12 February 2023
Thomas Torroni-Levene and the René Boivin archives
At last! The René Boivin archives have resurfaced after being the subject of much speculation since 1985. Thomas Torroni-Levene tells us more.
Sandrine Merle. Tell us about yourself and under what circumstances your grandfather a gemstones dealer acquired the coveted René Boivin archives in 2019?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. My grandfather was a long-standing acquaintance of Nathalie Choay, the person who owned them. She came into possession of them when she bought René Boivin from Asprey in 1999. And going back still further – a few years earlier, the owner of Asprey, the brother of the Sultan of Brunei, had acquired René Boivin from one of Cartier’s former workshop managers, who became a shareholder and then owner. Despite all the commotion since 1985, the archives were intact! Nathalie Choay was utterly committed to the preservation of René Boivin.
S.-M. What exactly is the nature of these archives, whose existence has sometimes been questioned?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. It’s a colossal hoard: we have all the stock and accounting books, the inspiration notebooks from all periods including those of Mr. Boivin, about 20,000 drawings, order books, daybooks, all the correspondence from the 1900s-1920s to the 1960s, the plaster casts, and the models. Not to mention the workshop records from the early 1930s to 1965! And many photos of exceptional antique jewelry, probably made for Mellerio and Boucheron among others. René Boivin’s original ambition was to become a huge subcontractor by buying up workshops with the best craftworkers and the best production tools. When he died suddenly at the age of 53, his wife Jeanne changed tack and hired a designer: Suzanne Belperron.
S.-M. What will you do with the archives?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. Today, almost all the people who had a relationship with the company – at the time of Jeanne Boivin and her daughters – have passed, so the archives are our only witnesses. They’re a unique opportunity to clearly define Boivin’s DNA, as cultivated by successive designers: Suzanne Belperron, Juliette Moutard, Caroline de Brosses, but also Sylvie Vilein, Marie-Christine de Lamaze (who created Maurice Rheims’ sword for the Académie Française) and Ghislaine d’Entremont, who is all too often forgotten. At the moment, Juliet de la Rochefoucauld is devoting all her time to working through them in order to write a book planned for 2025. She’s going way back, even exploring the family roots of each individual designer. Ultimately, we‘ll know the complete factual history of René Boivin because the only existing book to date is incomplete and approximate on many points.
The Suzanne Belperron phenomenon
S.-M. Can you tell us about some of your amazing discoveries?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. It’s still a little early but we promise to share them with you. For the moment we can say that, contrary to what the only existing book on the subject says, Suzanne Belperron was by no means an “extra” in the company, not just some saleswoman or other. We have 4,000 to 5,000 drawings that were undoubtedly done by her… Which also proves that she did not take them with her when she left.
S.-M. Do these archives make you the official expert on René Boivin?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. They’ve enabled me to set up a new certification. In my opinion, and speaking very generally, an expert without archives can’t be a true expert because intuition and books are not enough. In addition, I’ve formed a committee with two other people with complementary knowledge: this way, there will no longer be any “René Boivin-like” pieces on the market. Absolutely all pieces will be certified on the basis of evidence, master hallmark, plaster, drawing or even a name in an order book.
S.-M. One of the members of your committee is Olivier Baroin, expert and owner of Suzanne Belperron’s archives. Are you working closely with him?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. Olivier Baroin has naturally worked on the history of René Boivin, and met people like Caroline de Brosses, who has since passed. He decided to share his knowledge with me, helping me to be faster and more efficient in making sense of the archives. As the organization was set up at the time of Suzanne Belperron, the same principles apply to her archives. We have spoken for hours, virtually day and night, on all aspects: human, technical, and so on. With the discovery of these archives, you might have expected us to fall out over the attributions but not at all. René Boivin was very lucky to have Suzanne Belperron. And when we talk about René Boivin, we always talk about her, but not necessarily vice versa…
Olivier Baroin, the expert on Suzanne Belperron
S.-M. You are looking for exceptional pieces by the company. Are you going to relaunch the sleeping beauty?
Thomas Torroni-Levene. Well to be honest with you, in fact we’re looking for pieces that have marked the history of the company, wherever they are in the world, to photograph them and include them in the book. At the same time, we’re building a heritage collection that we‘ll lend out for exhibitions or perhaps one day display in our future Paris showroom. As for relaunching the company, it’s still too early to say!