Last year, jeweller Chaumet experimented with a rather novel idea in the often staid world of haute joaillerie: it invited the public to its Place Vendôme boutique for a pop-up exhibition, Promenade Bucolique, which highlighted the jeweller’s strong connections to nature.
It’s not every day that a Place Vendôme jewellery house welcomes jewellery-lovers, schoolchildren and even passers-by or tourists within its hallowed portals. Chaumet’s decision to show its archival pieces next to current creations was met with great enthusiasm, which is why the brand has decided to keep mounting similar exhibitions in its boutique.
This year’s exhibition celebrates the role that jewels play in people’s most special moments, whether they symbolise love, friendship or an important personal milestone. Its name, Une Éducation Sentimentale, comes from one of Gustave Flaubert’s most famous novels, which narrates the romantic life of a young man during the revolution in France of 1848.
Since Chaumet’s founding in 1780, the house has been making one-of-a-kind creations meant to celebrate rites of passage in the journey through life, from the birth of a child to engagements and weddings.
Some of the most striking pieces on show come from the so-called corbeille de mariage, a French tradition dating to the 1700s, which dictated that a young man would give his spouse a chest filled with jewellery and other special objects, even before sealing the deal with an engagement ring. The key item in the corbeille was a tiara, a piece that has become a Chaumet signature (since its establishment, the house has adorned more than 2,500 girls with dainty tiaras). One of the most striking headpieces on display is a pair of wings in diamonds and blue enamel that was custom made in 1908 for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney Museum in New York.
Whitney is just one from a long list of illustrious names and celebrity couples who have commissioned Chaumet to create memorable objects of desire. Its most famous patron, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife, Joséphine, appointed Chaumet as her official jeweller in 1805. She commissioned one of the highlights of the show: a set comprising necklace, earrings and brooch made with Roman intaglios depicting deities and mounted on jewellery that matched her famous empire gowns.
Another striking piece showing the inextricable link between Chaumet and love, also commissioned by Napoleon, is an acrostic bracelet spelling the word amour, or love, featuring an amethyst, a morganite, an opal, an uvite and a ruby (acrostic jewels hide a poem or word in the initials of the stones used to make them).
Hollywood glamour is repres-ented by period photographs of the actor Errol Flynn, who in the 1930s bought a set of bracelets and a pearl necklace for his wife, French actress Lili Damita, while the growing importance of emerging markets for Chaumet is evident when recalling the widely Instagrammed jewellery set that Angelababy, the Chinese starlet and Internet sensation, wore last year for her wedding to Huang Xiaoming (photos of the glamorous occasion are displayed).
The exhibition also inspired a limited-edition collection, Escapade de Chaumet, which comprises a series of pieces in yellow gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, whose shapes recall softly wound ribbons. Also referencing the show, Chaumet’s popular Liens collection has been revisited with items featuring red rubies (symbolising passion) and white diamonds (epitomising lifelong commitment).
Whether or not Une Éducation Sentimentale inspires an impromptu purchase is hardly the point for Chaumet, which instead aims at a seamless juxtaposition of past and present, and an opportunity for the public to discover its storied legacy against a backdrop of unforgettable love stories.
Une Education Sentimentale runs until September 24 at Chaumet’s Place Vendôme boutique in Paris