28 February 2024

René Boivin’s felines

The felines, lynx, tiger, lion and panther are among the most beautiful jewels ever created by René Boivin.

By Sandrine Merle.



René Boivin excels in depictions of flowers and animals. Among the latter, sublime felines have gone down in jewelry history. The supple, transformable tiger that belonged to Hélène Rochas is one of them: this elegant Parisian was once seen wearing it as a brooch on her shoulder. Another extraordinary jewel was a lion with a magnificent multicolored mane, once owned by the Aga Khan. The former sold for €677,000 at Christie’s in 2013, the latter for €700,000 at Christie’s in 2023.


The First Feline

A tiger appears very early on in the René Boivin archives, around 1900, on a belt buckle; it’s roaring, mouth open with sharp teeth, ready to devour its prey. Then nothing, no more felines for over 50 years. Designer Suzanne Belperron, who laid the foundations of the Boivin style, never drew any: unattracted by flora and fauna, she preferred to explore abstract, geometric figures. For once, she doesn’t play a major role in this subject…”. On the contrary, the designer Juliette Moutard (who succeeded her in 1932) loved flowers, butterflies, starfish, etc., as did Jeanne Boivin, who ran the company at the time,” explains Thomas Torroni-Levene, who now holds the archives and is guardian of the temple. She imagined her first “carpette” (a term evoking a panther skin rug) in diamonds and rubies, in 1958. It was probably a special order, although there is no definitive proof.


Thomas Torroni-Levene and the René Boivin archives


The Shadow of Cartier’s Panther

From then until the company’s closure, the archives were populated by felines. It’s not just a coincidence: you can see the influence of Jacques Bernard,” explains Thomas Torroni-Levene. Indeed, in 1964, the company recruited this craftsman jeweler, who had been working in Cartier’s workshop, as a salesman. At his bench, he was responsible for sculpting, molding, assembling and setting the highly realistic panthers imagined by Cartier’s artistic director, Jeanne Toussaint. A few years later, in 1976, Jacques Bernard became director and, in 1989, owner of René Boivin. His passion for felines never waned…


Distinctly Boivin Felines

That said, the felines drawn by Juliette Moutard, known for her lively style, have nothing in common with those drawn at the same time by Jeanne Toussaint. Cartoonish, cheerful and colorful, they look like something out of a cartoon. Whether stretched out or hanging on a rope with their big paws, they also feature a mane, usually absent in Cartier’s designs. The splendid mane of the lion that belonged to the Aga Kahn unfurls in sapphires, rubies, emeralds and more. The articulation of the body often adds a playful dimension. “René Boivin has always loved jewelry that is animated, transformable and/or has hiding places,” explains Thomas Torroni-Levene. For example, the back of the lion clinging to its chain is equipped with a micro-hatch.


The felines of the 70s and 80s

In the 70s and 80s, the designers (under the direction of Jacques Bernard) made their mark. The felines of Marie-Caroline de Brosses and Marie-Christine de Lamaze changed their attitude. They often boil down to a single element, usually a head resembling that of a wild cat. Made of blackened silver or ebony, it is enhanced by a yellow gold fillet highlighting the nose, lips and mouth. Colored stones such as peridots, rubies and emeralds represent the piercing eyes. These felines are stylized to the extreme: one of their most famous necklaces is formed by two panther paws crossing delicately at the front of the neck. A menagerie suggested, graphic and abstract, that bears testimony to Boivin’s unique style.


René Boivin Archives – The French Jewelry Post by Sandrine Merle

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