It is July in Paris and Place Vendôme is bathed in an aurous hue cast by the dying embers of a setting sun. At the entrance of the recently renovated Hôtel Ritz Paris, a glorious field of bronzed wheat sways in the breeze, filling the air with an earthy perfume that brings to mind vast and rural sun-drenched plains.
This is the third in a series of nature-themed artistic installations by street artist Gad Weil. Timed to coincide with the launch of Chanel’s latest high jewellery collection, Les Blés de Chanel, it highlights the collection’s leitmotif: Wheat.
The humble wheat is intimately linked to the brand through its founder and eternal muse, Gabrielle Chanel. She was well-known for her superstitious ways, surrounding her various homes with sheaves of wheat, a symbol of hope and prosperity, as well as other lucky charms such as rock crystal, four-leaf clovers and lions. Her private apartment at Rue Cambon, located right above the brand’s flagship boutique, is decorated with bundles of bronzed, wooden and fresh wheat — the most impressive being a coffee table showing a large sheaf of bronzed wheat made by metalsmith Maison Goossens. There is even a painting of an ear of wheat by her friend Salvador Dali that displays prominently in the living room.
The 62-strong collection took up residency at the Ritz Paris’s new Coco Chanel suite for a week, propped up on displays strategically placed around the 190-sq-m suite in between pockets (and even a bathtub full) of wheat. Divided into four chapters that encompass some 14 lines, they are crafted from gold or platinum, with a substantial proportion enlivened with coloured gemstones the likes of sapphires, emeralds, peridots, tourmalines, aquamarines and fancy coloured diamonds — quite unusual for a jeweller who has always favoured the use of white diamonds.
Yellow diamonds, including those of the fancy intense and fancy vivid variety, feature prominently in Les Blés de Chanel. Held together by gleaming metal, their fiery brilliance, likened to drops of sunshine, bestow the collection with the sun-kissed dazzle it deserves. The most brilliant example is the Fête des Moissons necklace, a remarkable high jewellery piece featuring no less than 20 shades of yellow diamonds. It features a 25-ct cut-cornered rectangular modified brilliant-cut fancy vivid intense yellow diamond centrestone surrounded by hundreds of other fancy-, brilliant- and marquise-cut diamonds.
The necklace is one of eight one-off creations, each featuring stones that are too rare for their designs to be duplicated. Other examples include the Épi Solaire ring, presented in both platinum and yellow gold: Set with a pear-cut 5.4-ct fancy vivid orange yellow diamond, the gemstone shows off an unusually vibrant colour reminiscent of a scintillating nugget of molten lava. Another ring, the Épi Vendôme, boasts a large 18.2-ct emerald surrounded by eight marquise-cut multicoloured diamonds, 84 brilliant-cut fancy intense orange diamonds, 92 brilliant-cut diamonds and four fancy-cut diamonds.
It is believed that Gabrielle’s deep-rooted affection for wheat began as a child growing up in the countryside. Even her birthday, August 19, coincides with the harvest festival, a celebratory time of reaping that also epitomises abundance and good fortune. Despite having shed her rural roots early in life, her love for “my good wheat” (an expression her father often used) remained, culminating this year in Les Blés de Chanel, a sparkling and kaleidoscopic tribute to her.