Discover the art of gouache in jewelry making

High jewelry is one of the last instances of gouache painting, a traditional craft that is as much a design tool as it is an art form.

Gouache: The word itself describes nothing more than a type of water-based and opaque paint that has been used to produce art and illustrations since the 18th century. But when you talk about gouache in the context of jewelry, it’s more than just a color or a technique. The beginnings of jewelry design date back to the Renaissance, but the technique of gouache in jewelry design only flourished in the late 19th century. In the jewelry industry, gouache is an art form that combines a designer’s dream, a craftsman’s blueprint, and a collector’s treasure.

Adopted by jewelry designers as part of the design process, a gouache painting marks the point where art and design merge, where creative vision emerges and the jewelry making process begins. A gouache painting is a rendering, an illustration of jewels on a 1:1 scale to convey the designer’s vision to the craftsmen who create the actual piece of jewellery.

A gouache painting of an oval blue sapphire
A gouache painting of an oval blue sapphire

Unlike watercolours, gouache is opaque and allows colors to be layered without the different layers showing through. Because of the color’s opacity, white can also be used as a color, which is essential to show the effect of light on stones, facets and diamonds. Therefore, gouache has the unique ability to reproduce the different colors of gemstones, the textures of gold and all the precious details that make up jewelry.

Marina Fulchiron, jewelry designer and teacher at L’École School of Jewelry Arts, who teaches several courses on the art of gouache, explains her story. “The gouache technique was first used throughout the research process of the jewel to create color variations of a model with different materials, making colored sketches with gouache on tracing paper,” she explains.

“Today, when we talk about gouache, we mostly mean the finished gouache that contains all the details of stones, colors and gold tones of the selected mode. This is an important and essential step in this profession, as it is also the final step in the creative process before the future jewel is made. And yet the gouache is also the beginning of another phase in the three-dimensional realization of the jewel, in which a model is made in wax or metal. The scale gouache is therefore both a technical drawing and an artistic drawing used by all the artisans and jewellers, gemologists, stone cutters, setters and polishers who make the model, as well as the design, marketing and sales teams to prepare the collection .”

An artisan at work at L'Ecole School of Jewelry Arts
An artisan at work at L’Ecole School of Jewelry Arts

A highly respected profession in the jewelry world, the gouacheur is an indispensable member of the creative team that handles this one-of-a-kind piece of paper, vital to the imagination, creation and fulfillment of a quality jewelry project. Fulchiron studied graphic design and illustration, but fell in love with gouache during an internship at a jeweler on Place Vendôme. She then worked for Boucheron for 17 years before freelancing for various companies and teaching at L’École to pass on her know-how to future generations.

Rather than a color copy, clients often expect original gouaches, which highlight the designs and showcase the quality of the jewels better than any computer drawn work. “This desire for annual collections and designed catalogs has created a profession for the jeweler’s gouacheur, who makes all the gouaches of the collection once the jewels are made,” says Fulchiron.

At Piaget, gouache painting is a crucial part of the design process. Product Design Director Stephanie Sivriere says: “Digital tools are a plus and make the system more efficient, but they will never replace gouache.” Gouache painting is an art, a know-how that remains unique and necessary in jewelry making.”

Piaget gouache creation of one of his latest novelties
Piaget gouache creation of one of his latest novelties

The gouache painting follows the sketch and enhances it to make it “more vivid and realistic,” says Sivriere. “Today it is still mandatory to get a precise idea of ​​what the sketch could look like before creating it. Also, it is to scale of what is required for the workshops.”

Gouaches are used in all of Piaget’s jewelry collections, often to pique customers’ interest before the actual pieces are shown. Piaget also uses gouache in its custom work for bespoke creations. “It’s the most qualitative and realistic way to present our creations,” says Sivriere. “Our customers also value the creative response. It is a unique painting of her unique jewelry.”

Both L’École School of Jewelry Arts and Piaget recognize the need to protect and uphold the craft of gouache. The school offers courses for both the general public and prospective students to learn about gouache from leading experts such as Fulchiron. At Piaget, the company enables new students to be trained in this art form each year through sponsorships the brand has with various Swiss schools, including the Piaget HEAD Young Talents Prize and the Piaget Prix Romand, which recognize up-and-coming talented designers and jewellers.

Piaget gouache art detailing the precious details of his Palace Décor technique
Piaget gouache art detailing the precious details of his Palace Décor technique

At this point, you might be wondering, “What about computers?” Wouldn’t digital tools—computer-aided design software and even artificial intelligence—have the ability to replace the need for hand-drawn renderings?

Fulchiron points out that while computers also have their place in the creative process, pencil sketches are still the starting point for most designers and a trained eye can still easily distinguish between a hand-drawn and a computer-generated design. “Once that difference becomes less visible, designers have a choice to use one technique or the other based on their preferred technique,” says Fulchiron. Still, in the jewelry industry, where every step of the process is done by hand, hand-drawn gouache representations will always retain an exclusive and special place among many houses.

But all means have their merits, and at Boucheron, the oldest jewelry company on Place Vendôme, yet one of the most cutting-edge jewelers of today, it’s important for creativity to “stay open to the possibilities that are available to you, while you can.” helps to express your dream”. Director Claire Choisne.

“Gouache painting is a medium that allows our jewelers to understand what’s expected,” she says, adding that the drawing phase can take up to six months. “However, it is not the only tool at our disposal. What inspires and fascinates me is the freedom of the means by which we achieve our dream. Sometimes the dream can be achieved with simple techniques and in this case we will not reinvent a technique. However, we give ourselves the opportunity to try and play with new tools that have never been used in jewelry making, as long as they help us to express this creative dream, such as making a cotton model, wrapping flowers around our fingers or playing with a real ivy branch and so on.”

Part of Boucheron’s Contemplation ’20 jewelry collection, Choisne’s aim for the Nuage en Apesanteur necklace was to recreate a cloud so light it would float around a woman’s neck. To reproduce this extreme delicacy and lightness, she modeled cotton directly onto a bust and then scanned it, rather than using the more traditional gouache. Then a programmer brought their vision to life by developing an algorithm of clouds composed of dots, assembling droplets of different sizes and densities.

The creation of the Boucheron jewel
From the model to the rendering of the Boucheron Nuage en Apesanteur necklace

“Then, when we brought our cloud to life, we replaced the dots that make it up with over five thousand diamonds and tiny glass spheres, each as thin as hair, on titanium threads,” Choisne concludes. “If we had limited ourselves to drawing the cloud on gouache, we would never have been able to make this necklace.”

Still, she acknowledges that gouache remains a vibrant art in the industry, one that has unique abilities – “creating the illusion of a 3D result on top of a 2D drawing,” as she cites as an example – and an important role in any archive plays .

Gouache paintings serve both as documentation of the creation of a piece of jewelry and as a source of inspiration for the future. At Boucheron, Choisne says she is fortunate to have many archives full of sketches and photos from the period maisonis a creation of Frédéric Boucheron. Her January collections, entitled Histoire de Style, often take a jewel from the archives and reinterpret it for the modern age.

At Piaget, the mood is the same. “Gouache paintings stay in our heritage and help us later date a draft,” explains Sivriere. “When we create new pieces, we go there to find new inspiration, so we stay true to the brand’s DNA maison.”

The result of a current vision, the start of a new production, a blueprint for artisans, a sales tool, a promise of a cherished piece of jewelry and finally the recording of a bygone dream. Gouache painting in jewelry is an art worth protecting at all costs.

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