He welcomes you in his shop gallery of the Marais, in Paris, with a smile of a rare gentleness and the infinite sensitivity of his gaze. Your history, your desires and your dreams, your jewels too, all is set there, with an instantly receptiveness. Thierry Vendome is an artist-jeweler of fierce uniqueness. Deeply human and humble, he makes us think about Earth – both mineral soil and vegetable earth, which receive and capture everything to reproduce beauty in return. Managing his art with extraordinary talent and poetry, his creations are so powerful, striking with truth and emotions, and going beyond the limits to sublimate with materials and forms in our world today. All the forms are considered in his work, the rarest and the most precious, but also those which no one looks at, such as rust, which finds in his eyes the first place and in his fairy fingers, the expression of an aesthetic Ode to the existence, movement and life.
Thierry is the son of Jean Vendome, reputed to be “France’s father of contemporary jewelry”. An illustrious heritage that he assumes with honor, but without an ounce of pride. “My father is a special person, with a strong character and his mark will remain unique in the profession”. Of international renown, Jean Vendome is indeed considered the pioneer of modern jewelry, having since the 1960s introduced the aesthetic principles of abstraction to the art of jewelry. Decorated as Officier de l’Ordre et du Mérite and then named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France, he accumulated the most prestigious awards and prizes and exhibited his creations all over the world. Thierry will grow up with his elder brother in this family of jewelers, being strongly influenced by his visionary and forward-thinking father who overthrew the codes of his time. “I learned with him to consider jewelry as a work of art, a miniature sculpture that is worn. Also, to give it a strong expressive value, updating it in its time.” First settled boulevard Voltaire, the shop will move in the very chic neighborhood of the rue Saint-Honoré, of which he will keep a special nostalgia. “I had only one hurry, it was leaving school to find my father in this beautiful and historic animated quarter of Paris”.
At the age of 16, his dream will come true when his father Jean would start teaching him about the jewelery trade with a training far away from the academic and traditional schools of Fine Arts. “My training will last for 6 years. Through working, I will learn all the codes and I learn to create”. Thierry will remain with his father for 23 years, while creating his own collections and will branch out on his own in 2003.
The artist acknowledges “that it took him a decade of practice before finding the joy for a truly free and personal creation.” In his family home at La Hague in Normandy, he used to fixed down with a contemplative gaze, all the materials and forms along shorelines. “I started picking up the raw and natural materials, and I was attracted by the woods of haul-outs, that are true sculptures of the sea.” From the age of 20, he began to mount these shells, pebbles and even glasses transformed by the waves, in jewels. He successfully launches a collection made with salvaged wood, gold and silver necklaces. “But I was still looking for something else, because these materials were not long-lasting, being too friable and fragile.” But this quest allowed him to gain the conviction of having found this call here. “Transforming into jewelry what nobody wants to look at; unused or dirty objects, items which can be found in garbage cans.” Then he started putting together opposite materials to emerge from the classicism and academic jewelry schools, mixing in the same piece of art the profane and the sacred, the old and the modern, the altered and the precious. His father introduced the abstract style and the contribution of minerals and crystals in the high-end jewelry. Thierry wanted to take a step further in the renewal of his craftwork approach. “The value of a jewel is above all the aesthetic work in itself and not the value of the raw material alone. And one can find a beauty in everything, including the wastes of society.”
One day, he will have a new revelation while walking in the dunes of Normandy. “I saw shrapnel from the last war (because it was a former military training ground). And I have taken this matter, the oxidized steel – the rust, which I have found extraordinarily strong and of incredible beauty.” Thierry will assemble them with gold, diamonds and opal, “the fluorescent stone that carries on all the seashores ambiance”. He then audaciously launched his first collection of rusty jewelry, which will be a great success, including in the press. Named “the scraper of jewelry” by the trade people, the son of Jean will finally find there his favorite material, expressing all his art to play with shapes, colors and stones and to make jewels full of audacity, contrast and emotion. “The peculiarity of the touch and the color of the rust fascinates me and its alliance with the noble materials is so rich”. In his boutique, Thierry Vendome also creates unique models, collections in limited series and tailor-made jewels for any type of clientele: “I have famous people as well as very normal customers; from the wedding ring for a young man, to the transformation of family jewelry into new pieces, which will reflect our time and the taste of the person who wears them.”
With a poetic and contemplative soul, Thierry Vendome also creates collections inspired by the lines and themes observed in nature and during his travels. The artist lives a special relationship with the mineral of course, but also with everything that lives, vegetable and animal. “Nature has opened up creative ways and allowed me to make my wildest dreams come true. I will never thank her enough for so much generosity.” He captures a stone that touches him, a landscape, a living geometry, an unusual encounter and represent it into a jewel by associating it with matter. The artist also seeks for exoticism in his creations. His land of inspiration is Armenia, from his family roots, and he is particularly fond of his welcome and his Faith. He has launched a whole collection called “Aygedsor” in tribute to the valleys of the vines found in this little country. “Each piece expresses a unique emotion, like this yellow gold necklace, with tourmalines, turquoises and diamonds, inspired by the movement of vine trellises, as we can see a lot in Armenia; All this beautiful disorder, this delicious chaos”.
