Like most other French towns, Nîmes has a number of jewellery shops and jewellers skilled in creating bespoke pieces for clients. However in the pedestrianised mediaeval Écusson district at 31 rue de la Madeleine lies a bijouterie with a difference.
In the same spot for almost 50 years, the Maison Lachize Artisan Joaillier was started by Mr & Mrs Lachize senior, and is now run by their two sons – creative designer Lionel and artisan jeweller Stéphane, with Stéphane’s own son currently undertaking an apprenticeship in order to carry on the family business. With a workshop located above the shop and reached via an ornamental spiral staircase, around half the brothers’ business comprises bespoke jewellery creations, along with ready-to-wear pieces on sale downstairs in the shop itself.
Nevertheless, in addition to the day-to-day business, the Nîmes-born Lachize brothers have developed a line of unique hand-made jewellery, drawing on the town’s rich Roman heritage and celebrating its monuments and history.
A range of bespoke rings and pendants featuring real or reproduction Roman coins is very popular – customers provide their own heirloom coins, while the brothers also purchase Roman-era coins dating from 300-200 BC from collectors and antique shops.
These are then either directly incorporated into pieces of jewellery by Stéphane, or scaled down and redesigned by Lionel to create customised pieces. There are even genuine As de Nîmes coins from 28BC featuring the crocodile and the palm frond - today the town’s coat of arms – which have been stunningly reproduced in a sterling silver brooch or pin.
However the most striking and innovative designs honour the town’s two most famous monuments – the Arènes amphitheatre and the Maison Carrée.
Exquisitely designed as a contemporary tribute to the ancient landmarks, the Arènes ring was conceived a decade or so ago by Lionel, while a more recent creation is his design for rings celebrating the columns of the Maison Carrée. While the columns themselves are Corinthian-style with elaborate scrolling acanthus-leaf capitals, the fluted design of the rings stop at the base of the capital in a sleek, chic design.
Each piece takes several weeks to make by hand, fashioned by Stéphane in metals ranging from silver and gold to platinum, with the final design entirely according to the customer’s taste and budget – from completely plain and simple to exquisitely decorated with diamonds and other precious stones.
The rings are a winner with both nîmois and visitors alike, but are particularly prized as glittering keepsakes for nîmois or those who have lived in the city in the past, with one customer even driving 800 km round-trip from northern France to buy one for his Nîmes-born wife’s birthday.
Following the success of their Roman-inspired designs, a year or so ago the Lachize brothers were approached by the Musée de la Romanité to create a collection of items for its new gift boutique.
They adapted some of their coin designs in 925 silver and added an adjustable bracelet in an exclusive and extremely hard-wearing Japanese cord. The bracelets and pendants flew off the shelves, and so new creations are already on the drawing board for 2019.
"Our jewellery is made to be worn, not only kept for special occasions," says Lionel. "Less bling, more design is our credo – and a lasting memento of our city’s spectacular Roman heritage."