Nicolas Favard : Jeweller in La Rochelle
I would like to give you a better idea of my professional background and of my passion for jewellery-making. But most of all, what I would really like to share with you are all the beautiful moments that my job has offered me as a jewellery craftsman. All these times when special connections just happened thanks to the magic of jewellery. A type of magic that transforms raw material into a unique piece, inspired by a unique story: yours. To hone my skills as a jeweller and to open the doors of inspiration wider, at the age of 22 I packed my bags and took a plane to Asia. In Hanoi, I learned ancestral chasing techniques. In Beijing, I developed new techniques, designed pieces for both local and international customers and also taught at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. After 15 years of expatriation, I returned to France with my wife and my children. I am now settled in La Rochelle — in La Pallice district — where I use gold, silver, titanium or brass as "feathers" to write your story through the art of jewellery.
Jewellery in La Rochelle, where it all began
I still remember the day I entered a jeweller's workshop for the first time. I was about 8 years old and my mother took me with her to the jeweller to have a necklace repaired. I remember the room. There was an oneiric yellow light filtering through the windows. This light made all those shapes, reflections and materials seem even more unreal. I had never seen anything like this before. I wondered how anyone could be so imaginative. What struck me in particular was the wooden workbench at the back of the room and the fire from the torch. When my mother handed her necklace to the jeweller, I saw his rough hands. You could tell these hands were marked by the daily rigours of fire and metal.
I was 10 years old when I tried to make my first ring with a copper wire. I remember the joy I felt hammering this cylindrical piece until it became perfectly flat. The satisfaction of witnessing the material gradually changing shape under my fingers, but also the frustration of not being able to make it into a finished object. I had to understand, to learn the key techniques which give life to inanimate matter. The research I made in this field finally convinced me to commit myself to it. In 1996, I started my apprenticeship on jewellery. During these five years, I was studying at the Jewellery Institute of Saumur and was working at the same time as an apprentice at Pinguet jewellery store in La Rochelle. My first master and mentor was Francis Lecutiez. With him, I learned about traditional jewellery. Then I went to Paris, in a school called AFEDAP. During my time with Brune Boyer, I discovered all the possibilities that contemporary creation offers in terms of conception and design. Over the course of that year, I approached jewellery from a completely different angle.
In 2002, mostly by chance, I was offered an internship in Vietnam by Mobil'Asie association. To be part of their program, you had to be between 18 and 25 years old and specialise in a particular field. Approximately fifteen people were selected: a pastry chef, a cook, a stylist, a web designer, etc. Our jobs were different, but we were all driven by the same irresistible call to travel, discover a new country and enjoy freedom. We were given a few english lessons at the beginning and off we went! My internship lasted six months and took place in a diamond cutting company. The manager, a Belgian, had just returned from North Korea where he had set up a similar company before settling in Vietnam.
After that internship, I kept working in Vietnam but this time for Mosaïque, an interior design shop. The manager wanted to set up a line of costume jewellery and asked me to join her team. I found myself working with Vietnamese craftsmen who had never received any academic training, but who had an absolutely stunning mastery of embossing and chasing. It was very DIY and they may have had three pliers instead of ten but the results were there. I later discovered that some of these traditional techniques were also used in China, especially among the Bai ethnic group, with whom I gained further knowledge in handmade jewellery.
Another piece of luck brought me to Beijing later on in the autumn of 2004. The incredible energy that fuelled this city allowed me to open my first workshop, then a boutique with a workshop. As a freelancer, my business’ success entirely depended on sales, and even in a city of 20 million it still took some time to build a customer base. This is how I came to switch between my professional activity and part-time teaching at the beginning. I taught for about two years at the Institute of Clothing Technology. After that I was invited as a guest lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
During these thirteen years in the capital, I met people from different parts of the country, but also from all over the world. Each with their own approach to ornament and aesthetics. This has even led to unique collaborations, such as the partnership with Kathrin Von Rechenberg and the fibula I created for one of her fashion outfits. There would be so much more to tell you about this incredible city. The old Beijing with its narrow alleyways called the hutongs, where several generations live in houses that are sometimes made of bricks and mortar, sometimes renovated with luxury or sobriety. The glittering skyscrapers of Guomao, the glamorous district of Sanlitun. All our friends and the life we built there... But, the fact we were not from that place led us to say goodbye to that wonderful mega city.
My jeweller's workshop in La Rochelle: back to the roots
The exoticism that surrounds us, and that we experience everyday when abroad, makes us want to return to where we come from after a while. Probably because getting familiar with a foreign culture inevitably leads to question one's own life and direction. After 15 years in Asia, I wanted to return to my family and friends in France. La Rochelle is the city where I was born. Coming back to its port, its stone buildings and its seaside appeared to me like an obvious choice. Six months after we came back I opened my workshop here, on La Muse street. I immediately liked the size and brightness of the premises when I visited it the first time. I also like the gentrified neighbourhood, a bit of a marginal, formerly punk but recently sanitised type of area.
I am lucky enough to be able to keep doing what I love. What has always fascinated me, from my apprenticeship until now is the spontaneity with which people open up to me. They show me a piece of jewellery that once belonged to their ancestors, a family member or a friend, then they tell me about all the incredible stories that these small pieces of precious metals contain. Or on the contrary, they come and tell me about the highlights of their lives, highlights that they would like to see embodied in beautiful jewellery.
I see ornaments as a bridge, as a dialogue between two worlds. On the one hand, the external world as we know it with all its materials. Jewellery transforms and combines these materials together to beautify the bearer. Then on the other hand, there is the inner world, the first “sculptor” in a way. This is the world of your most precious memories, which can be shaped in an object made to stand the test of time. Throughout the ages, jewellery has always symbolised a form of achievement and aspiration to reach one's goal. Mine is the dedication to my art, as well as to the mastery of its techniques. I will be honoured to bring your ideas to life through my knowledge of materials. I am looking forward to meeting you in my workshop.