Even Christine Chiu and Anna Shay, the newest jet-setting socialite queens from Netflix’s breakthrough reality series, Bling Empire, can’t stop talking about it: “What is the oldest high jewelry house in Paris?”
Luckily they’ve got us here to settle the feud. It’s Mellerio.
Though the capital of haute joaillerie boasts many historical maisons, this particular one happens to be the very oldest jewelry atelier still standing in Paris. For more than 200 years, since 1815, it has remained among the very first to own a boutique on Rue de la Paix, one block north of the Place Vendôme, the famed temple of high jewelry and luxury. Going further back, for over 400 years, since 1613, Mellerio has been the best kept secret of royalty and socialites, earning it the nickname “jeweler of the queens” from its first client, Marie de Medici. An Italian herself, de Medici served as the Regent of France (before her son Louis XIII’s reign), during which time she granted her fellow Northern Italian immigrants the right to trade “small goods mixed with glassware, knick-knacks and other hardware” throughout the realm.
A Real Maison
Rarely has the often overused word “maison” been so fitting as it is for Mellerio. As its President and Artistic Director Laure-Isabelle Mellerio points out, “All of the pieces we sell are made to measure in our on-site workshop.”
Opening the doors of Mellerio’s discrete store is like stepping back in time. Inside, old wooden cabinets and in-wall niches with the latest collections shine bright from their tasteful displays; there are also numerous salons where famous patrons from royals (The Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala, the queens of Spain and The Netherlands) to bankers like the Rothschilds and high society brides-to-be have purchased uniquely bespoke pieces.
Be it a 0.30 carat solitaire engagement ring or 12.81 carat diamond tiara like the Monte Rosa, Mellerio holds a reputation for elegance and precision in its craftsmanship as much as for silence in its practices; its discretion, with secrets and orders kept carefully under wraps within the hundreds of order and sketch books kept downstairs in the house’s archive room, also happens to be the most comprehensive library of jewelry making in history.
Walking down Mellerio’s central mirror-clad Art Deco staircase (reminiscent of the style of the house’s 1935 refurbishment) brings visitors to a private gallery of the Mellerio family’s vintage items and antiques, including “Marmotte” the wooden portable chest in which Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, descending from a family peddler from the Vigezzo Valley in Lombardia, used to carry and showcase his merchandise to places like Versailles.
As the legend of 1780 goes, right outside the gates of the palace, Queen Marie-Antoinette purchased a bracelet featuring seven cameos surrounded by garnets designed by Jean-Baptiste himself; it’s a bracelet to be admired today.
Also in Mellerio’s private gallery are 100 estate heritage pieces that the company tracked down and bought back from clients and at auctions. Diamond aficionados will be in awe of the peacock feather diamond brooch masterpiece bought by Empress Eugenie Bonaparte in 1867, with its detachable central eye and symbol for Mellerio, or the 2,659 stone corsage that once belonged to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s niece, a frequent (and huge) patron of the brand.
While Mellerio’s customers may have preferred keeping their orders on the down low, they still passed on—through word of mouth—their loyalty to the brand, generation after generation. It’s for this reason that the jeweler has managed to sustain a trust-based relationship with the best suppliers through wars and the rises and falls of kingships, republics and empires alike.
As early as 1716, when granted the right by royal decree, “to work with gold and set precious stones,” the Mellerio family has obtained outstanding gemstones thanks to premium offers from their brokers. They also sold to their most prestigious clients gems from the French Crown jewels, as well as many dazzling diamonds from Golconda, the diamond’ s epicenter in India.
In the 1850s, through Mellerio, Russian Prince Nikolay Yusupov acquired the now legendary Polar Star (a 41.28 carat cushion-shaped brilliant diamond), the blue Sultan of Morocco and Rams Head.
Of course, natural diamonds have remained a spectacular expression of many Mellerio contemporary creations for centuries. In 2005, Mellerio came up with a namesake cut. As Laure-Isabelle Mellerio says, “400 years to the service of diamond deserved a special cut.” The Mellerio Cut boasts a mesmerizing asymmetrical shape set on the aforementioned Empress Eugénie’s peacock feather brooch’s central elliptic-shaped emerald. A graceful rendering of this exclusive cut has since been patented and reimagined for everyday wear. It now ranks as one of the house’s client favorites.
Daring and Inventive
Associated with a classic image, Mellerio has nonetheless always held a true creative zeitgeist, as evident by its prize-winning sense of innovation. The maison pioneered transformable jewelry in the mid-19th century, using a flexible stem for the tree leaves-shaped brooch, allowing for the brooch’s parts to move gracefully, “like blades of grass blown by the wind.” The creation garnered an award, and later a patent, at the1855 world exhibit. The same flexibility and lightness can be found today in Mellerio’s delicate high jewelry today; its Maglia necklace scarf presents femininity and versatility, while its Indra collection of modular and playful stackable rings has a mounting that allows their precious stones to slightly oscillate.
True to Nature and History
The essence of Mellerio’s naturalistic designs are indeed rooted in nature’s wonders as well as Italian architectural style. As a trained interior designer and Ecole du Louvre’s graduate, Laure-Isabelle has brought her expertise of art history and architecture to Mellerio’s design since becoming the house’s Creative Director in 2016.
Thanks to the months she spent immersing herself in the hundreds of thousands of pages of drawings and gouaches in the house’s downstairs archives, the designer has used the brand’s centuries-old DNA as a baseline to her modern creations.
Want to take a trip to Mellerio’s Italy and its magical destinations? Just take a look at its collection names and styles: Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Bella are the three Borromean islands on Lake Maggiore. Jewels interpreted these historical Italian Renaissance palaces and their lush gardens, flowers, blossoms and bushes and the soft sunlight illuminating them. For another shining example of how Mellerio has been revisiting its repertoire, consider its peacock feather diamond brooch masterpiece being reinvented through the diamond, emerald, sapphires and tourmaline Goa Ring.
Always an exclusive house, since the 1950s, Mellerio has also been cultivating associations with like-minded chic French haute couture designers like Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Marcel Rochas. The jeweler’s latest collaboration with Alexandre Vauthier, the up and coming fashion prodigy who dresses fashion-forward stars Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Rihanna offers a series of timeless pieces in which his A’s and V’s merge into M’s, in white gold set with natural diamond baguettes, marquise cut diamonds, onyx and emeralds.
The always eco-conscious Mellerio, transforming heirlooms into bespoke pieces since the 18th century, are moving on to a new phase: offering accessible jewelry to worldwide customers. Yes, Mellerio is making desirable luxury accessible all the while preserving the house’ spirit and style in every piece.
Starting online April 2nd 2021, inspired from the successful Isola Madre high jewelry collection, Mellerio will offer a new highly sophisticated Renaissance-style collection called Giardino, set with diamond, rubies, and sapphires. Giardino comes as a more accessible price point than its former collections and a prelude to fall’s upcoming new diamond and gold offering, which promises to feature “fresher, younger, easy to wear strong design.” Still, it’s important to remember that each gem will be a piece representing the oldest Parisian jeweler’s virtuoso know-how, and is a piece of history to be held and cherished.
After all, if diamonds are forever, so is the house that Mellerio built.