Joining Le Gramme's co-founder, Erwan Le Louër, in the brand's 8th Arrondisement showroom, END. chisel away their industrial design influences to get to the heart of their minimalist outlook, the importance of functionality and their approach to sustainability in the modern age.
Hidden in plain sight just off the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, Le Gramme's design studio and headquarters bring their minimalist charm to the 17th Century residence they inhabit. Nestled within a classically designed courtyard, brimming with foliage and a decadent sensibility - a lasting impression left by French nobility in the post-Renaissance era - the surroundings offer a charming contradiction to the central codes at the heart of the sophisticated jewellery brand.
Founded in 2012, Le Gramme has become a bastion of modern minimalist jewellery. Renowned for their dedication to shape and form, the brand's pieces are named after their metric weight - an ode to the power of functionality and industrial design. Timeless and imbued with a transcendent sense of cool that delivers an unfussy yet elegant aesthetic, Le Gramme have instilled their creations with a deep nuance and subtlety, cut from pure, precious metals.
Sparsely decorated, Le Gramme's showroom is a carefully curated collection of design influences and styles, a gallery of what has inspired the thought and theory behind the brand's dedication to a minimalist outlook. Artwork by Louise Lawler and photography by Vincent Mercier adorn the crisp white walls, while cork chairs by the legendary Parisian designer Martin Szekely are neatly positioned around the showroom's table. Housed in elegant yet functional glass cases, Le Gramme's subtle jewellery sits quietly to the outskirts of the square room - perhaps a reflection of brand's nature and their perspective on the role jewellery plays in the modern minimalist's arsenal of discreet quality and luxury objects.
Sitting down with Le Gramme's co-founder at their Parisian showroom, END. discuss distilling industrial processes into jewellery, the challenges of minimalist design and the integral importance of sustainability in the modern day with Erwan Le Louër.
Minimalism has been through many stages – from its formation in architecture and art throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s to neo-classical music and fashion - how would you define Le Gramme’s approach to minimalism?
My inspiration mostly comes from architecture and industrial design, specifically Nordic and Japanese. What appeals to me in those types of design is the tension - you can create a range of emotions in a minimal space that is dependant on light and shadows, and the way you play with them can completely change the result. What we do at Le Gramme, in terms of minimalism, comes from this background of industrial design. When most people say that something is designed well, what they really mean is that it is beautiful, but I don’t like that. We stick to the value of the word design and the true meaning of it - its essence. We identify something we like and answer with a shape and a style. Minimalism is a code - it’s a value and filter through which to see things, but it isn’t everything. All of the processes that go into making a piece of jewellery are important and our pieces all have a function. We design the shape around the function of the piece, and our translation of that is minimalist. It is more of a code than a way of thinking.
Was bringing functionality into the world of high-end jewellery a central goal when you started Le Gramme?
The function of an object is something that I am hugely interested in - everything needs to offer a function and have an aesthetic that fits in with my point of view. Each object has its place, so integrating functionality into the high-end jewellery world is important for Le Gramme, as it is a world where, from my point of view, most of the time I see design for the sake of design. Creating objects just because they are beautiful is the norm, but that isn't how I understand design.
Creating objects just because they are beautiful is the norm, but that isn't how I understand design.
Offering simplicity and a dedication to a stringent aesthetic value, why do you think that Le Gramme has resonated with both men and women in the modern day?
Le Gramme was originally centred around providing jewellery for men, but with respect to the era we live in, where gender is being blurred and definitions are becoming more open, we want the brand to live in our time and adapt appropriately. We have this modernity in our DNA and it's what people expect now. The minimal aesthetic suits anyone who wants to wear it and it's totally contemporary, so Le Gramme can easily be seen as totally genderless.
Le Gramme operates with ethical production as a core value - was this something you had always wanted to pursue with the brand?
My first company, JEM, was a sustainable business and it was one of the first brands to bring sustainability into the world of high-end jewellery. It was really interesting to pioneer this way of running a business - we made a lot of mistakes, but everything we did was filtered through the lens of sustainability. That can be difficult when you have to consider the economic sustainability of the brand as a primary focus, with environmental sustainability secondarily. With Le Gramme, both as a business and the way we manage our staff, we have a lot of processes around sustainability in all forms - for example, all of the employees of Le Gramme are shareholders in the company. We haven’t communicated that publicly yet because I wanted to make sure we had an economically sustainable company first. Now we are working on it, writing down everything we're doing so that people will understand the way we work as a company. I believe that ethical production and operations are a part of our DNA and they're certainly a part of the way I want to develop the company. To me it isn't even a position people should have to say they are taking – this is another reason I didn’t want to communicate this facet of Le Gramme before – it's nonsensical to develop a company now and not operate ethically and sustainably.
It’s more complicated to reduce the creative process and remove elements, to stick to the essential part of something, than it is to embellish.
For me, the appeal of Le Gramme comes from the brand’s dedication to its use of natural metals. What is it about natural materials that appeals to you?
The material is very important to me, especially considering my background as an industrial designer. We work with a base metal that is really pure and precious - it's expensive but it will last much longer. Producing jewellery in this way is more sustainable than producing a silver-plated nickel piece that you are going to throw away in the future when it has lost its charm. Also, the way we present the jewellery pays respect to the natural world and natural materials too – we use Corian marble powder plates and glass cabinets to display our product. Everything starts from the natural material.
Jewellery design can often be rather flamboyant and maximalist in nature – what challenges do you face when applying a minimalist perspective to jewellery design?
The challenge is massive as it's very difficult to design a pure, minimalist shape. When designing, whether it is industrial, jewellery or architecture, the natural response is to add things - it’s human nature. It’s more complicated to reduce the creative process and remove elements, to stick to the essential part of something, than to embellish. There is no cheating and you can’t hide anything when you reduce a piece to its bare essentials. The famous furniture designer Martin Szekely had a show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris called “No More Drawing”, which says everything to me. I really try stick to this mantra – to think of the shape rather than design the shape. It is easy to have an empty white sheet of paper and to start drawing ideas, but it is much more difficult to think about what you really want to design and then translate that idea onto paper.
When designing jewellery in this manner, it is clear that with Le Gramme the devil in truly in the detail. What is your starting point when designing a piece of jewellery for a new collection?
The starting point is always a function or an elementary shape. Le Gramme started with the ribbon bangle – we were thinking about what the most iconic bracelet in the world was and we ended up deciding that it was this simple shape, so here shape led the design. For the cable bracelet, we wanted to develop a mechanical clasp that was designed in the most minimalist way possible, so function led the design. It’s not a normal creative process when we look at the rest of the jewellery world, but I think it makes a difference when we look at the final product. Raymond Loewy always said that when he had to design something for a client, he would take a huge amount of time to understand their expectations and needs – this tells us that we need to look and understand first, then design second. You definitely lose something if you don’t take the time to understand the function.