Portrait / The Boghossian family

Werte / N°24

“Designing

jewellery is like

painting

with light”

Their name stands interna- tionally for the finest crafts- manship, with their jewellery fetching the highest prices: Dalia, Ralph, Roberto and Albert Boghossian

With designs that blend Eastern opulence with Western minimalism, the Armenian jeweller dynasty Boghossian is a favourite with the cultural elite and frequently takes a starring role at auctions

T

TEXT

Eva Karcher


ILLUSTRATION

Paula Sanz Caballero

The sparkling pink diamond rests on a heart-shaped white bril- liant three times its size. A glittering band made from tiny, bright pink diamonds melds with a second band of white brilliants; to- gether, they form a kissing ring with a snake’s head end. Nothing interrupts the dazzling play of light across the brilliants, one en- throned on top of another. The gems appear united in an eternal kiss, each lighting up the other.

The extravagant glamour of their Kissing Collection is a source of pride for the Boghossians: “It’s pure sensual refinement,” en- thuses Managing Partner Roberto Boghossian. Together with his brother Ralph, who is in charge of research and development, and his uncle Albert, the company boss, he runs the family firm from its headquarters in Geneva. The floating, weightless interplay that the gemstones appear to have is achieved using a highly sophisti- cated technique. They are placed on top of one another in such a way that their metal or gold settings become practically invisible, creating the illusion that the stones are joined together in an em- brace, as it were. Then there are the complicated cuts, which need to harmonise perfectly. Not to mention the selection of the stones themselves, a task that requires an immense amount of experience.

This is something that the family of jewellers, now in its sixth generation, has ample quantities of. The origins of the Armenian family company go all the way back to 1868 and to the 7000-year- old Turkish city of Mardin, situated close to the Syrian border in what was historically Mesopotamia. Today a UNESCO world her- itage site, Mardin was once an important trading city on the Silk Road. One of its residents was Ovannes Boghossian, a jewellery maker who sold his wares to both locals and travelling merchants. He and his son were much in demand for their craft, but it was Ovannes’s grandson, Ohannes, who first expanded the business. He began journeying to Aleppo, Beirut and Cairo, on horseback and by ship, searching for increasingly rare pearls and diamonds and trading with other merchants.

The Boghossian family

The Armenian Boghossian family has been

in the jewellery business for six generations. From the city of Mardin, where great-grand- father Ovannes Boghossian manufactured jewellery, the family went on a journey that took them to various locations in both the eastern and western hemispheres and eventu- ally to Geneva, where they established their current headquarters. These multinational roots shape the modern-day aesthetic of the globally successful brand: oriental opulence meets occidental minimalism. The exclusive jewellery is sold in boutiques in Geneva, Gstaad, Hong Kong, London and New York. The Boghossian Foundation, founded in 1992 by Robert Boghossian and his two sons Jean and Albert, supports art and cultur- al projects.

boghossianjewels.com

When the First World War broke out, Ohannes was forced to close down his workshop, working as a waiter in order to feed his family. A year after the end of the war, he opened a boutique in Aleppo, Syria, from where he established himself and his sons as renowned traders between the eastern and western hemispheres. From 1950 onwards, Robert Boghossian, Ohannes’s eldest son, made increasingly frequent trips to China where he sourced fine natural pearls, gradually becoming a much sought-after specialist in the Middle East.

In 1960, the family settled in Beirut, at that time an elegant me- tropolis. Society ladies couldn’t do without their exquisite precious stones, brought back from India, Burma, Thailand and Colombia by Robert’s eldest son Jean, who made frequent expeditions to these regions over the following years. At the same time, he ac- quired invaluable knowledge of gemstone cutting and built up a first-class network made up of the foremost dealers in each coun- try. To escape the Lebanese civil war, Jean made the decision in the mid-1970s to settle in Antwerp as experts in emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Not only were they soon the main suppliers to collectors and buyers of these precious wares, they also built up a substantial private collection of spectacular coloured gemstones.

The generation who are still active today have been on the scene since 1980: this was the year that Albert Boghossian took the helm, together with his nephews Roberto and Ralph and daughter Dalia. Geneva, once a hub of gemstone trading between Asia, America and the Middle East, became the company headquarters, whilst 2008 saw the launch of Maison Boghossian. This was the begin- ning of the company’s rise to becoming a global brand – a brand with a unique ability to blend the cultural heritage of East and West thanks to its multinational roots.

