The house’s creative director says Cofalit, commonly used for road building, was an interesting alternative to use in pieces like a high jewelry brooch.
PARIS — One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, so the saying goes. But can waste become something precious?
Boucheron is betting on it.
At a preview in September, the house unveiled Jack de Boucheron Ultime, a capsule jewelry collection that featured, in lieu of precious metals and gems, conical elements made of Cofalit.
Similar in appearance to anthracite or obsidian, Cofalit is the result of heating and fusing asbestos waste into nontoxic, cement-like matter. It is an industrial end product generally used as an aggregate for road building, but it also is being studied for its solar energy storing properties. Boucheron is the first and only luxury brand to repurpose the trademarked material for jewelry.
“In the studio, we’re always asking ourselves what makes something precious,” Claire Choisne, Boucheron’s creative director, said in a dual video interview with Sarah Goncalves, the design and innovation manager of the house’s creative studio.
In the past, that quest to create something precious has led Ms. Choisne to stretch the house’s creative lexicon in a variety of ways. The house encapsulated aerogel, one of the world’s lightest substances, in a rock crystal pendant. In 2018, Boucheron presented Fleurs Éternelles, a collection of gem-studded rings based on preserved natural flowers.
Cofalit was not the only unconventional composite under consideration for the current collection. But having reviewed blast furnace byproducts and materials made from solid smoke residue, Ms. Choisne said she found herself circling back to Cofalit for its hard composition and its design potential. The raw material, however, could not be worked properly.
To develop jewel-worthy samples, Ms. Goncalves spent two years consulting with engineers at Inertam, the French recycling company that produces Cofalit and holds the trademark for the material. Ultimately, they crushed, heated and compressed the Cofalit into a consistency that suited Boucheron lapidaries.
“One of the challenges was finding a way to collaborate with people from an entirely different universe compared to traditional métiers,” Ms. Goncalves said. “It wasn’t simple, but no one closed the door on us. I think they were rather curious to see what would come of it.”
The result was incorporated into the Jack line — which was initially introduced in 2019, and includes a flexible gold strand with a magnetized clasp that can be wrapped around the neck or wrist. Because it’s so playful, the collection lends itself to experimentation, Ms. Choisne said.
Three designs — an ear clip, a high jewelry brooch and a necklace that could double as a choker or bracelet — are scheduled to be available for purchase in spring 2023; the brand said prices are expected to align with current ones for similar Jack designs, which include 3,100 euros ($3,173) for an ear clip and 6,650 euros ($6,807) for a triple-wrap necklace.
Looking ahead, Ms. Choisne said, she already envisions Cofalit keeping company with, for example, a huge diamond. She has also been testing it on the brand’s best-selling Quatre line, whose classic ring design features a mix of four materials: yellow gold, pink gold, white gold and brown PVD (physical vapor deposition).
The house also has been working with other new materials for its 2023 Carte Blanche collection, to be shown during couture week in July in Paris. “We never close any doors on techniques or materials that allow us to express things,” Ms. Choisne said.
And while the applications for industrial waste in jewelry seem limited, Ms. Choisne said she hoped that Boucheron’s small-scale experiments with Cofalit would inspire other designers to use the material, for example in home décor.
“I like the idea of using materials that are already there, that we don’t know what to do with,” she said. “It’s never about creating things just for the sake of it. There has to be a meaning behind it.”
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