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The Universal Magazine

Rediscover Jewelry with Anne-Catherine Dufour-Genneson

Anne-Catherine Dufour-Genneson outside

Meeting with Anne-Catherine Dufour-Genneson, a talented jeweler with extremely refined creations. She has exceptionally opened the doors of her workshop to Pierre-Antoine Tsady. She reveals the secrets of her original and little-known profession to the general public, from her academic journey to her travels around the world. Discover how her love for stones, her passion and her respect for traditions combine to create unique and timeless jewelry.

Interview

Pierre-Antoine Tsady: Can you tell us how you became a jeweler and what initially attracted you to this profession?

Anne-Catherine Dufour-Genneson: As an archaeologist and art historian, I started by being interested in the origin of major creative movements and the genesis of know-how of which we are today’s heirs. For me, the two subjects are inseparable, as they mutually enrich each other. Where do ideas come from? How did they reach us? How have techniques evolved, and what do they teach us about those who developed them, and about us.

Man has always wanted to master these things that come from the bowels of the earth, but bring us closer to the stars. Light, heat evoke a form of transcendence. This call to the infinitely great explains in my opinion both the fascination and the importance of the apparatus: symbol of kings, gods and priests.

Jewelry is both perfectly superfluous and absolutely fundamental, indispensable in all human societies. We find this need to sublimate mortals with jewelry in all civilizations, and at all times. Even today, we feel this need for elevation: in engraved medals, the swords of academics, or the adornments of movie stars, but also on the fingers of fiancées, around the necks of little baptized ones, or in a bracelet passed down by a grandmother, carrying the history of the family. Quality jewelry is also an element of family heritage.

P.A. T.: Can you share a decisive moment in your career that reinforced your passion for this profession?

A.C. D.G.: I was fortunate, after the comfort of the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre (Louvre School in French), to confront this framework of knowledge with other countries and cultures, particularly West Africa, Central America and Asia where I worked and studied for many years. The variety and diversity of techniques and styles continue to inspire and enrich my work thanks to their mastery and influence. But I also discovered many common points: in all civilizations and at all times, we find the same fascination for adornment. We all wear jewelry, we are all amazed by crystals and metal, and we have all wanted to master fire and matter.

Upon returning to France, I wanted to consolidate these years of experience by focusing on jewelry. To be able to master all aspects of the profession, I completed my training: apprenticeship in manufacturing workshops and I became a gemologist.

Following in the footsteps of Kessel at the legendary Mogok market in Burma, 2016
Following in the footsteps of Kessel at the legendary Mogok market in Burma, 2016

P.A. T.: How do you ensure that each piece remains unique and personal for your clients?

A.C. D.G.: I always start, whether for an expertise, a transformation or a creation, with a long conversation. I want to understand my client, what drives them, what they want, and get to know their personality. Any operation around jewelry is generally linked to an important life event – generally joyful, but not always – and it is essential to honor this moment, and to allow the client who trusts me to feel respected, understood and heard.

P.A. T.: How do you work to make jewelry accessible to a wider audience, beyond the elitist clichés often associated with the sector?

A.C. D.G.: Elegance is not a question of money, but a question of education and style.

Nature offers us an infinite choice of stones and resources for all budgets and all stages of life. It’s up to me to transform them to realize dreams. I give the same consideration and devote as much energy to all my clients. I have very emotional memories of young fiancés with a "student" budget amazed by their engagement ring, or by a client who was buying jewelry with her first salary.

I echo the words of the great chef Thierry Marx: "Luxury is not an insult to poverty, but an insult to mediocrity. This requirement must be shared by a large number of people. We must help them return to luxury to increase their skills and say that everyone has their place in this universe".

The accessory that never leaves me: my magnifying glass
The accessory that never leaves me: my magnifying glass

P.A. T.: How do your creations challenge the traditional gender stereotypes associated with jewelry?

A.C. D.G.: This is a question I have never asked myself, as I only make unique pieces that reflect the desires, personality and identity of my clients without any other consideration.

P.A. T.: How would you define the concept of quiet luxury in the context of your work and why is it important to you?

