Professional Jeweler Archive: Inspired by the Ancients

June 2004

Precious Metals/News


Inspired by the Ancients

Jean Mahie steadfastly clings to her passions and talents


To understand her ancient-inspired sculptures and jewels, you need a glimpse of Jean Mahie’s childhood. Not many can say they played as children among Phoenician and Roman ruins in Carthage, Tunisia. “There were few other children about, so while my father tended his vineyards, I made my own toys and memorized shapes and textures amongst the ruins,” she recalls. “I was into serious painting by the age of 10.”

Most children don’t learn to hew nails from iron, either, but the local blacksmith taught young Jean.

The experiences taught her she could make or design just about anything. She’s designed a line of shoes for a French manufacturer, designed furniture and rebuilt a house. Through it all, she’s been one of Neiman Marcus’ exclusive goldsmiths for nearly 35 years.

Jean Mahie

The first thing you should know about Jean Mahie is that her name is a nom de plume. As a baby, her son, Cyril, addressed his grandfather Jean Marie as “Jean Mahie.” The name was such a hit that Jacline Mazard (her real name) subsequently adopted it for herself.

Mahie was born in a time and place where a girl simply grew up and got married. Adventurous by nature and art-instructed by the ancient ruins, Mahie harbored additional plans. At her father’s insistence, she went to Paris at age 17 to study law. After two years she escaped law school by marrying a childhood pal and making money by painting (she’s known for exquisite watercolors of orchids).

Her marriage not only enabled her to leave law school, it supplied a father-in-law who understood her potential as an artist. After she’d drawn a horse with a figure of a woman and child, he traced it on a gold ingot and sawed it out. Mahie brought her blacksmith skills to bear, and a rough-hewn hammered sculpture in gold was born. So was her career.

Her father-in-law, a prosperous businessman, was so inspired, he sold his business to partner with Mahie. Their careers in France were off to a flying start, even though she says she wasn’t entirely accepted because she is a woman. “Big jewelry houses – including Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier – wanted our jewelry,” she says. “But my father-in-law insisted our name would be on each piece, and the deals fell through.”

The two learned jewelrymaking together, eschewing jewelry schools because they didn’t want their work to look like anyone else’s. One day in Cannes, France, a wealthy U.S. tourist bought a piece of Mahie’s jewelry. Stanley Marcus, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus from 1950-1975 and then chairman emeritus, saw the jewelry at a dinner in New York City. “That’s when he contacted us,” she says. “Neiman Marcus made my name known in the United States.” Still, it’s Mahie who enforces the rules when it comes to making and selling her pieces. “Each item is strictly one-of-a-kind, and sometimes I have to reinstruct new jewelry department managers there are no more like the last one. I cannot copy myself.”

Inspiration

The scope of her imagination is hard to grasp. She estimates she’s created more than 20,700 pieces. Neiman Marcus alone stocks 1,000-1,500 Mahie pieces at a given time. “The inspiration for all the pieces comes from everyday life,” she says. “Sometimes I start a piece without even knowing where I’m going with it.”

None of that deters ardent collectors who fly across the country at a moment’s notice to see what new items she might have sent other Neiman Marcus stores. One customer has assembled a collection of some 300 pieces. Another family of customers comprises four generations of Mahie collectors.

Mahie’s business has become a family affair. Son Cyril, an artist in his own right, prepares materials for her and is skilled enough to make them himself. Daughter Veronique Mazard is the accountant and customer and store relations expert.

Mahie lives in the Caribbean. Five years ago, a fire consumed her home, and she took the opportunity to build a new house and design the furniture. “Out of the fire something good happened,” she says. For Jean Mahie, trials by fire have served to shape her – and the jewelry she makes.

  • Veronique Mazard, Twenty-Two Carats Inc., New York City; (212) 645-6826.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

All photos by Robert Weldon

Jacline Mazard, alias Jean Mahie, displays a small collection of her handmade jewelry and sculptures. In her library she is surrounded by her collection of antiquities.
Glass intaglio ring in 22k.
Hammered bracelet in 22k.
This necklace features hand-hammered 22k gold beads and mosaic and millefiori glass beads, 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications