The ornate Grand Palais des Champs-Elysees welcomed hordes of art, antiques and jewelry lovers – many of them Chinese – during the week of the Biennale des Antiquaires. It was the 26th fair organized by the French National Union of Antique Dealers and by far the biggest. More than 120 antique dealers, decorators, jewelers and booksellers converged to display their wares – 34 stands were housed in the Salon d’Honneur, last opened to the public in 1937.
At the center of the gleaming white, Paris-boulevard-style exhibition space designed by Karl Lagerfeld was an antique hot-air balloon. Bobbing beneath the building’s imposing glass dome, the candy-striped inflatable was the symbol of the fair, gracing posters and merchandise. Seeking inspiration from history, Lagerfeld had his brainwave after uncovering an archive photograph of the first Paris Air Show held at the Grand Palais in 1909.
Aside from the precious collectables, a pop-up gourmet restaurant tempted browsers. Celebrity chefs Michel Rostang, Guy Martin of Le Grand Vefour and La Bastide de Capelongue’s Edouard Loubet cooked up a storm at lunch and dinner. The pop-up space was small though, making advance reservations essential.
The highlight of the Biennale for many, however, was the exquisite jewelry, including many one-of-a-kind pieces created especially for the occasion. French legends Boucheron, Cartier, Chanel, Dior and Van Cleef & Arpels were joined by Bulgari (making its debut), Harry Winston and Piaget. And underscoring the importance of Chinese tastes and pocketbooks in today’s jewelry market, Hong Kong’s own Wallace Chan brought his brilliant wearable sculptures to the attention of the world.
Here are eight of our favorites, presented in alphabetical order by brand.
- Boucheron Mosaique Delilah Necklace - The 60-strong Biennale collection by Boucheron is inspired by the house’s archives, covering a diverse range of themes – nature, animals and insects, feathers, pearls, fabric – and paying tribute to illustrious past customers including royals and the maharajahs. Our pick of the bunch is the spectacular white- and pink-gold Mosaique Delilah necklace inspired by couture fabric – it falls comfortably on the skin like a piece of clothing.
- Boucheron Mosaique Delilah Necklace - Its intricate Mosaic setting is replete with a 26.89-carat pink pear-shaped morganite, 921 pink sapphires weighing 112.88 carats, 409 princess-cut diamonds of 50 carats, 132 orange sapphires of 16.26 carats and 118 yellow sapphires of 15 carats. With all those heavyweight gems, the 13 carats of diamonds in various cuts is barely worth mentioning.
- Bulgari High Jewelry Necklace with Sapphire Center Stone - Bulgari presented more than 100 new creations showcasing the house’s heritage and signature style, such as the Cleopatra-inspired Serpenti necklace depicting a coiled snake made of emerald beads and turquoise.
- Bulgari High Jewelry Necklace with Sapphire Center Stone - Our absolute favorite is a magnificent white gold necklace with a cushion-shaped 165.81-carat sapphire as its center stone, surrounded by striking round stones of contrasting colors – 41.85 carats of rubellites in shades of pink, 210.58 carats of orange mandarin garnets, 128 carats of green emeralds, 514 carats of deep blue sapphires, and diamonds of various cuts weighing 27 carats.
- Cartier Platinum Panther Ring - The Cartier stand was the largest at the Biennale covering an impressive 2,690 square feet. Within was a treasure trove of 148 high jewels and 12 precious objets d’art, as well as a selection of vintage pieces from the Cartier Tradition collection. There were many special pieces, such as a bracelet of round sapphires upon which a panther embraces a giant opal and the brand's signature Tutti Frutti pieces in sapphires, rubies and emeralds.
- Cartier Platinum Panther Ring - This platinum panther ring with a 24.46-carat cushion-shaped sapphire from Sri Lanka, encrusted with diamonds, onyx spots, emerald eyes and an onyx nose proved most eye-catching.
- Chanel Riviere Astrale Pearl Necklace - The tastefully decorated Chanel stand was hands-down our favorite, as it recalled Coco Chanel’s apartment in Rue Cambon. Created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Chanel’s diamond collection, the 1932 jewels boast a host of the house’s iconic motifs, from stars, pearls and ribbons to Chanel’s astrological sign, Leo, boldly carved in rock crystal. The pieces are luxurious yet wearable, underlining Chanel’s motto in haute couture (which also applies to haute joaillerie): “Don’t bind a woman up in armor, give her freedom to move.” Star of the new collection is a spectacular Riviere Astrale natural pearl necklace in white gold dusted with diamond stars - absolutely to die for, it comprises one 8.2-carat round diamond, 446 brilliant-cut diamonds totaling 16 carats and Chinese cultured pearls weighing a total of 876 carats.
- Dior Organza Brode Paraiba Earrings - The focus here was the debut of 20 one-of-a-kind pieces called Dear Dior: 11 rings, seven pairs of earrings and two bracelets for those who are counting. Creative director Victoire de Castellane takes inspiration from Dior costume jewelry of the 1950s and 1960s. The result is a collection of exuberantly colored jewels that reflect the joyful energy and drama synonymous with Dior Fine Joaillerie.
- Dior Organza Brode Paraiba Earrings - The surprise comes at the back: gold handiwork inspired by the lace on couture gowns created by Monsieur Dior reflects the intricate details that go into each and every piece. Our pick: a pair of platinum and yellow gold Organza Brode Paraiba earrings shimmering with 80 diamonds (a total of five carats), 32 Paraiba tourmalines (seven carats), two pear-cut green tourmalines (26 carats), 50 demantoid garnets (three carats) and 114 emeralds (nine carats).
- Harry Winston Wave Necklace with Diamond Center Stone - Harry Winston’s 20-strong collection is inspired by flowing water. Statement pieces with movement include a spectacular platinum necklace featuring 13 pear-cut sapphires weighing 146.71 carats, accompanied by 225 brilliant, marquise and pear-cut diamonds totaling 42.49 carats.
- Harry Winston Wave Necklace with Diamond Center Stone - The piece that most caught our eye, though, was the platinum Wave necklace with an astonishing 60-carat pear-cut diamond, ably supported by 534 brilliant-cut diamonds weighing more than 60 carats.
- Piaget Hand-Knitted Cuff Watch with Diamonds - Piaget’s Couture Precieuse Biennale collection – just shy of 60 pieces – draws inspiration from fashion embellishments such as lace, ribbons and floral embroidery. Standouts include necklaces featuring the fan motif and dressed in diamonds, red spinels, rubellites and South Sea pearls.
- Piaget Hand-Knitted Cuff Watch with Diamonds - The white gold mesh-inspired cuff watch is a re-edition of a vintage model from the 1970s. It hypnotizes with 69 brilliant-cut diamonds on the watch case, 331 brilliant-cut diamonds paved on the dial and a gold cuff that has been twisted and knitted entirely by hand, while epitomizing the Swiss jeweler-watchmaker’s craftsmanship and know-how.
- Van Cleef & Arpels Aquarius Clip with Sapphires - Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled a unique 12-jewel set inspired by the zodiac signs. Two pieces were instant favorites: the Gemini long necklace and detachable clip in white and yellow gold set with diamonds, white mother-of-pearl and yellow sapphires – one cushion-cut stone weighs 14.07 carats – and more than 1,000 lapis lazuli beads strung in seven strands; and the Aquarius clip in white gold in diamonds, black lacquer and sapphires. Five of these sapphires are oval-shaped Sri Lankan stones weighing 18.28 carats.
- Van Cleef & Arpels Aquarius Clip with Sapphires - The Aquarius Clip is special to us because it features the house’s iconic mystery setting technique first created in 1933 – in sapphires instead of rubies – whereby the prongs are concealed beneath the gems they hold.
Biennale des Antiquaires Specifications
- 15,200 square meters of space
- 7 linear km of partitions
- 5,150 square meters of stands
- 400 workers required for their design, production and assembly
- 1 billion nails used
- 7-meter-high replica of the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde obelisk