Hubert Burda Media

Chanel’s Jewellery Making Prowess

The Maison hones its 17-year long craft through its new high jewellery collection. 

The Fête Des Moissons Necklace

In the time-honoured trade of high jewellery-making, Chanel is considered a teenager. With the exception of a one-off collection designed by founder Gabrielle Chanel in 1932, its 17-year devotion to the craft began only in 1999 with the Passages collection. And it is this youthful vigour that has allowed Chanel to create a contemporary and independent stylistic language that is unshackled to a rigid past. While adhering to the strict framework of traditional French jewellery craftsmanship, its artisans and designers dream up creations with a sense of fluidity that make them modern, wearable and resolutely feminine.

“Jewellery used to be a symbol of power that kings, pharaohs and bishops wore. [At Chanel,] we want it to be a symbol of femininity, freedom and liberty,” explains Benjamin Comar, Chanel’s international jewellery director. Speaking to Prestige from one of the guest rooms at the newly renovated Hôtel Ritz Paris, he is brimming with pride and excitement from the outstanding response garnered from the Maison’s newest high jewellery collection, Les Bles de Chanel. Across the corridor, at the hotel’s Coco Chanel suite, international media and VIP clients move amongst small wheat plots to discover the 62-piece collection, a glittering tribute to the proverbial plant and its symbolic links
to regeneration, abundance and good fortune.

Benjamin Comar

“We are very happy and successful with what we are showing here. The economy has been shaky but our jewellery is doing well. Judging from the reaction from our customers, I think the challenge is more an external than internal problem” says Comar.

To say that Chanel has reaped harvest with its latest collection is an understatement: Exquisite craftsmanship, the use of bigger gemstones, the presence of a larger assortment of coloured diamonds and gemstones, coupled with the daring combination of yellow gold with platinum make this an unprecedented exercise in technique and showmanship.

“It’s true that we are using bigger gemstones. I think our brand has matured and we have customers asking for more expensive products…big stones are nice: They are pure and they come from the earth. However, we won’t use them for the sake of size — they always need to fit our design aesthetic,” he explains. Some examples of the rare gemstones used in the collection include a 25-ct cut-cornered rectangular-modified brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamond, a 16.8-ct oval-cut yellow sapphire, an 18.2-ct emerald and a 5.4-ct fancy vivid orange yellow diamond.

He singles out the emblematic Fête de Moissons necklace with its 25-ct fancy intense yellow diamond that was cut after the shape of Place Vendôme. “It was very hard to find the gemstones for this necklace; the craftsmanship was very challenging too,” he says of the piece, a product of 1,500 man-hours. “The necklace looks very big but it doesn’t feel heavy when it is worn. We didn’t want to create a trophy necklace so the technique behind ensuring it remains wearable was difficult. We wanted it to be flawless,” he adds.

The piece took 1,500 man-hours to make

Other pieces that show off the jeweller’s high jewellery prowess include the Brins de Printemps bracelet and the Légende de Blé necklace. The former is composed of a bracelet festooned with a 9.81-ct peridot. Given the fragility of the stone, a traditional claw setting to hold the stone in place may have caused it to split at the slightest blow of the burin. Instead, the jeweller opted to attach the peridot to two angles, which gives the impression of it being suspended. With the asymmetrically designed necklace, a product of 620 hours (not including the time it takes to set the gemstones), it needed to be laid out on a bust and manually adjusted before the perfect positioning and balance in weight could be attained.

Although these pieces required specific technical expertise, Comar stresses there is no fixation with premiering or promoting these methods. Rather, they are a means to attaining perfection. “We don’t look for techniques for the sake of it…we are more focused on the results,” he says.

The results, explains Comar, are jewellery designs that are flexible and wearable. “We are a fashion house so we know all about this. Gabrielle Chanel understood this and she made handbags and short sleeves. She thought of women who enjoy being active. We want to promote a more relaxed way of wearing high jewellery,” he says.

The wheat joins the comet, lion and camellia as a new emblem for the couture house. But he remains secretive about whether the brand would eventually use the symbol in its fine jewellery line, just as it has for the feather and lion. “Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know yet,” he lets on. “Accessible jewellery is also as demanding as high jewellery…it deserves the same craftsmanship and design philosophy. I don’t know if we will but I hope so.”