The first thing to know about La Biennale Paris is that, despite its new official name, it is now an annual event. The second is that, under new management, La Biennale Paris is making every effort to become the must-see international fair for fine art, antiques, high jewellery and fine watchmaking. With a smaller panel of exhibitors and fewer visitors than the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, or Art Basel in Switzerland, La Biennale Paris has the advantage of its location, at the very heart of the French capital.
The very determined new President of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA), Mathias Ary Jan, in charge of La Biennale Paris, was joined for this year’s fair by prominent, internationally respected figures to put into action his plan to attract more major international galleries. Christopher Forbes, Vice-Chairman of Forbes Publishing, the company founded by his grandfather in 1917, has been a noted Francophile since his youth. Sharing his time, as he says, “between the Louvre and the Statue of Liberty”, his role this year as President of the Biennale Committee ensured an international team of Committee members, especially from the United States.
For further international appeal, the Honorary Committee of La Biennale Paris 2017 was placed under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdulla Al Thani of the State of Qatar, a renowned collector and connoisseur of classical and modern art and jewellery.
Works of art
The Grand Palais that hosts the event is a work of art in itself. Located on Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Champs-Elysées and Pont Alexandre III, it was built at the end of the nineteenth century to house the 1900 Universal Exhibition. Closed several times for renovations, it remains one of the most beautiful historical sites in Paris with its Art Nouveau structure of iron, steel, stone and glass. Designated a Historic Monument in 2000, it continues to be used as a prestigious exhibition hall and museum, and even hosts the Saut d’Hermès jumping competition every year in March.
From September 11 to 17, 2017, the Grand Palais welcomed 94 major galleries from France and around the world. With 32,678 visitors in total, an average of 4,000 a day, this year’s fair surpassed last year’s edition and its 3,000 visitors a day. Complemented by the remarkable pieces on generous loan from the Barbier-Muller Museum in Geneva, 5,000 artworks and objects were on display, with antique statues, masterpiece paintings, antique furniture and tapestries, ancient, antique and signed jewellery, antique clocks, Chinese archaeological artefacts and other treasures, in an elegant, spacious environment. (For a complete list, go to https://www.biennale-paris.com). As a result of past controversies, all objects shown at the Biennale are rigorously vetted by the fully independent Commission d’Admission des Oeuvres.
A sparkling edition
Participating High Jewellery houses were international, with Nirav Modi, Anna Hu, Moussaieff, Boghossian and Glenn Spiro enchanting visitors with their scintillating creations composed of Columbian emeralds, white and yellow diamonds, or rare Mogok rubies. In previous years, six or seven Fine Jewellery houses from nearby Place Vendôme occupied a large area, where they showed jewels (and some timepieces). They withdrew in 2016, leaving space for the interactive (and non-selling) Mastery of Time exhibition that was organised by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie as part of its mission to promote Fine Watchmaking around the world. In addition to a presentation of historic timepieces and a virtual reality experience, highly-skilled artisans from Cartier, Greubel Forsey, Vacheron Constantin and F.P. Journe demonstrated their talents.
A sparkling edition
Manufacture F. P Journe returned this year, this time with its own elegant and refined booth. It presented such masterpieces as the Chronomètre à Résonance, the Quantième Perpétuel and the Sonnerie Souveraine, alongside pieces from its lineSport collection (which debuted with the Centigraphe Sport) and the Elégante collection.
Meeting with François-Paul Journe, he told us how delighted he was to see that the Biennale was once again “a real fair of antiquities and art, as it had been in the past,” more in phase with the “objets d’art produced by fine watchmaking.” Duly positioning F.P Journe’s image within the prestigious environment, he welcomed the idea of meeting friends old and new, as well as collectors of the fine things in life, adding that he had nothing against “a purchase or two, to cover expenses.” He wore a beautiful Centigraphe Souverain that is precise to 1/100th of a second, and which has a power reserve of at least 80 hours when the chronograph is stopped and 24 hours when it is running. Mr Journe added that he was looking forward to developments in 2018, specifically in the sport line.
This was Manufacture DeWitt’s first time at the Biennale, attracted by the exclusive nature and high quality of the exhibitors, and also by the type of person drawn there – people whom the brand’s founder, Jérôme de Witt, described as curious about beautiful things and capable of “falling instantly in love with an object and acquiring it on the spot.” “This” he declared, “is the spirit of the Biennale.” He insisted on how important the fair was for the DeWitt image – “more important than any sale” – as a fabulous platform for communication that draws French and international visitors looking for exceptional pieces of art. “And so why not watches?” he asked. Among the significant pieces on show from the DeWitt collections were the Academia Mathematical Concept Watch N° 4 – a watch with no hands but seemingly chaotic, completely autonomous jumping numerals that light up to indicate the time – two new sparkling versions of the Academia Out of Time with gold flakes on their dial, and the Academia Skeleton with a bi-directional seconds hand.
French artist Daniel Hourdé designed the booth whose gold mirrors were strewn with imperial bees, a symbol of Jérôme de Witt’s imperial ascendance. Manufacture DeWitt would be delighted to take part in the next Biennale Paris. But before then, it will be exhibiting for the first time at SIHH in Geneva, in January 2018. The brand is working on a grand complication inspired by Big Ben.