The reawakening and subsequent repositioning of 18th century Parisian jewelry house Rouvenat goes against the grain of tradition in the high jewelry sector. The brand’s circular approach to sourcing throughout its supply chain—from precious stones to packaging—aims to prove that luxury and sustainability can make both creative and business sense.
Rouvenat, the Parisian jewelry house founded by Léon Rouvenat in the mid-1880’s that faded into oblivion after his demise, was brought back to life in 2021 by Luximpact, a Paris-based holding company. Founded by veterans from Cartier, De Beers and Harry Winston, the company has set out a mission to "curate and relaunch" historic, and dormant, jewelry brands while giving them a circular roadmap.
Marie Berthelon, Co-founder and CEO of Rouvenat, and former Jewelry and High Jewelry Director at Cartier, explains the genesis of this revival. "We were searching for a belle endormie, a sleeping beauty. Rouvenat’s story, aesthetic and jewels resonated with us. When Léon Rouvenat founded his eponymous brand, the jewelry sector was made up of small workshops, working mainly for royalty. There was no industry per se in France," explains Berthelon. At the time, Rouvenat set out to change this, and at its peak his company employed a staff of 150. When he passed away in 1874, Rouvenat left no descendants and the house eventually shut its doors. "Léon Rouvenat was a revolutionary, he brought jewelry into the modern era. Today, we also want a revolution: but this time, it's about ushering the house into the era of sustainability," Berthelon tells Formes de Luxe. "As a mission-driven company, I want to show that luxury can be done differently,"
When sourcing provides creativity rather than constraint
During her tenure at Cartier and De Beers, Marie Berthelon began looking into sourcing practices for precious stones, and notably diamonds to implement sustainability guidelines that would transform sourcing practices. She visited diamond mines to have clarity on what was happening "behind the scenes". "When you begin working on sustainability at a major jewelry house, it’s a weighty process with an almost paralyzing sense of responsibility. Part of the appeal of rebuilding a brand like Rouvenat is being able to have a direct impact on sourcing; we are small enough to embrace the issue with creativity and joy."
Rouvenat’s Bolt necklace in blackened silver, yellow gold, ruby and knit silver chain. ©Rouvenat
At Rouvenat, there are no mines to visit: Berthelon affirms that its raw materials come exclusively from dormant stock sourced from dealers, traders, auction houses, jewelry houses, and from private individuals. The gold and silver are recycled. "At the major players, stone quality is extremely calibrated. A sapphire, for example, will have to be just the right color, and if it happens to fall outside of the norm, if it’s too light or too violet, for example, it doesn’t make the cut." As they are still too expensive for small jewelers to purchase, the dealers hold on to the stones. "The standard is the same no matter if you purchase the jewel in Paris, New York, Shanghai or Moscow. It’s a promise. But it’s not the future," affirms Berthelon. Rouvenat, on the contrary, opts to work with stones that fall outside of the norm, yellow citrine with a dark cast, mauve sapphire, gray spinel… "The idea is to create something new from something old."
Baby Bolt bracelet with yellow sapphire ©Rouvenat
For Rouvenats’s pieces, beauty doesn’t equate to perfection, instead beauty "is what has soul and a story to tell". Indeed, the house’s Artistic Director, Sandrine De Laage, also part of the founding team at Luximpact, relies on the brand’s story for inspiration; she immersed herself in the archives that had been unearthed before embarking on the design process. "We didn’t want to be the thousandth little brand making minimalist jewelry with simply set stones. Rouvenat has its roots in the Empire period, which was a very rich from an aesthetic standpoint, and yet is seldom an inspiration in our sector." The brand’s jewelry incorporates blackened silver, alternates mirror polish with a brushed effect and makes combinations that "no house on the Place Vendôme would ever dare to make," says Berthelon.
Rouvenat’s archives are a key inspiration for the brand’s aesthetic ©Rouvenat
Rouvenat first launched with only a few models—namely a necklace, medallion, bracelet, ring, earrings—but that stand out for their original design. The same goes for its high jewelry collection. Apart from their atypical aesthetic, the pieces are also conceived to be modular and transformable by adding different elements (tassels, pearls, drop stones…).
Packaging also gets a second life
The brand’s packaging strategy has an equally virtuous approach to circularity, according to the brand, which also makes for unique pieces. While Berthelon first went on a quest to find suppliers that offer "truly sustainable packaging", she found it to be a complicated mission: "Everything I was seeing were new packs, and even if they used noble materials, I wanted to go a step further." In keeping with the house’s spirit of circularity, she went online in search of vintage boxes, from jewelers or silversmiths to which the brand could give a second life. Rouvenat partnered with a collector of antique silver spoons that didn’t need the original boxes. "We asked the street artist Senz, who is part of the Rouvenat 'community' to personalize the boxes." Senz is also behind the design of the brand’s logo and did some original paintings for the boutique.
Senz brought his street art aesthetic touch to Rouvenat’s reclaimed jewelry cases ©Rouvenat
Rouvenat also called on Atelier Dreieck, a small workshop on the outskirts of Paris, to restore the inside of these "packaging treasures". The artisans line them with high-end textiles upcycled from the Reserve des Arts, decorate them by painting and printing on reclaimed paper. This sourcing is possible due to the limited number of products produced. Berthelon acknowledges that second-life merchandising displays, or at least those that are in keeping with the brand’s aesthetic, are more difficult to source.
A boutique at the crossroads of luxury and fashion
When it comes to retail, Rouvenat sells at its Paris boutique at 416 rue St Honoré, a space Berthelon calls 'le 416' inaugurated in 2022 and whose interior design is inspired by the house’s original manufacturing site in Paris. "I wanted a locale that was a crossroads between luxury and fashion, so the rue St Honoré was a perfect fit." Much of the space features reclaimed elements, some of which date from the Empire period, mixed with upcycled furnishings like the seating, produced by NOMA.
A display of Rouvenat’s high jewelry collection at its Paris boutique ©Rouvenat
"It’s not a boutique, it’s not a showroom, le 416 is a living and experience space". The brand organizes exhibitions every two or three months to highlight an artist’s work. In June 2023, Japanese multi-form artist and poet Shinsuke Kawahara created a miniature tea house made entirely from recycled materials for the space. The month after, Rouvenat exposed a curated selection of pieces from the brand’s archives: illustrations, drawings, original 18th century pieces as well as the house’s premier high jewelry collection.
The Rouvenat flagship on Paris’ rue St Honoré is conceived as a boutique and exhibition space ©Vincent Leroux
In September 2023, the jewelry house is organizing a show with luxury upcycling specialists Les MétamorFosse where curated works from a partnership between artists, artisans and luxury houses will show a selection of works made from material offcuts.
While export sales were not on the cards so early in the game, Berthelon signed with Dover Street Market in London early July 2023 and will bow at a small point of sale in Dubai that is making its debut in October 2023, with a sustainable jewelry offer. It appears that the brand’s mission has potential well beyond its home market.