“The design of our jewellery speaks the language of both East and West,” company boss Albert Boghossian explains. “We come from the East, and have found success in the West. We have the East to thank for the oriental opulence and ornamental intricacy of our aesthetic, whilst the West gives our creations their fluid, airy quality, their boldness, and the innovative technologies to bring them into being.” Besides the Kissing method, another of Boghoss- ian’s signatures is the Merveilles technique. Here, diamonds are placed seamlessly next to each other so that the gold or metal mounts that hold them can no longer be seen. This creates a chore- ography of light that is “simply amazing”, Ralph Boghossian ex- plains. “These natural wonders – Kashmir rubies, emeralds or blue diamonds – are ten thousand years old. With our exceptional set- ting techniques, we awaken their eternal energy.” Impressive ex- amples include the elliptical Merveilles Halo earrings, and the Merveilles Eternity wedding ring, which is decadently set with colourless diamonds on both the inside and outside.

“Designing jewellery is like painting with light,” Albert enthus- es, mentioning the inlay technique, which dates back to the An- cient Egyptians. “We are revitalising it,” explains Albert. “It in- volves setting one stone inside another,” his nephew Roberto con- tinues. “In order to do this, the stones have to be very precisely cut and shaped. For example, we embed sapphires in mother-of-pearl, or combine turquoise with diamond inlays. The effect created is like a canvas painted with jewels.”

The Boghossians also love to experiment, finding inspiration in some unconventional objects. For example, the sensational Man- uscript Bracelet was inspired by a page from a 15th century German book manuscript. Delicate garlands of natural pearls curve elegant- ly around flowers formed of unusually coloured diamonds; the overall effect is extraordinarily beautiful. It took ten years just for the jewellers to collect up the coloured diamonds they needed, and another eighteen months before the bracelet was completed. Un- surprisingly, the piece was sold for a record 4.5 million dollars at the Christie’s jewel auction in Hong Kong in 2018.

“Our aim is to grow carefully, maintaining our unique signature”

RALPH BOGHOSSIAN

“The gems speak to me. That’s how it starts.

I see them, hold them, touch them and feel how they inspire me to find a form for them”

EDMOND CHIN

But such lofty price tags are nothing unusual for Boghossian. In- ternational customers cannot resist the inimitable allure of their iconic one-off pieces: in 2020, for example, a connoisseur paid sev- en million dollars at Christie’s for a double rivière necklace boast- ing 28 near-flawless emeralds (weighing a total of 117.60 carats). A second, inner row of oval and square-cut white diamonds comple- ments the emeralds and brings out the nuances of their greens. Ex- ceptional pieces such as this are usually designed by Edmond Chin, Creative Director at Boghossian. “For me, he’s the best jewellery designer in the world,” says Roberto. Chin grew up in Singapore and studied geography at Oxford. Starting in 1994, he spent five years as the head of the jewellery department at Christie’s in Hong Kong, before opening his own studio in 2001. He joined Boghoss- ian in 2015. “We complement each other perfectly,” Albert says. “Edmond is experimental. He wants his creations to bring dy- namism and vibrancy to women’s bodies.” Chin explains that his love of gems started as a child, when his parents introduced him to the joys of jewels and jewellery. “The gems speak to me. That’s how it starts. I see them, hold them, touch them and feel how they in- spire me to find a form for them.”

With locations in Geneva, London, New York, Hong Kong and Gstaad, Maison Boghossian is small compared with giants such as Cartier and Tiffany. “Our aim is to grow with care, maintaining our unique signature,” says Head of Research and development Ralph Boghossian.

Europe remains the company’s most important market. Along- side the headquarters in Geneva, Brussels also plays an important role. Here, the Boghossians bought and restored the art deco Villa Empain, which now houses their cultural foundation, the Fonda- tion Boghossian. As bridge-builders between East and West, the family is involved in social and humanitarian initiatives for people whose lives have been devastated by war and natural disasters in Armenia and Lebanon. They also support art and cultural projects. “Because art facilitates dialogue between cultures and allows peo- ple from all backgrounds to dream,” Albert Boghossian says. This is another way in which the Boghossians stay true to their roots and to their motto: “We want to be continually challenging ourselves.”

“The design of our

jewellery speaks

the language of both

East and West”

ALBERT BOGHOSSIAN

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