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MELLERIO AND THE ORIGIN OF HAUTE-JOAILLERIE

Cultivating heritage as a way to move forward.
enero 23, 2019

Power and prestige, innovation and preservation, unrivalled beauty and far-reaching heritage: Such are the pillars which support Mellerio, the world’s oldest haute-joaillerie house. Across fourteen generations and four centuries, Mellerio has decorated monarchs and provided items of jewellery for society’s highest figures and establishments. Today, this eminent family continues to create custom-made objects, highly sought-after by private buyers and collectors alike.

Enriched by their traditions, driven by craftsmanship, and helped along the way by the patronage of powerful historical figures, Mellerio deftly mines its past as a powerful dynamic force, and balances tradition and exploration as twin cornerstones of its identity. The House’s pursuit of brilliance in luxury has always been based upon a relentless inventiveness, and its era-spanning past provides a foundation on which its future is continually constructed anew. 

Fourteen Generations of Unrivalled Excellence

Prior to their fortuitous relocation to Paris from the Lombardy village of Craveggia in the 16th century, the Mellerio family were travelling silversmiths, carrying their wares and crafted items from place to place. However, the company founder, Jean-Marie Mellerio, then under the guidance of Queen Marie de’ Medici, decided to take his family firm to new heights and to an enduring home in the French capital in the early years of the 17th century. Thus began a deep and lasting connection of the Maison with royalty and regality; one which saw the family working for many Royals from Marie Antoinette to Empress Josephine, and from the Maharani of Kapurthala to the royal houses of Spain, the Netherlands, and beyond.  

The origins of these mutually beneficial royal associations have slipped into apocrypha over time. The most enduring of these legends involves silversmith Jean-Marie Mellerio helping to foil an assassination plot against King Louis XIII. This supposedly led to the royal decree by Marie de’ Medici in 1613 which granted special privileges to the Mellerio family, and positioned them as favourites at the French royal court. 

That Mellerio continued to gain the patronage of royal dynasties across the centuries, legends aside, should come as no great surprise: after all, who better to decorate the great dynasties of the world than a great dynasty of artists? Establishing the name of Mellerio as jewellers of unrivalled prestige, the Maison developed a clear mission: to ensure that each successive generation of Mellerio artists remained deeply aware of their heritage, whilst envisioning the path laid ahead. 

A jeweller from Mellerio’s workshop working on the placement of a precious gem. Credit ©Mellerio

The lengthy list of ‘firsts’ achieved by members of each generation clearly demonstrates such vision in action. The Mellerio were the first family to open a shop on the esteemed Rue de la Paix, a move made by Francois Mellerio in 1815. A few years later, in 1854, the Mellerio family patented an innovative flexible shank setting, furthering the evolution of haute-joaillerie as a whole, whilst also serving as a reminder of the company’s origins as silversmiths of the highest order. 

The impetus to perpetuate the past while continually remaining tied to the contemporary times is a defining feature of Mellerio. It is embedded in certain unutterably delicate items, deemed as among the company’s highest points in their illustrious history. Among them, The Mellerio Shell Tiara, a unique and dazzling piece made for the 1867 Paris Exhibition, which was best known as being a public favourite of Sofia, the former Queen of Spain. Being the first ever item of jewellery to use platinum as a principal decorative metal, the Mellerio Shell Tiara represented a significant milestone for the industry. The blending of the contemporary and the timeless, bringing together high fashion and tradition, led to a showpiece which has radiantly shone as a key part of a dynastic convention.

The Mellerio Shell Tiara, made for the 1867 Paris Exhibition. Credit ©Mellerio

Protecting Treasures, Preserving Values

Each successive generation of the Mellerio family has been meticulous in the preservation of every single commission, receipt, letter, and design made over the past few hundred years, resulting in a jewellery archive at the Maison Mellerio unlike any other. 

This emphasis on preservation played a key role in the history of Mellerio, not least during the turbulent years at the end of the 18th century. The revolution of 1789 was perhaps the most obvious and world-changing of Mellerio’s disruptive phases, as it broke the foundation the Mellerio family had established for themselves alongside the French monarchy. 

Before the fleeing Mellerio family made their journey to the Spanish royal court, the House made sure to protect many items favoured by the doomed royals, as a gesture of respect to their most esteemed clients. The Mellerio archives in Craveggia, Lombardy, where Mellerio was born, still feature clothing worn by Marie Antoinette and a host of royal seals and documents; further evidence of the close bond and mutual respect which existed between the House of Mellerio and the court of Versailles. 

The recent Madreperla earings attest of Mellerio’s long  tradition of innovation and high craftsmanship. Credit ©Mellerio

The commitment to preservation, protection, and resistance throughout eras of great unrest is pivotal in understanding the Mellerio timeline. Indeed, the history of this great family has been typified as being made up of several distinct cycles, including three key components: anchoring, disruption, and resilience. The jewellery House has repeatedly entrenched itself within a location and an era and was each time reborn after being upended and disrupted in some dramatic manner. The revolution, the occupation of Paris during the Second World War, and untimely deaths of key family members would all be counted on such a list. This cycle has always invariably ended with a newly-established Maison Mellerio into a new age, with steely determination and a wealth of new ideas, patrons, and influences.

Inheriting the Past, Crafting the Future

The family as a chain and its duty to preserve the past is only one side of the glittering coin defining Mellerio’s identity. The House of Mellerio keenly recognises their ancient heritage, forged by individuals influenced by the style and fashions of their time, who brought their own unique talents to the family. Jean-Francois Mellerio, who oversaw the company in the mid-19th century, put great emphasis on draughtsmanship and painting in the design process. To this day, all Mellerio designs are first carried out with brush and paint, partly to ensure the highest levels of quality, and partly to continue the techniques he championed.

Such pioneers’ craftsmanship and vision have led to the creation of genuine wonders. The imitation of nature, as seen in the Peacock Aigrette presented to the Maharani Rani Prem Kaur, remains one of Mellerio’s most iconic pieces. This item, so pristine with the feathers, colours, and the bejewelment of the bird, was crafted thanks to the use of groundbreaking new techniques, bringing together multiple enamels, gold, and diamonds, making this treasured creation one of the most impressive examples of Mellerio’s innovative talent.

Peacock Aigrette: Mellerio created this piece in 1905 for Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. It is featured in portraits of the Maharaja’s fifth wife, Rani Prem Kaur. Credit: @Mellerio

 As the new millennium dawned, the company philosophy of excellence, timeless craftsmanship, and forward-thinking design was proven intact once more. A powerful example came in the year 2005, which saw the release and patenting of the Mellerio Exclusive Cut; a stunning oval diamond cut made up of fifty-seven glittering facets and offering unrivalled brilliance. One of their latest series, the Isola Bella collection, celebrates the baroque beauty of the palace of Lake Maggiore, and clearly demonstrate the house’s ongoing commitment to blending the classical with the contemporary. The striking Madreperla ring and earrings in this collection recall the splendour and vivid mastery seen on items such as the Peacock Aigrette, and provide a testament to Mellerio’s dedication to unwavering excellence in a modern haute-joaillerie market. 

The Madreperla ring from a recent collection. Credit ©Mellerio

Preservation and commitment to the contemporary world, far from being polar opposites, are two of the key pillars of the Mellerio family — values that have allowed the House to continually dazzle with new ideas, while consistently paying homage to a past which has been providing endless inspiration. By addressing their illustrious past, Mellerio carve new paths for future generations to follow. The essence of the contemporary never ceases to evolve; that of the timeless, however, remains eternal.

Mellerio, High Jewellery, Heritage, Haute

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