One of the highlights of my last trip to Paris was to meet Alexis Vourvoulis, the woman behind “Bijoux Society”, at Carette. A beautiful cafè that has held center court at the Place Trocadero for more then 80 years. As an expat, Alexis has carved her self a place, offering jewelry tours in a city were you are surrounded by history. From the famous Place Vendôme to the Marché aux Puces, without forgetting incredible collections held at various museum, Alexis has you covered.
Josette: You have previously worked in the jewelry industry, you are a GIA alumni, and had formal jewelry studies at Bijouterie Joaillerie et Orfèverie. What triggered your interest in jewelry?
Alexis: Of course I have Grandmother jewelry stories, but honestly I never imagined a career in the industry. The truth is, I completely fell into it by chance. A friend of my Mother’s worked for Lussori in Carmel, California and she suggested I apply for an opening they had in inventory. I did, they offered me the position and my intention was to work six months, save all my money and move to Paris. Instead, I discovered Fred Leighton and fell in love with antique and estate jewelry. It took me a little longer to get to Paris than I had originally planned, but the detour was well worth it!
Josette: “Chasing bijoux in Paris” is the motto of your business. What a great idea! Paris has so much jewelry history and being able to share it with jewelry lovers and spread the knowledge is just wonderful. Can you describe your tours and your clients?
Alexis: Paris is an exceptional city for jewelry and a Chasing Bijoux jewelry tour is for anyone interested in jewelry, from admirer to collector. I am, first and foremost, a total jewelry nerd and my tours are simply a way for me to express my greatest passion and share what I know with others, regardless of their background or experience. The visit may be the same (Place Vendôme or Museum Tour for example) but I don’t think I’ve ever given the exact same tour twice! Each individual experience is different because every client is different and our conversations take shape according to the individual. Sometimes we focus on the history of gemstones and the gemstone trade, other times we really focus on French history and the history of women, and sometimes we explore the technical side of jewelry and the history of the craft. My aim is to inspire conversation that changes the way people look at jewelry and help preserve the craft of jewelry making. I’ve given tours to people who are completely new to jewelry, collectors, bench jewelers, gemologists, sales teams, families, even the husband whose wife dragged him on the tour and ended up loving it. They really are for everyone.
Josette: You are involved in making jewelry by helping young couples find their dream engagement ring. What is your best advice for them when they seek your help?
Alexis: I believe that jewelry has gotten lost between accessories and the unobtainable. The engagement ring story has become very commercial and the myopic approach of the 4 C’s (yes, the GG did just say that!) often distracts people from craftsmanship and the sentiment behind their purchase. You don’t necessarily need a big budget to buy a well made piece of jewelry; there are many talented jewelers out there making beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces according to customers’ budget and delivering a truly memorable experience doing it.
Josette: There are a lot of changes that have occurred in the jewelry industry in the last 10 years, such as the introduction of CAD design and new technologies. What do you think about these new technologies, and are we going to loose old world techniques because of all these changes?
Alexis: This is a great question and one that comes up regularly with my jewelry friends and usually involves a lot of wine. I am often found standing on my soap box arguing the case against the use of new technology in jewelry because a machine simply can not duplicate touch of hand. However, tradition is always being challenged and I can only hope there is a place for both. At best, we can hope for a melding of old world techniques and new technology, which we are already seeing even at the highest level of fine jewelry making. Who is to say if we will lose any specific techniques, the big risk lies in what is sacrificed once cost becomes the determining factor in manufacturing. There will always be manufacturers who are willing to sacrifice tradition and quality for profit, and then there are the dedicated jewelers who honor the craft above all else, who will continue to fight the good fight. I have to believe the next generation of artists and craftsmen will incorporate new techniques while honoring and safeguarding the traditions of fine jewelry making. It is also the retailer’s responsibility to educate the consumers on the difference because we will certainly lose the techniques if we lose the collectors. Education is key!
Thank you Alexis for that beautiful afternoon we had together talking, what else, but jewelry. Your idea of touring Paris in a historical way is wonderful to all. You don’t have to be a jewelry lover to book a tour with “Bijoux Society”