Hubert Burda Media

Late Bloomer

It took them some 233 years but in September, the venerable House of Chaumet finally christened a flower as one of their symbols.

It seems every respectable jewellery house has a flower to call its own: The rose, orchid, camellia and sunflower are all featured extensively in the permanent collections of some of the industry’s most prominent names. Last September, Chaumet joined these jewellers when it launched Hortensia, an original and new 24-piece-strong high jewellery collection inspired by the luscious blooms of the hydrangea.
It was not that Chaumet never turned to flowers for inspiration — forget-me-nots, pansies and even the proverbial rose have all appeared at some point in time. But impressive as these jewellery pieces were, those flowers never took root, drifting in and out of the Chaumet archives.
This year in September, just as a slight chill descended upon Paris and a week after the leaves at La Jardin de Tuileries turned fiery orange, Hortensia revealed its glistening buds in a stunning debut collection.
The launch couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune time: September happens to be right in middle of hydrangea season (they bloom from late summer to early autumn), when the temperature is neither too toasty nor frosty, and when there is still sufficient sunlight. Originating from Asia, the hydrangea flower exists in over a hundred different varieties and is mostly adored for its large and round flower heads that resemble pom-poms.
On a bright Tuesday afternoon, in the presence of a selected group of international and French press, Claire Dévé-Rakoff, Chaumet’s new artistic director, showed off her fancy and bejewelled garden in its historical salon on the fabled grounds of Place Vendôme. Hortensia is Dévé-Rakoff’s artistic debut for Chaumet, a challenge she met with such aplomb as she ensured that each piece shone in a new creative light, successfully reflecting the Maison’s DNA and also carrying a bit of her identity.
Prior to her appointment at the jewellery house, Dévé-Rakoff was managing her own design studio and used to service some of the biggest jewellery houses. And before that, she worked and designed for Swarovski and Chanel, specialising in accessories. “Because my background is in fashion and accessories, I bring a new eye to things. I am looking to create something wearable that is part of a woman’s look. Jewellery is ultimately about design and how you wear it,” she shares.
The Frenchwoman sees beauty in simplicity, which explains why her Hortensia creations are easy and lightweight. There are no bib necklaces or chunky sets of jewellery — in fact, everything looks very delicate, wearable, elegant and, if we may, very French.
“There’s an evolution in women’s taste when it comes to high jewellery. Before, it used to be very conventional, you had to follow a certain number of rules and every necklace came with a large central stone. This collection isn’t following those rules: I was looking for freedom. I wanted to take different shapes and colours to create things that are wearable, not super conventional, that can be worn on many different occasions,” says Dévé-Rakoff.
She illustrated her point with one of the collection’s highlights, a long sautoir adorned with pink and angel-skin opals, diamonds, pink tourmalines and pink sapphires. The artistic director showed how the necklace can be taken apart and transformed into two short necklaces and a bracelet — and wore the different styles on herself. Dressed in a smart white shirt, she remarked: “See? This is not just for the red carpet.”
The 24-piece Hortensia collection is grouped by colours into three sets: Red to represent deep sentiment, blue for bold emotion and pinkish white (likethe sautoir) to signify budding emotion.
“I had a very precise idea of what colours I wanted and the choice of stones came from the idea of the colour of the bouquet, flowers and petals. For example, in the pink and white set, I wanted a soft pink so I chose pink tourmalines and opal cabochons. Had I used all pink sapphires, it would have appeared more vivid and electric,” explains Dévé-Rakoff.
Another favourite from the pinkish white set is a brooch with parts that quiver ever so delicately. Not to be confused with traditional en tremblant brooches mounted on wire springs, the Hortensia brooch is made of several independent parts that are eventually assembled together and fixed in a special way so as to create movement and articulation.
In the blue set, the intention is to show off the intensity of blue sapphires, tanzanite and sculpted lapis lazuli. Paired against brilliant diamonds, white gold and white opals, the contrast is clean and striking. This is where you’ll find Hortensia’s most complicated piece, a flexible cuff made up of a lacework of diamonds, sapphires and lapis lazuli set against rhodiumised white gold. Despite being entirely decorated by precious stones, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the open-worked cuff was, in fact, extraordinarily light.
With the red set, the intricate designs are conveyed through the use of rubies, garnets and red tourmalines. Most remarkable is a floral ring with a giant stigma that is represented by a 23.83-ct cabochon red tourmaline. A series of open-worked and gem-set petals unfurl around the central stone that seems to magically sit atop the pink gold band without any visible setting. It is only on closer inspection that you notice a slim metal stick that is drilled through the middle of the red tourmaline.
This is one of the largest stones in the entire collection. Unlike the usual practice of other traditional high jewellery houses, there are no jaw-dropping fat nuggets of diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds in the Hortensia collection — not yet anyway — but bear in mind that Dévé-Rakoff had no intention of using “the biggest diamonds and biggest stones”.
“My focus was on finding femininity, delicacy and achieve visual harmony,” she says. “The idea was to recreate a bouquet. But how do you represent petals? It’s something you can’t do with large stones. That’s why I used a variety of smaller stones to recreate the bouquet.”
As the newest icon, the hydrangea joins the bee and the tiara, two symbols that were inspired by two of Chaumet’s most famous clients Napolean Bonaparte and his first wife, Empress Joséphine. As we close the first chapter of the Hortensia story, expect another development in 2014. Chaumet has revealed that a bijoux line and another high jewellery collection will be added. As to exactly when, your guess is as good as ours.