Monday, July 1, 2024

The History of the Treasure Box Series

Patrice Lejeune and W. Patrick Edwards show off their creations, the "Treasure Box" series, 2008-2024. 

 When the economic crash of 2008 happened, all our business plans for making expensive marquetry furniture changed. We needed to revise our approach to creating new and exiciting objects in order to follow the money which was still available in a dramatically changed market. Previously we had had little difficulty in selling objects that involved roughly 800 man hours of skilled labor and a fair amount of expensive materials for six figures to wealthy clients. After all, we were known for producing high style marquetry covered spec pieces and our clients were happy to support us. 

 That dynamic changed in 2008. I decided to take a new approach to production, using a special method of creating marquetry surfaces that I had studied at ecole Boulle, in Paris. That method, called "piece by piece," allowed the worker to create multiple identical marquetry surfaces in one process, cutting the elements of the design separtely from the background. It required a very high degree of precision and my partner, Patrice Lejeune, was more than able to do that perfectly. 

 Therefore, instead of spending so much time creating one object, we could spend the same amount of time creating multiple identical objects, which allowed the price for each to be much more affordable. We decided to make four at a time, since a small limited edition run was attractive to us as well as the client.

 I searched the internet and found a late 17th century marquetry box which sold at Christies in Monaco for 18,000 euros.  It looked like the perfect object for our new production series, which we called "Treasure Box I."

Here is the photo of the top of the antique box:

Here is the interior:

We used only the methods and materials which would have been available during the last decades of the 17th century.  We created four identical boxes in the first series, and were able to sell all of them before the construction was completed.  Three sold for $15,000 each and one had a different customized interior which sold for $20,000.

Here is the result of our efforts: Treasure Box I

Here is the top image:

Here is the standard interior with a secret compartment:

The interior is veneered in olive wood with kingwood and boxwood accents.  The exterior is Gabon ebony with various exotic and rare tropical hardwood sawn veneers, purchased in Paris.

The instant success of our first Treasure Box series encouraged us to look for another example, and we found this antique box on the internet:

Here is a photo of the interior:  (we like marquetry birds)

In our production we used bleached bone instead of ivory and were able to actually color some of the bone green for the leaves.  Here is our version: Treasure Box II

This is a photo of the top of the box.  The detail is amazing, considering every element was cut separately from the ebony background.  Some of the elements are less than 1mm in size.

For the interior, we essentially copied the original, but we added a secret tray with gilt leather surface which pops out automatically when the owner pushes on the wood interior in a special spot.  The interior has tulip wood framed with ebony on a bloodwood ground.

Once again we were fortunate to be able to sell all four of this "Treasure Box II" series before the project was completed.  This gave us a lot of encouragement to continue this effort, even though it had taken us nearly 6 years so far.  These latest boxes had sold for $25,000 each and we were pleased with the results.

When we decided to create Treasure Box III we aimed for the moon. Patrice and I had spent a lot of time at the Getty museum in Los Angeles and were fascinated with the late 17th century marquetry Coffer on display.  It was essentially an empty oak box with amazing marquetry surfaces on the exterior.  However, its size was too large for a practical use and we took our inspiration from this design and reduced the size overall to 1/3 scale.

Here is the original Coffer courtesy Getty Museum:

We contacted a good ebeniste friend in Paris, also a graduate of ecole Boulle, and hired him to find a stock of old growth French white oak, and rough out all the components for the case.  This allowed us to focus our efforts on designing and creating the marquetry surfaces, as well as the custom hardware we wanted for the complex interior elements.  We were not just making an empty box.  We wanted several secret compartments, silk writing surfaces, and mirrors to make it decorative as well as practical.

This is the photo of the top of our box:

This is a photo of the side of our box:

As we were in the middle of production of four of these boxes, we were approached by the wife of one of our best clients.  She asked if we could complete a box in 3 months so she could give it as a surprise birthday gift for her husband's 50th birthday.  That order changed our plans completely, as all our efforts went into completing one of these on a deadline and the other three were put on the side of the shop.

We were successful in delivering our first "Treasure Box III" on time and the client was very pleased.  However, as he sat looking at it, he had an idea and turned to us.  "Can you make a stand for it?"  Patrice and I looked at each other and knew what we had to do.  We had to make a series of four stands to compliment our boxes, each in the Louis XIV style.

This is the stand:

Instead of using Gabon ebony for the "fond" or background, we decided to use a rare wood, popular during the 17th century and not commonly known in English work.  This wood is ferreol (Swartzia Caesalpiniaceae).  It is found in the Amazon forests of Brazil and Guyana. It is a dark chocolate brown, very dense and has the hardness of brass.  It is so dense that it sinks in water and is known by natives in South America as "ironwood".  I was fortunate to have purchased several flitches of this wood in Paris during the 1990's and wanted to use it for only the best pieces.

This is the result: Treasure Box III on stand

Since the original production run was disrupted, and the subsequent efforts to make matching tables further delayed our process, the creation of four "Treasure Box III" series took nearly 7 years to complete.
During that time we were able to sell three of the Treasure Boxes for $35,000 each and one of the tables for $15,000.  We still have two nearly finished tables, which haven't sold and one complete box and table which remains available for $50,000.  This is the last of its kind, as we probably will not continue spending time and energy on this series.  We are very proud of our efforts and need a break.

In particular, we want to sincerely thank our patrons who purchased our work.  They make this possible.

You can see all the boxes on our YouTube channel "3815 Utah"


Anonymous said...

Hello Patrick, Stunning what you and Patrice have done. This is the wet dream of every marqueteer. If I had the money I would buy the table and coffer immediately!!
I've visited the shop in 2011 and I am still in aw for it.


W. Patrick Edwards said...


Thank you very much for the nice comment. I want to mention how fortunate I was to have studied under Dr. Pirre Raymond at ecole Boulle in Paris during the decade of the 1990's. During those wonderful years in Paris I was also lucky to develop a relationship with Patrick George, the owner of J. George et Fils. He was supportive and taught me a lot about rare and endangered exotic hardwood veneers.

I am grateful that I had enough money to invest in these sawn veneers at that time. Last year I spent a month in Paris and visitied Frederic, who is the nephew of Patrick, and now in charge of the business. It was dramatic how the inventory had changed, not only in quantity, but also in variety of species.

It is sad to say that I might have a better inventory of sawn material in my workshop than is currently available in Paris. I have to think long and hard when I decided to use any rare woods in a project as they cannot be replaced.

That is why the Treasure Box series is so important. It is the finest example of marquetry that Patrice and I can make and the best example of how to use these rare woods with the greatest respect for the material.