When it comes to the best of the best in costume jewelry collecting, the name Boucher (pronounced “boo-shay”) always makes the top of the list. Some of Marcel Boucher’s designs from late 1930s and ’40s sell for thousands. Of course, those aren’t the types of pieces jewelry lovers run across very often. They are, however, what makes Boucher one of the most esteemed names in this realm of collecting.
Meet the Bouchers
Marcel Boucher, in addition to being a talented designer, was also a skilled craftsman. He began his career in the jewelry business as a model maker for Cartier bringing design sketches into dimensional form. He worked for the famed fine jeweler in France and then moved to New York City. Many workers in the industry transitioned to costume jewelry as the Great Depression raged during the 1930s, and Marcel Boucher was one of them.
While employed by the respected costume jewelry firm Mazer Bros. in the early ‘30s, he designed decorative shoe buckles before striking out on his own. In 1937, he established Marcel Boucher Ltd. After expanding and relocating to a new workshop in the late 1930s, the New York-based business was renamed Marcel Boucher et Cie in 1941.
Many of the design renderings brought to life in Boucher’s workshop during this era are viewed as some of the best pieces of costume jewelry ever created. In addition to clever designs, the use of luminescent enameling, heavy rhodium plating, proprietary stones, and high-quality simulated pearls made his jewelry stand out among that of many competitors. These pieces were marketed in high end boutique settings as well as fine department stores when they were new.
With his business thriving through the 1940s, by the end of the decade Marcel Boucher hired a French assistant named Sandra Semensohn. His new employee, who had been employed by fine jeweler Harry Winston previously, quickly became an essential part of the firm’s design staff as well as his mate. The couple married in the early 1950s and worked together closely until he died in 1965.
Sandra Boucher maintained ownership of the company until 1970 when it was sold to Davorn Industries. She remained onboard as president and continued to lead the design team until 1977 when both businesses were shuttered. The Boucher name and designs were sold to Stutz Fashion thereafter.
Sandra Boucher was instrumental in relaying details to researchers so that the history of Boucher jewelry could be documented and remained active as a jewelry designer into the early aughts.
Copies and Recasts
Marcel Boucher’s designs were frequently the target of copycats back in the company’s early years. He sued Coro for overstepping their bounds with copyrights in the late ’40s and won a costly victory going up against a goliath in the industry. His efforts to thwart other costume jewelry companies trying to capitalize on his work also included patenting several his designs in the 1940s, also an expensive endeavor for a smaller business.
Other efforts included making it difficult to recreate his jewelry to the letter by using specially ordered stones and enameling that was hard to duplicate with success. Nevertheless, similar designs marked by other companies as well as unmarked versions do exist. These older pieces are referenced as “period copies” since they are indeed vintage and collectible today, but they were not endorsed by Marcel Boucher.
More recent copies have plagued collectors as well. In the 1990s, quite a few pieces of rare Boucher jewelry were faked including oversized enameled birds like his famed phoenix. Amazingly detailed insects were also recast including the praying mantis. While they sometimes fool novice buyers and dealers, closely examining the details and/or enameling on these fakes provide clues to their inauthenticity.
And honestly, there are so few of the coveted early pieces available today that if you run across a too-good-to-be-true deal, it’s wise to question it. Most of these Boucher designs still in existence are in high-end collections and rarely offered for sale.
More on the Jewelry
The older jewelry produced by this company was marked with Boucher’s initials although the signature is sometimes stamped unevenly causing it to be identified as a bird’s head. The mark actually consists of the letters MB below a French Phrygian cap. It was used from 1937 through the end of the 1940s and sparingly later when space was limited on the back of a design.
While you may be tempted to pick up an authentic high-end Boucher piece that is less than perfect at a “bargain” price, keep in mind that the specialty stones the company incorporated to impede design pirates make them very hard to replace. It is also quite difficult to skillfully repair damage to the enameling on these pieces.
The mark for the firm changed to Boucher in uppercase lettering in the 1950s and then a copyright symbol was added to the mark in 1955. Many designs have an inventory number stamped into the back as well. The dates associated with these numbers have been narrowed down by jewelry historians and can be used to help circa date Boucher jewelry.
One of the little-known marks associated with Boucher is “Parisina.” This branding was used on a line of sterling silver jewelry made in Mexico during the 1940s. Another called Le Couturier was a Canadian line of Boucher designs marked “LeC.” Less expensive jewelry first marketed by Boucher in 1955 bears the signature “Marboux.” While skill collectible and quite attractive, all these iterations of Boucher’s work are less highly valued than the older styles with the Phrygian cap mark.
Although no books have been written dedicated entirely to Boucher, there are several good resources to learn more about the company’s work. One is the A-M edition of American Costume Jewelry Art & Industry, 1935-1950, by jewelry historians Carla Ginelli Brunialti and Roberto Brunialti. The book shows many of Boucher’s most famous and desirable pieces along with patent drawings and a few advertisements.
As for online resources, consider checking out the Researching Costume Jewelry marks guide hosted by Costume Jewelry Collectors Int’l (CJCI) on. Within the “B” section of the guide all of Boucher’s varied marks are shown along with the dates corresponding to inventory numbers used on the jewelry.
While on the CJCI site, a series of articles titled “Understanding & Identifying Period Copies” is also recommended. These illustrated features by jewelry historian Robin Deutsch are a great point of departure for learning about pirated Boucher designs as well as many others.