04 October 2022
Sprague, the jewelry squat
Fancy a trip to the DOC – a squat in the 19th arrondissement of Paris that’s home to the Sprague jewelry collective?
By Sandrine Merle.
The huge decrepit 3,000 m2 building at 26, rue du Docteur Potain is a former technical high school that has been abandoned for 20 years. The DOC artistic laboratory (named for Docteur Potain) has set up there with a range of exhibition rooms, photo studio, ceramic and sewing workshops, amongst others. The Sprague, a jewelry-based collective, has restored a 75m2 space and landscaped the large garden, located at the end of the courtyard, creating a crazy element of luxury in the middle of a squat!
Sprague vs Cartier
Surprising as it may seem, I discovered Sprague during one of my visits to the Cartier Institute of High Jewelry, where Giuseppe Lardo, the current president of the collective, has been working full-time for 10 years. Talk about culture shock! “Sprague comes from Sprague-Thomson, the name of the first Parisian Metro trains,” explains the jeweler. The choice came about Lise Viot founded the collective with friends of L’Ecole Boulle and jeweler she met in the catacombs – another of her passions. This technical enthusiast (he also opened a school in Mayotte a few years ago), devotes his evenings and weekends entirely to Sprague and the Spragians. There are currently just under 350 members, including about thirty active members and 12 residents.
Sharing and transmission
We’re dealing with purists here. No one uses CAD, everything is done by hand: metal is recycled, melted, forged, rolled, polished and enameled. The equipment, loaned or donated by former workers, is shared: stamping dies, drawing benches, bocfil saws, cast-iron scales from the 1970s, polishing barrels, turning and milling machines, enamel ovens, a large and magnificent wooden workbench, and so on. “It’s great that we have a lot of machines, some of which are impossible to keep at home. The workbench, for example, is rented for 1 euro/hour. All this turns this profession, which is considered very closed, into something much more affordable,” says Marie-Paule Promis, Sprague resident and creator. The collective also offers training in traditional techniques such as forging or filigree: the former consists of making a piece of jewelry directly from the material, the latter of making it with gold threads. It’s utterly fascinating.
Reconnecting and mingling
Out of this collective, a corporation with no age or experience limitations has arisen, which meets and exchanges notably during “Siren Wednesdays”, an aperitif that takes place every first Wednesday of the month. “It’s a completely free universe, different from school or a company, which allows you to be very creative but also to seek pragmatic advice when you launch your brand, which is my case,” explains Itzel Flor Blancas, designer and another Sprague resident. Young people studying outside of high school, a craftsman from Burkina Faso, entrepreneurs who do not have their own workshop, retired people wishing to pass on their skills, craftsmen from large companies curious to discover a less conventional world, a pharmacist and an architect in retraining, all come together there. During my visit, a young Berber jeweler from Morocco was melting down his silver to make traditional pendants, Amadou was forging a silver bracelet under the gaze of a young Japanese ceramist eager to learn about jewelry. So many encounters that would be improbable elsewhere.
The Sprague collective is squatting in this place, so theoretically it can be evicted within 48 hours, on the say-so of the prefect. However, in light of the positive character of its activity, the squat has obtained authorization to continue until at least 2025.