He would also set up innovative collections inspired by his travels in China, Africa and the United States and a recent collection with a “wild and raw” spirit inspired by natural roots and barks. “I draw an idea that comes to me or a form that grabs me on my notebook. Then quickly, I have to realize the object since I have it on mind. I can also start from a color, a stone, then the creation comes by following the form”. The jeweler, however, admits that his most beautiful work remains to this day an academic sword. “It is an extraordinary jewel that I had a lot of fun to realize because one must sculpt all the symbols of the person on a handle.”
Thierry Vendome is today a man filled and serene, who would still like to meet other challenges: “freely create a collection for a great jeweler of the Place Vendôme for example, to bring them my personal touch while respecting their style.” Meanwhile, there is this imminent and promising journey to Japan, where he will draw new inspirations and express them again in his art with a new original and audacious collection, associating materials and forms in a singular alliance to reveal that behind each jewel, there is an emotion, a joy and a celebration that captures the timeless beauty of the world.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian, on April 5, 2017 in Paris.
“Truth arises when we return to the essence. In my trade, it is practice that enables to master the codes and only then, you can learn to create. I was taught my handcraft work in a very classical and artisanal way, using old metals files and saw carriers, and that provides a great result, both in design and manufacture, that has nothing to do with industrial products. It also took me ten years at least to be a good hand and start realizing all the ideas I had. My personal expression was able to flourish in time because I always had a heart set on working other materials than the minerals and crystals alone.
I wanted to introduce unused items, that have little or no value today, while they can find their full place in a jewelery set. It is so wrong to think that jewelery is only about selling expensive objects like precious diamonds or gem stones, while three is an incredible source of creation with simple fragments of rust. They have a unique and powerful wild beauty, with their rough appearance; and they are also solid and light materials. It is such a pleasure for me to use then to highlight value contrasts with precious stones and precisely, to bring together the precious and the altères, the desired and the neglected materials, like for example, diamond and rust. Because for me, aesthetics counts as much as in a work of art. For a photographer for example, it is not the paper that has value, it is the choice of his photo. For a painter or a sculptor, it is the same thing. And so that this representation in the As well as the work itself, the object must have artistic value. I am so disappointed, even shocked, when one chooses today a jewel, no longer for its aestheticism, not even for its value, but for a jewelery brand that displays its logo everywhere. And what about the hegemony of industrial brands that have taken such a place in this market when neither the materials nor the work has any value. It is so sad because the purchase is only to offer or wear the brand.
It is very difficult to speak about the aesthetic value today, because it is out of fashion. If we go back on history; first, in Art Nouveau, René Lalique has transposed the art of the moment out of Japanese style. Then abstraction arrived in Art Deco leaving the representational art to get geometric shapes but still clearly framed. It was only after the war that Design Art finally brought a great freedom of expression. My father was the pioneer of this contemporary jewel, coming up with the idea of creating new aesthetic forms, whether design, baroque or asymmetrical. The tendency today is to emphasize the speech behind the work, the story to tell even if it is a bit trash. Of course, I know how to do this, but I’m still attached to the aesthetical value of a jewel because it gives meaning to the artistic creation. And I want to remain myself in my work, more than to be fashionable. When I have an inspiration, when a perception or an object appeals to me, I express this with new abstract forms that are beautiful in themselves.
Being authentic is also accepting and showing its difference in its art. I am very lucky to have learned jewelery and worked with my father Jean Vendome, who always wanted to think out of the box. I am atypical in my job too because I like to innovate. In jewelery, some houses still remain, to my sense, too academic, in a trend I call “conservative”, inspired by the “French taste” spirit that can be found in the 18th century style. I could give as an example the ring called daisy, where a pretty stone set with claws is surrounded in perfect symmetry by smaller diamonds … For my part, I consider a jewel like a sculpture carried on a body; It must therefore bring something unique, beyond a simple adornment. Life is made of mixture and juxtaposition and I reveal it in my creations with stones, shapes and styles that all oppose getting together. It is therefore important to be always sincere. This is also why I create modern jewelries inspired by our times. I ingest everything: the architecture, the automobile and the music I listen to, and I show them up in jewelry. That’s why, I consider myself as a creator of my time.
We must also listen to the clients’ needs regarding the evolution of our society. There is a big problem today in my profession, which is burglary; Customers want jewelry that they can wear right away, without calling the attention and without ostentation. They have a real phobia to wear jewelry, and this is damaging to our trade. So, we have to innovate and do things differently. Again, a jewelery set has an artistic force in itself and not only by the stones that are on it. So I started creating pieces with barbed wire, metal or black gold, mixed with black rhodium. This is not very precious and at the same time, it brings great aesthetic pieces that correspond to their style. There is also an evolution in the relationship to family jewels. Before, they were kept and transmitted as a dowry, because the value was not to carry them but to possess them in case of lack of money. Today, customers want to have them personalized and wearable. Therefore, they are looking for tailor-made pieces with a story to tell. I recover their fragments of jewelry and I do something else. Often, pieces that are more sober, more design and more raw.
In conclusion, my work is enjoyable once making jewels becomes a pleasure. And one becomes more and more himself when executing all the wonderful ideas he has in mind. It is the magic of my job! It is so rare to be able at once to market an idea between a notebook, this workshop behind and the shop window in front, then to see the happiness of people before me. And I’m very proud of each of my pieces when they are worn and my clients become ambassadors with my jewels travelling all over the world. In short, according to me, I consider my life is very linear because it is continuity for me to work the jewels, as to be the son of a jeweler.”
Interview with Carine Mouradian, on April 5, 2017 in Paris.