[The quiet luxury conveys a luxury and discreet products, often without a logo. We do not necessarily see that these are luxury products, ed.]

A.C. D.G.: I discovered that I have been doing quiet luxury for over 35 years! For my clients, this reflects a demand for quality, originality and timelessness: wanting to stand out without the brand. For me, it means being particularly attentive to each stage of creation, to every detail of the manufacturing process.

An original creation from the house, combining ancient jade and contemporary aesthetics
An original creation from the house, combining ancient jade and contemporary aesthetics

Since my early days, I have been able to create a network of excellent service providers. My designers, my lapidaries, my manufacturers, my pearl stringers… are independent and exceptional craftsmen, exclusively based in France, who work with respect for high jewelry techniques using the noblest materials. It is sometimes a demanding choice, when it would be so easy to do a little less well and much cheaper by outsourcing, but I am very proud of it. Judging by the loyalty of my clients, it was a very good choice; I am now making engagement rings for the children of my first fiancés!

Over the years, my methods and my demand for excellence have attracted a clientele with a certain taste, seeking originality and quality – a guarantee of timelessness – rather than fashion. Thus, I am fortunate to have a varied, cultured clientele, in search of excellence and know-how rather than recognition.

P.A. T.: What has been the achievement you are most proud of in your career, and how has it influenced your vision of jewelry?

A.C. D.G.: Saving with my teams a very old and very damaged family jewel, which had been considered impossible to restore. We were able to bring it back to life for future generations. Unlike trends, our profession is a profession of transmission and long time.

P.A. T.: Can you share a particular experience where the creation of a piece of jewelry brought you personal satisfaction, regardless of its market value?

A.C. D.G.: I restored, for a very old lady, the bracelet of her deceased son so that she could wear it. I will never forget her face when I slipped it onto her wrist… she was carrying her son with her. I was happy to offer it to her.

P.A. T.: What is the advantage of an independent jeweler?

A.C. D.G.: I am not constrained by the dictates of fashion: I can just as well give character to an old ring with a quirky stone as create a unique piece that looks like no other with an almost infinite choice of shapes and colors.

P.A. T.: What is your favorite stone?

A.C. D.G.: This is an excellent question for a gemologist. Obviously precious stones are a constant source of wonder, but fine stones – tourmaline, spinel, jade, etc. – have long suffered from the terminology "semi-precious stones" when some of them, by their beauty and rarity, can be valued more than diamond. In fact, I love them all, the life I observe inside them with my analysis instruments fascinates me, I find the history of the earth in them.

A microscopic analysis reveals the secrets of an exceptional stone
A microscopic analysis reveals the secrets of an exceptional stone

P.A. T.: How do you handle ethical and responsibility issues, such as the origin of stones and the use of synthetic diamonds, in your jewelry creation?

A.C. D.G.: I have always strived to deliver timeless pieces of the highest quality to my clients. This can only be done with quality raw materials, worked by respected and respectful craftsmen – not factories.

The entire profession and the learned geological and gemological society has been interested in the issue of synthetic stones, which is far from new.

History shows us that with each manufacturing revolution of this type of stones, it is the buyers who have suffered, because these stones have no resale value, which goes against my criterion of timelessness. Moreover, their manufacture is terribly energy-intensive and has a heavy carbon footprint.

The materials with which we work are sourced with the utmost care, respecting people and the planet, both through my network of carefully selected partners and especially thanks to my frequent trips to mines around the world. I also work a lot with old stones, which I acquire myself or which my clients offer me.

P.A. T.: What are your projects or ambitions for the future of your workshop?

A.C. D.G.: I hope to help perpetuate and transmit the know-how of the crafts that make up jewelry by bringing up the new generation of talents.

Jewelry is the link between the past and the future: it carries the memory of its owners, and the promise to perpetuate the family tradition for those who will wear it. When I appraise a piece of jewelry in the context of a succession, or when I design an engagement ring, my clients entrust me with a part of their history that they seek to preserve. Much more than a symbol of wealth or success, jewelry, like the altar in ancient times, represents victories and transmission.

Technology at the service of the expert
Technology at the service of the expert

Social networks of Anne-Catherine Dufour-Genneson