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The beginnings of Philippe Tournaire

Self-taught, I have groped at length from the knowledge learned in family or during trips. In Morocco, for example, I met craftsmen who worked with very rudimentary tools.

A cellar to make its weapons

When I started learning radio, I was already making jewelry, clothing, weaving and even shoes for a long time. My parents, rather modest, had told me that when you wanted something, you had to get by to do it. The system D having thus been transmitted very early to my brothers and to me. If I liked anything, I did not ask myself to go buy it, but I wondered how I could achieve it. The Musée de I'Homme in Paris gave me some ideas in order to answer the "Why? ". Located in the Trocadéro, this museum highlights the diversity of humanity in the anthropological, historical and cultural fields. What attracts me here are the everyday objects of all civilizations that have more or less disappeared. My fascination with this heritage prompted me to seek and reproduce how early men fashioned their objects and why utilities they have become today works of art.

I liked the jewelry. In the radio profession, in the field, you have to be very versatile, so I installed machines and worked copper. I was fortunate to have learned to tinker with grandparents carpenters and cabinetmakers on one side and farmers on the other, it also helped me a lot. These very varied trades that require ingenuity and know-how allowed me to be able to realize everything I wanted. For example, my grandfather, who was a carpenter, had his forge on which he made his tools. This apparent facility and know-how of my grandfather, with whom I spent hours at the workshop, opened the door of craft work and the keys to understanding his long process.

My chance was also, very quickly, to realize that concentrating on small objects, my asthma did not bother me less, I forgot that I had to breathe. Asthma is a psychological part and a pathological part. Art therapy did not exist, but I had found what appeased me and did me good in addition to sports. By listening to my body, concentrating and making objects of art, it was the key, the trigger...

After living for 20 years as a family in what was housing, workshop and store, we moved in 1971 to live in Baffie, a hamlet 1 km from Saint-Germain-Laval. My parents had restored a very old, semi-buried house. The cellar gave and always gives on a road that leads to the famous bridge of Baffie and its chapel. I was 22 years old and I took the opportunity to set up a workshop in this place. As I could not stand, I dug for 20 centimeters and lengthened the door. Once the walls and floor were clean, I installed my bench, a rudimentary tool and an interior display case that will allow me to expose my first creations. I also set up an improvised room in a corner because I often worked late in the night ... I live there for 7 years, in a sort of autarky, working slowly and long on my creations. Completely virgin of any technique, I tried everything that passed through my head with all the metals or objects that could inspire me. I did not know, then, that this work was an essential gestation for the birth of my style.

And then two reasons made me start working only in the morning in electricity. My passion for jewelry, which I always made for friends, but also the arrival of the first integrated circuits. Overnight, we had to work on positions that we did not know were working. In the beginning, when we had to repair a lamp station or a transistor, there was an intuitive side, it had to understand the operation, it was a game of track for me. When the integrated circuits arrived, they were just coin changers. We had to measure the voltage and if it did not correspond to the specifications, we had to change the integrated circuit but we had then no idea of ​​the reason. To work as I did not interest me at all, there was no longer the challenge side, finding a breakdown was a bit of a game. I knew that the job would continue to evolve in that direction and it was completely lost Interest to me. And then I needed to find time to meet my need to create, becoming every day more invasive.

"I did not think that jewelry could become a profession"

One year, I "approached" the head of the taxes in Roanne so that it authorizes me to make jewels under a special status. What currently corresponds to self-entrepreneurship or micro-enterprise did not exist, it became immediately entrepreneur. VAT on luxury goods was 33% and if I ran without a status it would have been impossible. So I studied legislation with a friend, and then one day the solution appeared: I was baptizing myself "sculptor on precious metals". I went back to see the tax guy in Roanne, Monsieur Lopez, the names of those who help you move forward. And in March 1973, at a last meeting, he said to me: "Well, your story is not going to be played on millions, I grant you this status". The growing demand exceeded the friendly framework and I had to practice legally. So I got my first Master punch and permission to buy and resell precious metals with a police book. I had spent two years, going to see Mr. Lopez regularly to find the solution. As an artist I was not subject to VAT, I had fewer constraints and administrative than an entrepreneur. And from there, I got thoroughly engrossed with this status for 11 years.

When I started officially, I did not know the world of jewelry and fine stones at all. I was helped by people who gave me the basics to do a good job. As early as 1973, I regularly worked with a Lyonnais stonemason called Jacques Secretan. I was going to see him to get answers to all the questions I had about the stones. Even if they were sometimes bizarre, he tried to answer. This man was a very important person in my learning of the jewelry because it allowed me to understand the gemology and to forge my own vision of the stones.

A diamond merchant from the rue Mercière, Jean Grosfilley, also took the time to teach me the world of this exceptional stone. Above all, there is another person who has been very influential in my early years of practice. A jeweler, the best workman in France, named Jean Giraud whom I met at the Saint-Etienne Fair while working in public. He had a shop in Saint-Chamond, and he was the first person to help me. He suggested that I should go and see him in his studio, which was a great mark of confidence. I will put 3 years before daring to go…

All these people, these meetings, obstinacy and hours spent at the workbench have taught me to work. This gave me the opportunity to build an identity, a style that is reflected in my creations.

At first I was in the country, I had no expenses, I was not married and I did not have children yet. I continued "my bohemian" and then word of mouth brought me more and more customers who made me work and live. I continued my work as a radio-electrician part-time with my father until 1976, and then I devoted myself entirely to jewelry. I also undertook to build a small house above Baffie with my hands. I will live there from 1978, the year of birth of Romain, my first son.

I have very good memories in my cellar, I learned a lot of things and not only in relation to my job. The radio fed my mind and my curiosity. While working, I listened to Jacques Chancel on his program "Radioscopie" where he always invited exciting people who encouraged me to read their books. But also France Culture where science and history were very present. In the end, I learned more by hearing than by reading or school.

I had no training, it was my great chance not to know how the jewelry was made. I did as I felt. It is a constraint at the beginning, because by not knowing how to make, it takes more time to manufacture. But I was able to reinvent existing techniques in my own way and create my own know-how. And to the extent that I had a very good knowledge of carpentry, forge and electronics, this knowledge was connected and I found alternative solutions. From this inconvenience become constrained, in reality were born my style and my talent.

In 1979, the price of gold rose from 4,000 to 15,000 euros per kilo in one or two months, when the USSR entered Afghanistan. Overnight, my raw material multiplied by three gave a big check on my activity. In parallel, to earn a little money to finance my materials, I had a buddy who dreamed of opening a nightclub. He had helped me to build the cellar, so I gave him a hand.

In 1981, the same year as the birth of Mathieu, the project ended and the "Vers de Gris" opened its doors. It was in the evening, that allowed me to earn a little money by doing the bartender and the DJ. It allowed me to meet people who had dynamic businesses in the area. Their success gave me confidence, and the idea that I too could settle in town has bloomed.


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