René Boivin, an expert goldsmith and engraver bought his first jewelry workshop in 1890 and established the house of Boivin. His marriage to Jeanne Poiret in 1893 was critical to his success in the jewelry industry as Jeanne was a savvy business partner and had numerous connections with Paris’ fashion elite. Jeanne Poiret’s brother, Paul Poiret was Paris’ most famous couturier and influenced the Boivin’s with his taste for exotic designs of the Orient and Middle East. The Boivin’s set up a number of workshops, establishing a reputation for creative designs that captured the essence of beauty in motion. Together Mr. and Mrs. Boivin created fabulous designs marked by their signature elements: elegant lines, twists, and trembling components. Favorite themes included flowers, fruit and animals.
By 1905 the Boivin’s work was in such high demand that they no longer needed to produce pieces for other firms, their small, loyal elite clientele provided enough business and demand. The work produced at Boivin around the turn of the century was not thoroughly innovative, but it was expertly manufactured and designed. The firm was especially known for its floral-motif, gem-set pieces. René rejected the popular Art Nouveau styles of the day and instead created chunky pieces inspired by Egyptian, Syrian, and Persian designs, some of his more adventurous pieces were “bestiary” consisting of realistic and mythological animal miniatures. However these bold pieces, which would come into style during the Art Deco period, were before their time and dubbed “barbaric.” Many of the pieces were never sold and were dismantled to use their elements in other designs.
René Boivin died in 1917 and his wife Jeanne and daughter Germaine assumed control of the business. This was a unique circumstance as women designers were extremely rare in the industry at the time. Jeanne hired Louis Girard to manage the store and sought female designers to design for the company. These female designers included the famous Suzanne Belperron until 1931, Juliette Moutard, who was with the firm until the mid-seventies and daughter Germaine Boivin who had great success and exhibited her innovative designs in many International Exhibitions in the 30’s and 40’s. Jeanne established the jewelry maison on the prestigious avenue de l’Opéra. Similar to her husband, Jeanne was drawn to colored stones, using imaginative color combinations to create magnificent jewelry sought after by Europe’s cultural elite. Under Jeanne Boivin, Maison Boivin produced innovative jewelry with astounding movements and textures that appealed not only to the eye but also to the touch.
The Boivin name is best known for the pieces created by these women. The pieces were never signed; however the jewelry was distinctive enough to be recognized by educated consumers. Around 1930, the firm began to create bold, large pieces with exotic themes and materials that diverged from the Art Deco style popular at the time. Jeanne Boivin reintroduced the ‘barbaric’ style bracelets first designed by her husband decades earlier with great success. Often these bracelets had chunky, mechanical motifs; other times they featured gentle Assyrians swirls. Yellow gold was used almost exclusively. Rubies, sapphires, and emeralds were eschewed in favor semi-precious gemstones like citrines, aquamarine, and topaz. Onyx, rock crystal, and lapis were often incorporated into the pieces, as were more obscure materials like ebony, sandalwood, and tiger-skin. Boivin’s team of designers also produced naturalistic, floral designs featuring orchids, foxgloves, and umbel clusters. Animal and sea life were often depicted, as were mythical creatures like angels, mermaids, and unicorns. These creations, and their sculptural qualities, were innovative. Jeanne was also responsible for harmonizing her jewelry designs with the latest in fashion, and made jewelry for the modern woman who worked and was mobile.
Boivin's clients included artists, intellectuals, and exuberant socialites like Sigmund Freud, Edgar Degas, and Louise de Vilmorin, as well as film stars and royal figures. For this reason, Boivin fancied itself the “jeweler of the intelligentsia.” The firm presented its work at select exhibitions, including the 1937 World Fair in Paris and the 1947 French Institute of Decorative Arts Show. Since it never advertised and refused to occupy a ground floor location with window-displays, the public was rarely exposed to the Boivin name or work. In this way, the firm was able to retain its exclusivity and high-end reputation.
The Boivin firm has changed hands several times during the 20th century. Following Jeanne Boivin’s death in 1959, her daughter Germaine took control. In 1976 the Boivin sisters sold the company to Jacques Bernard, a designer who had been with the company since 1964. The firm was again sold in 1991 to Asprey. Boivin continues to produce finely-made jewelry in typical Boivin themes.