home to – and almost arresting enough to distract from – an armful of white gold, pearl, mother of pearl and diamond bangles, that were inspired by the bracelets Indian women wear to marry. What, you don’t have a bobbin to display your bangles when you’re not wearing them? “I love it, I had to fight a little to include it!” laughs Choisne. “I am obsessed with the idea that jewellery should be worn, or on the table – but not in the safe.”