For designer Lorenz Baumer, high jewellery is art, and it doesn’t equal snobbery, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
THE night falls on Champs Elysees in Paris as jewellery designer Lorenz Baumer takes his three children, aged between 2 and 6, for a walk. As they make their way up the road, the kids shout out, “look, daddy! Look at those diamonds falling”, pointing to the lights of cars moving up and down the famed avenue.
Against the black of night, the lights do look like blinking diamonds. And while Parisians and tourists alike loathe the gridlock traffic on one of the city’s busiest streets, Baumer finds beauty in the blinding commotion. That inspired him to craft a stunning necklace of diamonds and rubies.
And if you’re wondering how his children know what diamonds are at that young age, it’s because Baumer takes them to his workshop to “explain what daddy does”.
Ah, how many children have their innocent thoughts turned into precious jewels?
“I’m a little classic and a little wild,” said the 46-year-old artistic director for Louis Vuitton fine jewellery, who was in town recently from the City Of Lights to enthral VIP guests and customers with the house’s latest collection.
MIND OVER METAL
An engineer by qualification with a penchant for forging metals, Baumer has been designing jewellery since he was a child, transforming corks and wires from champagne bottles into rings and brooches, which he would give to his mother.
His resume shines as brightly as pavé diamonds. He showed his first collection of fine jewellery at his Rue Royale home when he was just 22 and he opened his own jewellery store in Place Vendome when he was 30.
“The emotional attachment to jewellery isn’t the same as that with a car or a handbag. You buy jewellery when you celebrate special moments and that kind of connection is special,” he explains.
In person, Baumer is charming to say the least, almost like a chameleon who blends in instinctively with the crowd.
“Wow, everyone is early today,” he greets Louis Vuitton personnel at the restaurant, which had been transformed into an haute jewellery salon, with security men at the entrance and exit points.
While he may be the star of the show, he looks surprisingly relaxed in a striped shirt and cotton jacket paired with what looks like black denim pants. His shoes are leather, perfectly polished, as are his manners.
He’s serious about his vocation, yet he doesn’t treat the jewels — one ring, I was told, costs a staggering RM5 million — as if they are priceless. No glass container over them, no customary gloves to pick them up.
“Gloves?” he says, seemingly aghast at my suggestion. “No... these are meant to be worn, not admired. If you need gloves to hold a piece of jewellery, you won’t wear it.”
SPECIAL PLACE IN HIS HEART
His new line, called Escale a Paris, is beautiful but lethal to casual pockets. Most won’t be able to afford even one piece of the jewellery in their lifetime, but it does seem that Kuala Lumpur has a small group of spenders who are willing to fork out a substantial sum for that special piece.
“Asians are very knowledgeable about stones and it’s easy to market craftsmanship to them. They know a good buy when they see one,” says Baumer.
He joined Louis Vuitton in 2009, three years before the brand would open its fine jewellery store in Place Vendome, a spot in Paris with the highest concentration of high-end jewellery boutiques.
“It has been two years of challenges and meeting standards. We’ve built a better, stronger collection. There are intricate pieces and there are gold pieces for daily wear,” he says.
Place Vendome has a special place in his heart. He still has his store there — he maintains his brand and works with Louis Vuiton at the same time.
“I collect photographs of Place Vendome, dating back to 1850. I have 154 of them, all with the column,” he reveals.
The original Vendome Column at the centre of the square was erected by Napoleon I to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz.
WHAT BOTTOM LINE?
Baumer makes jewellery worth millions, but he doesn’t seem to bother with the bottom line.
“I don’t like this talk of value-for-money or can-you-give-me-a-better-deal? You kill the value of art,” he says.
“A painter doesn’t paint thinking how much he can sell his work... he paints from the heart. I think it’s wrong for people to judge the value of something artistic.”
THE BEST DAD
What kind of a father is he? “A bad one,” he says with a laugh. “We believe we’re good (parents), but at the end of the day, we’re merely trying the best we can.”
He travels three to four weeks a year and spends the rest of his time at home in Paris. “The key to happiness is being satisfied with the balance you achieve between everything that’s important to you,” he says.
Seeing how he can translate a child’s imagination into an extravagant piece of jewellery, there’s no doubt that Baumer has found that equilibrium.
Lorenz Baumer on:
• The Americanisation of Champs Elysees: There are still great French finds between McDonald’s and Abercrombie & Fitch. The Artcurial auction house is one of the best in the city and Cinema Paris there shows the best films.
• His favourite piece: The diamond-studded choker, which pays homage to Place Vendome. I “map” the Parisian roads, from Arc du Triomphe to Place de la Concorde to Place Vendome, and these spots are marked on the piece with large diamonds.
• Louis Vuitton being compared to other jewellery brands: Do you realise that you’re comparing an infant to houses with 150 years of experience?
• Life lessons as a jewellery designer: Be humble as you’re only as good as your last piece.
• Hobbies: I like surfing. The sea, not the Net. I surf in Indonesia a lot.
• Customers: I listen to them. Jewellery must make other people, not myself, happy. This is not a self-indulgent field.