The Netflix series Bling Empire is marketed as a dramatic reality program that follows a group of wealthy Asians around Los Angeles, showcasing their wild purchases and extravagant lifestyles. But the series ends up being more of a poignant story about loss, the true meaning of friendship, and yes, okay, jewelry. But again, what may seem surface-level and extravagant, winds up being more than that. And no one embodies this greater-depth quite like socialite and philanthropist Anna Shay.
Shay is one of those people you just want to be. She seems to exist on whimsy but she’s also clearly driven by a fierce determination to protect herself and her friends. Her best friend and Boucheron client executive Florent Bonadei can attest to this.
Though Shay and Bonadei sat down with Art & Object to discuss her Boucheron jewelry collection, the conversation naturally trended towards friendship. When asked about Shay as a gift-giver, Bonadei chose to focus on the immaterial. “She is someone that is not going to give her trust to everyone, just to very few people,” he explains. “So if there is one [precious] thing that I can say I have, it's Anna's trust.”
So it should not be surprising that Shay and Bonadei understand high jewelry—a controversial subject among the stars of the series—as a deeply personal art form rather than showy collectors' items.
“For me, it's not about high jewelry,” Shay explains. “It's just art that happens to be in the form of gems. When people buy things because it's high jewelry, then I don't think they really know what it means. Nor do they appreciate what it means.”
Bonadei adds that “it's also like an encounter. It’s high jewelry because, often, you also have a connection with the designer. So it's almost like coming into a family.”
For Bonadei and Shay, these familial connections have their roots in Boucheron. Founded in 1858, Maison Boucheron is the oldest jewelry house in Place Vendôme. Over the last 163 years, the Maison has cultivated a reputation for technical excellence and established a network of codes and techniques that regularly resurface in collections.
When asked to select and describe a piece of Shay’s Boucheron jewelry that best captures her unique personality, Bonadei immediately says, “I have one in mind but just because of the story behind it.”
Shay responds just as quickly, “That’s the same for me.”
As an introduction to the piece, Bonadei reiterates that “It doesn't matter if it's the most expensive, and actually it’s far from being the most expensive.” He shares that some of the high jewelry techniques and codes applied to this piece have been in use at Boucheron for 160 years. “We’ve been always ahead of our time and actually, the piece we are going to tell you about is a very unusual and technically exceptional ring.”
The two go on to describe a ring, one of nine Eternal Flowers—or Fleurs Eternelles—from a 2004 Boucheron collection. They speak together, almost finishing each other’s sentences and regularly stopping to ask or allow the other to fill in some essential detail.
“When I first looked at it,” Shay begins, “not knowing how it came about or the story behind it, I fell in love with it. My mom loved flowers but she didn't like to see them die… that always stuck with me and I wished I could make something for my mom, a flower—”
“An eternal flower,” Bonadei adds.
“Yes,” she says, then continues, “a broach or a diamond or something that I could give her because it would be eternal. It would be forever and it would never die.”
Apparently, Boucheron CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne and Creative Director Claire Choisne told Shay that night, not knowing of her personal story with her mother or dying flowers, that they never liked to see flowers die and that was why they made the ring.
The technical process took three years to create. “We used real petals,” Bonadei explains. “For years, we worked on creating a way, a process to dry the petals in a manner that preserves all of the original flower, all the details, all the defects, everything. All the veins. And then, we have a process to integrate the titanium.
I explained very simply, but of course, it’s a bit more technical. But what you see is actually the reproduction of the real flower and the idea behind it was philosophical, artistic—more than being just a ring.” Hence the name, Eternal Flower.
Bonadei finishes and shifts focus back to the emotional context—the night Shay saw the ring. It is clearly a fond memory for both of them. “The way it happened was absolutely beautiful because she didn't say anything on the spot. She decided on one flower, very quickly I would say, and then we went back to the hotel—do you remember Anna?”
Shay says “Yes,” fondly and he continues.
He recounts that, once they were in her hotel room, she went to her safe to retrieve a specific broach that he had never seen before. She told him, “One flower, for one flower,” and then sat down to write a letter.
“I was sitting on the side and then at some point of course, because I'm very curious, I went to look over her shoulder,” they laugh and he continues. “I was trying to read what she was writing. And I started to cry and then, she cried also.”
Bonadei explains that Shay’s letter was for CEO Poulit-Duquesne. In it, she recounted her story of trying to make a flower broach for her mother, something she did achieve using sliced, raw diamond.
Unfortunately, Shay's mother passed away before the flower was finished. That night, she decided she wanted Poulit-Duquesne to have the broach and so she wrote the letter to accompany the gift.
“We went back to the Boucheron event and we gave the letter to Hélène, who cried also. So that's why it's full of memories. It’s her mother, it’s the message, it’s the moment.”
At the end of Bling Empire, Kevin Kreider, a star who bonds with Shay over the season, says, “If you can’t be rich, then at least have rich friends.” His comment was tongue-in-cheek but if you think of wealth the way Shay and Bonadei do, then it does get to the heart of the show—friendship.
As Shay remarks towards the end of the interview, “Loyalty is very rare. If you were to compare that with jewels, it's the rarity of the things that are gone in this day and age."