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The History of the Legendary House of Gripoix

Everyone ordered bijouterie from Madam Gripoix, from Jeanne Lanvin to Jean Piguet, but certainly the best relationship Gripoix had was with Gabriel Chanel.

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Guy de Maupassant wrote a famous story about a necklace. The story is about a young, pretty, intelligent, well educated but poorly endowed bride who has to marry a petty official; and thus suffering from the limitations of living a life with a husband that lacked any exquisite qualities. In order to entertain his dejected spouse, one day her husband gets an invitation to a ball and gives his wife 400 francs he had saved for a hunting rifle so that she would be able to order an appropriate dress.

However, when the dress is ready it becomes clear that it is lacking jewelry; and it would be impossible to attend the ball while looking so poor. The protagonist approaches her rich childhood friend with whom she was raised together at the monastery and borrows a diamond necklace from her. The ball is a great success and she is the centre of attention. However when the woman returns home, she discovers that she has lost the necklace. In order to conceal her faux pas from her friend, she buys a new necklace identical to the one she lost, and to pay it off the woman gets into a huge debt which over the years gradually drags her down the social ladder from bourgeoisie to poverty. Ten years later, having lost her good looks, the woman encounters her friend on the Champs Elysees, who still looks  young, beautiful and rich. The protagonist reveals to her friend the whole story about the necklace, but her friend replies in amazement that the diamonds were fake and would “cost 500 francs at most”.

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Coco Chanel and Verdura, 1937.

Maison Gripoix starts out with a dramatic story. In 1869 (or a year earlier, according to other sources), Paris master glass-maker Augustina Gripoix began making replicas of pearls and crystals; casting glass into different shapes and colours and inserting them into most sophisticated settings. She used the pâte de verre (glass paste) technique, whereby a traditional ceramic or qypsum form was filled with a multi-colour pieces of glass and special gluing substances and then baked in a furnace, resulting in objects featuring fantastical hues. Only Augustina made her crystals by pouring the melted glass paste into the press moulds skipping the furnace step, allowing her to achieve the purity of colour, transparency and shine. She found a simple method to make beautiful jewelry and thus  Marquises, Duchesses and Princesses qued up ... so Madame Gripoix would make them replicas of their own jewelry in case of robbery or loss, or some unusual jewelry pieces for their new wraps, neckpieces, or boas. The so-called ‘costume jewelry’ emerged to a large extent thanks to the work of Maison Gripoix.



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Vogue illustration, 1937.

Augustina Gripoix earned her fame in the 1890’s when she started making necklaces for Sarah Bernhardt to wear on stage; and later the costume jewelry for the first high fashion house of Charles Frederick Worth. Later on, Paul Poiret, the leading couturier of the 1910’s contacted her and she created sophisticated oriental style jewelry for him to match his famous oriental costumes based on the aesthetic of Diaghilev’s initial Russian seasons.

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Chanel haute couture clip-on earrings with Gripoix crystals, 1970s 

The value of costume jewelry was now being recognized in its own right; and not just for imitation purposes. The taste of emancipated young girls, who were gaining more and more freedom and opportunities, was best met with bijouterie. So in the 1920, when Augustina’s daughter Susan became the head of the House; Gripoix prospects became even more exciting. Girls with short-cropped hair in short dresses zoomed by in open-top cars wearing bijou rather than diamonds. Everyone ordered bijouterie from Madam Gripoix during this period, from Jeanne Lanvin to Jean Piguet, but certainly the best relationship Gripoix had was with Gabriel Chanel.

It is well-known that Chanel, a fan of large jewelry with large stones, made bijouterie super fashionable. Chanel brought copies of byzantine jewelry to Susanne Gripoix; and asked her to make the pieces in that same style, requesting: “Let everyone think that this jewelry is not new, but found somewhere on an excavation site nearby Rue Camborne”. She was so satisfied with the result of her order that she remained a faithful client of Gripoix for several decades. This was how the famous byzantine style of Chanel jewelry was brought to life, fancying golden Maltese crosses with large multicolor stones and matching bracelets; cabochons and massive brooches all of which have become a part of the Gripoix aesthetics.862c298f0153037a55b2137ae0ebae96.jpg

Chanel haute couture flower necklace with Gripoix crystals, 1980s

Chanel liked to combine both natural and imitation stones in one item, for example she would combine natural and imitation pearls in one necklace. Gripoix made them in such a way that it was impossible to tell the difference between the either of them. Susanne Gripoix made special irregular shape pearls from glass for Chanel; imitating the baroque pearls. They were enameled in her workshops with mother-of-pearl to obtain some of the soft shine characteristic of natural pearls.

As the main Paris supplier to the couturier houses, Gripoix worked for many designers: from Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent; and later for Christian Lacroix and Marc Jacobs. However it was the cooperation with Chanel that was the most significant, both for Chanel and for Gripoix.

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Chanel Brooch With Multi-Coloured Gripoix Crystals, 1990s

Today Gripoix is no longer a family affair/company but the House still makes jewelry, although the style has changed considerably over the last few years. The jewelry has become simpler, more graphical and even minimalistic. In 2011, however, Gripoix and Catherine Baba, a well-known Paris stylist and the star of street-style blogs, released a joint collection in the style of Art Nouveau and neo-romanticism. Even today, Gripoix tries to preserve the traditional techniques of moulding and enameling. They use a special copper alloy supplied by the Art Metal Company that is as old as Gripoix, and the formula of this alloy is kept secret. After it's melted, dragged and screwed in various ways, it is made into moulds that are welded using brass powder, a technique rarely found elsewhere today, before being gold-plated in the neighbouring workshop. Historical jewelry made by Gripoix, especially pieces made for Chanel, are the objects of real cult value. They are collected, they are hunted down, they are sold at auction, and their prices have recently sky-rocketed.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva

15.03.2014

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The History of the Legendary House of Gripoix

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