Coupe des Mousquetaires made by historic jeweller Mellerio
Each year the champion at Roland-Garros receives a replica of the original Coupe des Mousquetaires, made by Mellerio - the oldest jewellery house in the world with a regal heritage of its own.
We blithely talk of the Roland-Garros champion as the king of clay. His domain is a court, carpeted red in terre battue. He has asserted his superiority through a sustained display of regal exploits. He is declared vainqueur in a formal ceremony complete with dais, uniformed attendants and a mass following who stand to give their ovation.
And in Paris, unique to the Grand Slams, the champion receives a trophy - the Coupe des Mousquetaires - fashioned by a jewellery house with its own regal heritage.
Mellerio - the oldest jewellery house in the world and the last luxury Maison to remain independent and family owned - was awarded a Royal Warrant in 1613; subsequent customers include Marie Antoinette, the Empress Josephine, Queen Isabella II of Spain and the Dutch royal family. A visit to the archives below the shop in Paris’s famous Rue de la Paix reveals treasures in the form of leather-bound ledgers dating from the late 18th century with orders for tiaras, pendants, bracelets and ornate silverware as well as original design sketchbooks full of gouaches and craftsmen’s cost calculations.
The history of Mellerio stretches back 14 generations, when the first Monsieur Mellerio was actually a Signore from a small village near Lake Maggiore in Lombardy, northern Italy. A walking merchant, and part of the wave of Italian artisans who came to France during the Renaissance, he arrived in Paris with a wooden backpack full of tools and small precious objects to sell, such as silver buckles and snuff boxes.
Settling in the Rue des Lombards in the Marais with fellow Italians – bankers and chimney sweeps - their fortunes were set in 1613 when the sweep, working in the royal palace, overheard a plot to murder 12-year-old King Louis XIII. According to legend, he ran back to his friends in Rue des Lombards and together they managed to alert Marie de Medici, the Regent. To thank the group for their part in saving the life of the young king, she issued royal warrants on October 10, 1613, authorizing them to practise any kind of business anywhere in the country without paying any taxes.
Every king of France up to Louis XVI renewed the decree. The royal courts brought lots of customers, and by the 19th century Mellerio were making bespoke pieces for all the royal families of Europe. As silversmiths, too, they made beautiful swords, cups, table ornaments and religious objects for churches. Trophies for horse racing, show jumping, sailing and golf followed: in 1956, they created the Ballon d’Or awarded to the World Soccer Player of the Year.
In 1981, Philippe Chatrier, then president of the Fédération Française de Tennis invited top ateliers to tender designs for a trophy which would symbolise the victories of the great Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Bernard Lacoste and encapsulate history, elegance and prestige. The Coupe des Mousquetaires, Mellerio’s winning design, is a large bowl cut with a frieze of vine leaves and decorated with two handles in the form of swans. The trophy weighs around 14 kilograms, is 21 centimetres high and 19 centimetres wide.
Each year, on the day of the final, the original cup is carried reverently from the office of the president for the winner to hold aloft, embrace and – in the case of Rafael Nadal – to bite. The winner takes home a replica – just under half the size of the original - made each year by Mellerio.
The process of transforming a sheet of pure silver into a trophy fit for the king of clay takes more than a hundred hours of specialist work. The silversmith cuts and covers the silver leaf to the shape corresponding to that of the drawing and shapes the silhouette of the cut onto a wooden mold. A fondeur makes the handles in the form of swans and the frieze of leaves of vine, flowing molten metal into imprints. A ciseleur emphasises and refines the patterns with a chisel. The elements are then assembled by the silversmith and polished. Finally, the engraver immortalizes the tournament by transferring the name of the winner to the base.
To date, Nadal has nine of these symbols of his dominance on clay, nine trophies which symbolise 900 hours of Mellerio’s living history; the image of player holding la Coupe is a continuing thread of prestige on so many levels. If he receives a 10th replica Coupe des Mousquetaires, he will be crowned King of the Clay and collect in silver form 1,000 hours of prestigious craftsmanship worked in honour of his majestic exploits.