Jean Vendome, reviving French jewelry
Born as Ohan Tuhdarian in Lyon in 1930, Jean Vendome revived the French jewelry of the 1960s-70s. He is renowned for his innovative jewelry, which combines tradition and modernity to create unique, modern and daring designs. He began his jewelry apprenticeship with his uncle at the age of 13.
Jean Vendome in his workshop, copyright Jean Vendome Archive
In 1945, he won his first prize. This was followed by four years of gemmology courses, in which he took a real interest. It was only at the age of 18 that he set up his first workshop in Paris, where he produced pieces for other French jewelry houses. In 1950, he opened his first boutique at the 81 boulevard Voltaire, in the 11th arrondissement.
The boutique at 352 rue Saint-Honoré, copyright Jean Vendome Archive
The name he chose, a nod to the great names of Place Vendôme, was already characteristic of his ambition. When choosing his name, he had to remove the circumflex accent, as the term "Vendôme" was not granted to him: the Comité de la Place Vendôme protects it.
Throughout his career, Jean Vendome abandoned the search for pattern in favor of material. He was one of the first jewelers to seek abstraction in jewelry, turning his jewels into works of art.
Fidji Necklace, 1988, copyright LAURASAR Collection, Picture Benjamin Chelly
Transformable jewels, works with metal and unusual stones are the hallmarks of this master jeweler. He used to combine stones with geometrically shaped designs.
More interested in the possibilities offered by raw materials, Jean Vendome broke away from the French jewellery tradition to create truly portable sculptures.
In 1952, with the “”Pépite” serie, he emphasized the beauty of gold, and it was this collection that gave him recognition as a master of the baroque trend.
In 1955, he created the “Survol” line, followed by the very first tie necklace set with amethysts.
In 1959, he discovered the work of Laurent Jiménez-Balaguer, and a strong friendship developed between the two families.
Nocturne Brooch, 1962, copyright Didier Guérin Collection, Picture Benjamin Chelly
The “Cosmos” line was launched in 1965, and the following year Jean Vendome took part in the "Japanese Pearl" exhibition at the Palais d'Orsay in Paris. Two years later, he exhibited his jewelry with Georges Braque’s in a Paris gallery. This was followed, from 1971 onwards, by a series of commissions for academic swords, the very first of which was for Roger Caillois.
Roger Caillois' academician's sword, made in 1971, copyright Thierry Vendome
He was a hunter, a great connoisseur and an enthusiast of crystals, rough gems and stones. He built his jewelry around the treasures he found at fairs and shows all over the world: Tucson in Arizona or Sainte Marie aux Mines in France. Uncut tourmaline, rough amethyst, quartz and rutilated quartz, agate, lapis lazuli, dioptase, baroque pearls, but also crab claws, shells, coral …
The Tourmaline Tree, 1977, copyright The French Jewelry Post
Jean Vendome didn't work with traditional jewelry setting methods and did absolutely everything himself including arranging the stones to create the most stunning effect. They were most often arranged in slices and very rarely cut, the natural look being what the designer seeked above all else.
Tourmaline Ring, 1982, copyright The French Jewelry Post
There are about 30,000 pieces of jewelry, almost all of them being unique pieces, as he saw no point in "copying a unique emotion". His work was ahead of its time, and more than ever in vogue. As he liked to say, "Jewellery is an art, not a consumer product".
Cube Ring, 1975, copyright Benjamin Chelly
Crowning achievement, his jewelry is now part of the collections of the world's most prestigious museums: the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. From October 8th, 2020 to August 28th, 2021, a retrospective exhibition was dedicated to him at the Van Cleef and Arpels School of Jewelry Arts: 31 rue Danielle Casanova in the second arrondissement, next door from la Place Vendôme. A magnificent article was written by les Beaux Arts magazine that partnered with the jewellery school.
The store on rue Saint-Honoré closed in 2007. Jean Vendome was considered the master of contemporary jewelry. The jeweler died on August 9, 2017.
Thanks to Thierry Vendome for preserving his father's work.
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