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Take the hip swing of a tiny shop in the 6th arrondissement (rue de l’Echaudé) where Simone d’Avray was located for over 25 years, or the flair of her boutique shop in Paris’ oldest flea market, add the devoted clientele who pop in to find their perfect piece, and you have this American, an outsider looking in, wondering how she got here.
For 30 years Simone has been collecting precious stones, artifacts, jewels and heirloom charms from centuries past. Combine long-practiced techniques of the trade, tempered with passion and patience, and you have the alchemy of her artisanal jewelry.
A dear friend who leads walking tours of Paris introduced me to Simone’s work years ago. I’ve been following her social media posts ever since. Just recently, a piece jumped off the page as a ‘must have’.
You know how it goes: instant love.
A necklace of silver, vintage collectibles, and rainbow obsidian, it dropped me right into walking the stone-floored halls of a chateau with echoes underfoot. Here was nobility. So I bought it.
It’s now laid away until I fly to Paris, where I will meet Simone, have lunch, and bring home my treasure. The piece had such an impact on me — but I always look for that — for what moves my soul.
I found myself trying to picture how she created it; how did she get there? I could envision her sitting quietly behind the counter, fidgeting with a stone to set it just right … so I asked her, how did you gather the necklace together?
“Oh,” she said, “from jewel to jewel, my style takes shape…”
“Your necklace is made up of an old part and a modern part. I found some of these items from what was a men’s pocket watch in a flea market in Paris. They were in perfect condition. From the end of the 19th century, they were worn by the French bourgeoisie.
“I kept these pieces for several years, wanting to integrate them into a necklace, and when I found the rainbow obsidian, everything came together that included these ancient elements. This necklace tells the story of a valuable object kept for a long time in the family. When the inheritance was shared, it was finally sold as an antique.”
Imagine that … the heirloom pieces had been with her for years until she found what worked with them. Then suddenly, voila!
“Rainbow obsidian is a mysterious stone that changes from black to emerald green, pale blue, pink, mauve, and is very difficult to photograph,” she explains. “It is perhaps the mystery that links the old and the modern; the very beautiful French craftsmanship and the mineral; one highlighting the other and vice versa.”
Once purchased, I come to find she had named it Châtelaine — wife of the lord of a château.
This is exactly what brought the jewelry to my attention; here were pieces of antiquity beautifully reset to hold essence and make a 21st-century statement. I’ve been given an opportunity to cherish this keepsake, as surely as the original owner did.
Simone has quite a following. From popular clip-on earrings to bracelets and necklaces — every stone finds its place. Women love wearing her art.
Every Saturday at 7 am sharp, Simone rolls out of bed, enjoys her croissant & café, and walks to work at the famous Puces de Saint-Ouen.
It’s hard to capture in words the energy of a flea market, and since this one is huge, it’s harder still.
But the Marché Dauphine will surprise you; it sits at the axis of the greater Puces de Saint-Ouen on rue de Rosiers. Modern and glass-roofed, the marché was built in 1991 and houses more than 150 vendors.
Again, I had to ask. How did you get here?
Simone grew up in a village near Lyon and arrived in Paris when she was 20, to build her life and career as an artist.
She spent several years focused on ink drawings, then woodcarvings.
Simultaneously for Simone, the wave of surrealism was popular conversation in Parisian cafés in the 60s and into the 70s — and was very much the focus of writer and artist Marianne Ivsic, who carried it forward in her own work. When Simone met Marianne and discovered her writings, that turned the key.
“It fed me. I soaked it up. I understood that creation was essential in my life.”
With that spark, her artistic focus shifted completely into jewelry making. She invested in the equipment and has not ever looked back.
If we go back to the origins of the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, it dates back to the late 1800s.
André Breton, leader of the French surrealist movement, hired surrealist photographer Jacques-André Boiffard to capture the essence of the market which he found to be “the sudden parallels, coincidences, experiences that would make you see … really see.”
The die was cast; Boiffard’s photos embodied surrealist ideology. Coincidentally, they also served to launch what over the next 100 years was the iconic Puces de Saint-Ouen.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we find Simone moving out of central Paris to Saint-Ouen. It was a perfect fit; she could wander the flea markets in her own neighborhood at her leisure. By 2012 she had opened Stand 41 in the Marché Dauphine in the heart of the Puces de Saint-Ouen and settled in. She has been calling it home ever since.
Lead photo credit : Simone d’Avray self-portrait. @ Simone D’Avray