Getting to Grips with Gripoix
What is gripoix and why do top designers have a passion for it?
The term actually originates with a French woman called Augustine Gripoix, a glassworker, who revived and refined an old technique of poured glass. This involved melting the glass and pouring it into a mould, whereas the more common technique being used at the time involved grinding the glass to a fine paste and then baking it a kiln, then pouring it into moulds. Mme Gripoix's technique was easier to produce and created stones that were purer in colour and with greater transparency.
In 1890 Mme Gripoix began selling her pieces from a shop in the Parisian jewellery quarter, Rue Tiquetonne, and got her first break with a commission to produce stage jewellery for the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Commissions from some of the great fashion houses followed, including from Charles Worth and Paul Poiret. But it was the relationship with Chanel that was to prove transformative for both parties.
By the 1920's Ausustine was dead but the business continued under her daughter Suzanne. She was approached by the young Coco Chanel to help her create her favoured Byzantine style jewellery, which required colourful bold glass stones in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes. Chanel used 16th century and Renaissance paintings for inspiration and Gripoix was asked to produce pieces from designs made by Chanel in a fruitful collaboration.
Chanel was leading the movement to make such extravagant and obviously fake costume jewellery fashionable. She had exacting standards, and asked that the Byzantine pieces that Gripoix produced should look not new but as if they had just been freshly excavated. Chanel was so happy with the results that she continued to be a faithful customer of the House of Gripoix until her death, and worked collaboratively with them on a number of collections over the years. and it was this lifelong relationship that was to define Gripoix and firmly cement it as the foremost producer of the highest quality costume jewellery.
Though Chanel was regarded as their most important relationship, the acclaim they achieved as a result of the work they undertook for Chanel allowed them to develope relationships with all the great French designers of the 20th Century - Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Ballenciaga, Balmain - and the pieces that were produced are amongst the most collectable today. This is due not only to the quality of the design but also the amazing workmanship and durability of each piece. And it is a testament to the original Mme Gripoix that her name has come to be synonymous in describing any high quality poured glass stone.