Some prominent luxury brands today can be described as having been intertwined with historic events of the last century or more, having managed to overcome moments of crisis, changes of regimes, cultural and social shifts. But few of them are quite as fascinating as the one I am going to discuss today, and fewer still can compare to its heritage.
In Paris, just off Place Vendôme, at 9, Rue de la Paix, stands a building housing the oldest jewellery company in the world. It’s name: Mellerio dits Meller.
According to Comité Vendôme (the elitist association of the highly reputed hotels, restaurants, jewellers and fashion houses located in Place Vendôme in Paris), the company has been based in that same building since 1815, however its roots go far deeper than that, to 1613.
The legend goes that it was then that the Mellier family helped prevent the assassination of Louis XIII. To repay this service, Maria de Medici granted them a decree that allowed them to freely carry out the trade and transport of jewels and small goods throughout the kingdom. The family received this special privilege from all the subsequent rulers, which provided them with enough support to grow into reputable jewellers to the aristocracy of the day, from Marie Antoinette to Empress Josephine and beyond.
Much like other French brands with outstanding heritage, the vast popularity of the Mellerio House was not limited to the French borders for too long, and in later years the Maison flourished with commissions from the wealthiest families of Imperial Russia and the Royal Houses all around Europe. The main reason behind the constant success laid in the fact that Mellerio kept reinventing themselves, appearing to be at the forefront of technical developments in jewellery making, winning several medals in prestigious events such as the Universal Exhibition in Paris or the Great London Exposition throughout the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Probably my favourite invention of theirs was the “garnitures decoratives pour ongles” patented in 1953, when Guy Mellerio came up with the idea of creating a way to bejewel the fingernails, as a reaction to the evolving trend of using nail varnish. Considering how fashionable false nails and intricate manicures are these days, I can’t help thinking it’s high time Mellerio re-interpreted this concept for today’s ladies.
Innovation was obviously at the heart of the Mellerio philosophy, but I was surprised to find out that they also welcomed artistic collaborations with other artisans to ensure this constant evolution – including with Rene Lalique or Boucheron, who later became legendary in their own right. Nowadays, collaborations are an extremely common-place strategy, but they are nothing short of impressive when Mellerio used them – in a quite organic, natural way – in the 1800s.
It is quite clear to me that this thirst for novelty is ongoing, as a few years ago the company has developed a new method of cutting diamonds in 57 facets, aptly called the “Mellerio Cut”, meant to reveal the radiance of a gem better than the usual brilliant cut. I can hardly think of any greater achievement for a jewellery maker.
And yet, this is only a small part of their legacy, as it seems the House has kept detailed records of their work since the very beginning, an archive I for one would love to see for myself. If the feat of remaining relevant and successful over a span of 400 years is close to unbelievable, keeping a track of the activity and clientele throughout this time is a sign of respect for the past generations and the ones still to come.
But more than anything else, I appreciate the company for remaining a family-run business for 14 generations and being what they themselves call the “last still independent luxury jewellery business” in France, where “Haute” is all around, but seems to have clustered around business conglomerates. Remaining independent gradually becomes the rarest and most genuine luxury of all, and with fewer and fewer companies affording it, it is worth taking notice.
HAVE A CLOSER LOOK
Meet Emilie Mellerio, the 15th generation of the Mellerio family and current president of the company, and also take a sneak peak at the historical archives they preserve.
Take a step behind the scenes and watch artisans create Mellerio dit Meller jewellery.