Nature factors heavily in Chaumet’s design vocabulary. For more than two centuries, it has been tenderly cultivating an enchanting garden teeming with bejewelled flora and fauna. They range from perennial favourites, such as the hydrangea and laurel, to the exotic, such as the red lily. While some have bloomed, withered and faded into oblivion over time, others have planted deep roots and bore witness to significant moments in the Maison’s 236-year history.
In July, four of them — the laurel, oak, wheat and lily — were revealed as the creative themes for the brand’s new high jewellery collection, La Nature de Chaumet.
Composed of 54 designs (another 10 will be unveiled later this month) divided among the four lines, they were displayed, as per tradition, in the brand’s beloved salon at 12 Place Vendôme. Ensuring the collection received the grand debut it deserves, the location was transformed into a lush paper garden, composed of plots of willowy wheat stalks, oversized red lilies, laurel bushes and even a giant oak tree.
The metaphorical stroll through Chaumet’s secret garden began with the lily, a symbol of innocence and the emblem of the French kings (fleur-de-lis). Empress Josephine de Beauharnais, its most important patron and muse, loved lilies — and not just any proverbial lily but those of the red variety, a far rarer breed. Her passion for the flower was so well-documented that it was eventually named after her: Known as the Brunsvigia josephinae or Josephine’s Lily, they bloomed in her manicured gardens at the Château de Malmaison; a painting of the flower was also known to grace the interiors of the chateau.
Diamonds, incandescent red spinels, rhodolite garnets, Paraïba tourmalines, black opals and coloured sapphires were used to accentuate the feminine nature and voluminous curves of the flower. The red lily that the Empress was so enamoured by is daringly interpreted in the Passion Incarnat line, composed of audacious designs set with vibrantly coloured stones. Exuding a starkly different vibe is the Songe de nuit line that references the white lily, a sign of purity: With their open-worked lily motifs emblazoned with diamonds, these offer a more subtle interpretation of the conspicuous bloom.
The most eye-catching jewellery in this theme is the Passion Incarnat tiara that comes with six pear-shaped Tanzanian red spinels. Tiaras have a special place in Chaumet’s universe; its reputation as the creator of tiaras is supported by an archive filled with thousands of blueprints from orders commissioned more than 200 years ago. The architecturally stunning headpiece can be transformed into two brooches or a pendant necklace. Although not a new concept to the jeweller, transformability appeared to be a bigger priority this time round.
The Empress’s domain naturally progressed to that of her husband’s, Napoleon. The great emperor of France, who was often depicted in paintings with his laurel crown, remains an important source of inspiration for the Maison. As a tribute to his numerous conquests, Chaumet drew on the laurel, a symbol of immortality and victory, as its second theme.
Presenting a modern and feminine interpretation of Napoleon’s laurel crown is the Firmament Apollinien tiara, comprising a 14.55-ct Ceylon sapphire surrounded by a complicated framework of diamonds, as well as cabochon-cut and beads of sapphires. Another transformable design, the tiara is actually composed of two headpieces that can be worn separately or together.
Given its notions of power and prestige, it seems only fitting that the entire collection’s most valuable piece is placed within this environment. Valued at over €3.3 million is the Firmament Apollinien necklace that is festooned with a 34.36-ct Burmese sapphire centre stone. Surrounding the important stone are gem-set laurel leaves that are adorned with diamonds, specially cut moonstones and suiffé-cut sapphires: Combining the softness of a cabochon cut with a faceted bottom that reflects light brilliantly, this unusual cut creates volume without compromising on the gemstone’s sparkle.
Elsewhere within this theme, the Frise divine line show a stylised version of the laurel while the Metamorphoses de Daphné line lend a more romantic feel to the creations. Adorned with diamonds and spinels in varying shades of pink, they are set in white gold, with certain parts highlighted by black rhodium accents. These darkened portions add dimension to the designs and pay tribute to a period of time in Chaumet’s history when silver (instead of gold or platinum) was used in its tiaras.
The third inspiration for La Nature de Chaumet is wheat, a classical motif that first appeared in its archive in 1811, when the Empress Marie-Louise commissioned Marie-Étienne Nitot (the founder of the House of Chaumet) to make a tiara composed of nine ears of wheat. Other examples were made in the early 20th century during the Belle Époque; the plant was also a popular design for brooches during the post-war period. Drawing on the auspicious qualities that are symbolic to wheat, such as those of vitality and prosperity, the jeweller introduced three lines that depict it in vastly distinct styles.
Important stones, such as two D-FL Type II-A diamonds (weighing 5.64ct and 10.37ct respectively) and some stunning examples of Padparadscha sapphires adorn the Offrandes d’eté and Champs de lumière sets. However, it was the Moissons sous le vent suite that stole the show: Wrapped in organically shaped burnished leaves that have been painstakingly textured and moulded by hand to resemble the real deal, each wheat head is composed of clusters of pear-, brilliant- and marquise-cut diamonds held together by a delicate gold structure.
Finally, the mighty oak and its characteristic rounded lobbed leaves drive the inspiration for the last theme. Known to represent strength and endurance, oak leaves often crowned depictions of Zeus. This year, joining the oak-inspired headpieces and brooches that Chaumet has designed since the late 19th century are three jewellery suites that depict the oak in a modern light.
Stealing the limelight as the most outstanding example is the transformable sautoir from the Racines célestes set, which offers a feminine interpretation of an otherwise masculine symbol. Adorned with seven variedly sized oval-cut pink and violet spinels weighing between 1.87ct to 10.94ct, it is held together by a row of pink freshwater pearls and a rope of twisted spinels, freshwater pearls, sapphires and diamonds.
Elsewhere within the same theme, the lively Promesse de l’aube set evokes the dryads that represent a trees’ life force: Set with Paraïba and indicolite tourmalines, spessartite and mandarin garnets and pink sapphires, the vibrant designs convey a sense of gaiety and dynamism.