PARIS — The decades-old Paris antiques and jewelry fair formerly known as the Biennale des Antiquaires presented its post-scandal strategy at this year’s event with a pared-down name and a tougher vetting process for would-be participants, but it is still working on bringing French jewelry houses back into the fold.
Already facing competition from other events like the fine art fair TEFAF in Maastricht, the Netherlands, the Paris show was hit last year by the mass defection of high-end Place Vendôme jewelry houses and a scandal involving the alleged sale of fake 18th-century chairs.
Discussions with the French houses are ongoing, said organizers of the event, which has been officially renamed La Biennale Paris, as they expressed hope they will manage to draw the jewelers back as part of their display of French prestige.
“I’m doing everything so that the high-end jewelry from the Place Vendôme, the big brands, return because honestly it’s in our common interest since the Biennale is truly international,” said Mathias Ary Jan, the new president of France’s Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the organization behind the event.
“We had misunderstandings, but we have been engaged in a constructive dialogue for several months,” he added. Cartier led the exodus of the top 14 houses at the fair.
Previous disagreements centered around the importance jewelry had gained at the event over the years, whether jewels less than a century old could be shown, and the cost and placement of jewelry houses’ stands.
Ary Jan told WWD that he wants to return to the show’s format from around seven years ago, when a dedicated space regrouped the high jewelers.
“Throughout the corridors, you’ll hear Chinese, Japanese, English. I really think that in the heart of the Grand Palais, which is a unique spot in the world, given the strength of an event like this, Parisian high jewelry and watches from France must be present,” he said.
In the meantime, a handful of international jewelers were eager to ride the show’s reputation from the past and bet on its future standing.
Indian jeweler Nirav Modi said he was happy to display his pieces at the show for the second time to collectors gathered for the antiques, sculptures and paintings.
He presented a ruby and diamond suite with 27 rare pigeon’s blood rubies, set against a backdrop of diamonds fashioned in his trademark Mughal, petal-like cut.
“It took us five years. To find one ruby of this quality is very, very difficult,” he said of the set, which includes a bracelet, necklace and earrings built around 71.11 carats of the rare rubies from a mine in Burma. His brand is undergoing a vast international expansion campaign, with plans to reach 100 stores by 2025, with a current pace of around 10 store openings a year.
For her first display at the Biennale, Chinese designer Anna Hu, whose pieces have been donned by Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, wore a dress designed for her by couturier Guo Pei.
“I am super excited — this is the first exposure in public because I have never participated in any jewelry fairs,” Hu said. A trained classical musician, the designer considers Paris an important base.
“It’s home, it’s definitely home, because I received my comprehensive Western education [in the city],” she said, referring to her prior work with Van Cleef & Arpels. With workshops in France, Hu characterizes her jewelry as “Chinese in spirit and French in craftsmanship.”
Among her pieces on display was a yin yang snake ring-bracelet designed for New York photographer Cindy Sherman, encrusted in pink and yellow diamonds.
Hu, who listens to Sergei Rachmaninoff when designing, made a point of displaying her name prominently in her stand, noting that high jewelry is dominated by male names.
It was also the first time for Glenn Spiro, a self-described gems man from London who brought a pair of titanium and white gold cuffs with seven rough emeralds weighing a total of 56.08 carats. His pieces start at $40,000.
“We’re not used to putting things out on view,” said the jeweler, who sells his work at Harrods, noting it was his first time at a “a proper, respectable show.”
As a longtime visitor, Spiro said he thought he may have missed the “great years, 10 years back when it was a show to be reckoned with,” to participate in the fair while noting the new management team has “put life back in” the event.
Spiro sells to clients around the world but hasn’t yet made inroads in China and is not interested in expanding extensively abroad. “I don’t want to lose that personal touch,” he said.
Also from London was Moussaieff Jewelers, which brought a traffic light pendant featuring a 48.86 carat Colombian emerald, a 158.81 carat sapphire from Sri Lanka and two rubies from Thailand, meant to bring together the bright colors of Silk Road gems with a nod to a modern city life.
Boghossian, the sixth generation Armenian jewelry house based in Switzerland, returned for the second consecutive year.
“It’s very important for us,” said Ralph Boghossian as he showed visitors a collection of antique jewelry featuring inlay techniques, nestled between the house’s new designs, including diamond drop earrings from the Les Merveilles collection.