By Mimosa Spencer
with contributions from Lily Templeton
 on January 29, 2020
Dior's "Toi et Moi."

PARIS — Vibrant colors, flavors and a greasy-looking black lump of uncut diamond dominated jewelry presentations during couture week in Paris, which turned out to be an intimate affair with a number of jewelers opting out this season as they gear up for the July shows.

The Ritz served as host to several displays, including Chopard’s “exceptional stones,” Cindy Chao’s latest butterfly brooch, Suzanne Syz’s playful gem-encrusted aluminum and titanium pieces and Swarovski’s debut collection of lab-grown colored diamonds.

Dior chose to show across town — transforming the Georgian embassy into a “Villa Dior,” complete with a café to display Victoire de Castellane’s bright and lively “Toi et Moi” collection.

Boucheron, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, stuck to their own opulent Place Vendôme homes — Chanel brought in sprigs of heather from the Scottish highlands to stage its “Tweed”-themed collection and Boucheron installed a café on a lower floor and a boudoir upstairs. Vuitton, meanwhile, covered the windows in a dark film to show its star guest — the Soweto diamond. The size of a tennis ball, it is the second-largest rough diamond ever found, covered in a layer of black carbon.

Louis Vuitton's Sewelo diamond

Louis Vuitton’s Sewelo diamond.  Courtesy

Oglers streamed in for a viewing, winding their way through a spiral labyrinth to grab an eyeful of the prized stone on an upper floor perch of the sprawling flagship.

Diamond specialist Valerie Messika, however, opted for exclusivity, treating a small gathering of women only — international editors, for the most part — to a dinner by French chef Hélène Darroze.

“Couture, fashion is one of the art forms we want to celebrate — the craftsmanship, that’s why we thought that Paris Couture Week is an appropriate platform,” said Markus Langes-Swarovski, who is a board member of Swarovski’s executive board, explaining why the company chose the week to launch its new colored, lab-grown diamonds.

Diamond cuts were a hot topic — with the Soweto sweeping into town — and everyone wondered about Vuitton’s plans for the 1,758-carat diamond. The brand has teamed with the Antwerp-based stone-cutting specialist HB Company, which is scanning the stone with a view to plotting out future cuts, a process expected to take around a year. Artificial intelligence will help in the process, according to HB, which said the project will allow the company to showcase its expertise.

“Not a single cut will be made until the design has been created,” said Oded Mansori, an executive at the company.

In keeping with the times, when luxury means custom-made, the brand plans to offer clients made-to-order diamonds cut from the stone, and expects its prominent size will allow it to yield stones cut into the shape of the house’s monogram — with rounded flower- and star-shaped motifs.

In the meantime, the rock in its natural state generated much interest. One woman waved her crystal at it — wondering what kind of energy might move between the stones. Another held up her hands — “They say it gives out energy!”

“If you’re intrigued about how things grow in nature, this rough stone looks fascinating,” said Langes-Swarovski, after viewing it on a mobile phone screen. He noted it would be a tough choice, cutting into such a stone, even if his company specializes in carving things up.

“Can you really bring it to life and make it sparkle? It’s a tough choice — 900 carats is 900 carats,” he said, referring to an estimate that the Soweto stone could yield a stone of that weight.

“We are in love with cutting things — we would consider ourselves master cutters, agnostic of the material,” he said, describing how Swarovski has been cutting lab-grown diamonds for a decade now.

Langes-Swarovski said the company plans to add more colors to its current selection of 16, focus on new cuts and perhaps push technology to increase weight from 2.5 carats — 900 carats is now the new reference point, he joked.

“Sixteen is only a starting point — the five fancy shapes and the round stone are only the starting point — we would love to also create a specific cut which is also tough because the brilliant cut has been optimized ever since it was applied to the diamond industry,” he said.

Making a pitch for Place Vendôme jewelers to consider lab-grown stones, he said people should have a choice when seeking sparkle — and that lab-grown stones offer more bang for the buck, with lab-grown white diamonds costing 30 percent the price of a mined diamond.

“A diamond is a diamond, the only difference is the genesis, the rest is a hundred percent diamond, it has the same physical, optical and chemical properties, same hardness, same fire, same brilliance,” he said.

“I think it’s interesting to give people choices, even as a high jeweler in Place Vendôme,” he added.

High jewelers across the square, meanwhile, were doubling down on their classics, with Boucheron showing a dozen renditions of the question mark necklace while Chanel worked its stones into a theme based on a house code: tweed fabric.

The house’s 45-piece collection included a couture tweed necklace, with pink sapphires, spinels and diamonds forming strands interwoven with thin gold chains and punctuated with a 10.2 carat cushion-cut diamond. Black and white pieces had an Art Deco flair, and the “tweed graphique” necklace carried its weave in a diagonal direction, with a 5.03 round-cut diamond set in onyx as the center piece.

Chanel's Tweed couture necklace

Chanel’s Tweed couture necklace.  Courtesy

“It’s the first time I’ve worked on a collection inspired by fabric,” said Patrice Leguéreau, who designs jewelry for Chanel. The biggest challenge was working fluidity and lightness into the collection, he said.

“Normally, high jewelry collections are inspired by history and symbols — jewelry is traditionally very figurative. It was interesting to work with fabric — fabric for me is graphics, colors, suppleness, comfort. Notions one doesn’t always have in high jewelry,” he said.

At Boucheron, chief executive officer Hélène Poulit-Duquesne was also after comfort — of the foodie sort.

Since outfitting the Boucheron flagship, the executive has been holding client events in the space, bringing on pastry chef Valentin Néraudeau to draw up meals and special pastries for the house as it entertains clients with meals on the upper floors, overlooking the famed, spiral Vendôme column.

“There’s not a strong intellectual value here — we’re not trying to be pretentious here. Gastronomy is very important for the art de vivre…it’s part of our DNA, the art of hosting,” Poulit-Duquesne said. “My brief is that it should be like at home, there are large dishes prepared, with market produce.” Dishes are prepared according to fresh produce, and with a light touch — replacing heavy cream with mascarpone, for example, or replacing sugar with Stevia.

For the couture week press day, the house had added a French-style café to the nook where watches and sunglasses are shown — a display of leather wristbands lined one wall. Upstairs, jewelry was shown in a boudoir-like setting, with closets of clothing, sugary snacks and comfy sofas. For the first time, said Poulit-Duquesne, 12 of the house’s signature question mark necklaces were exhibited, including the “Lierre de Paris” necklace, paved with emeralds to evoke ivy, and the modern “Goutte de Perle” necklace made with 11 round pearls. The “Plume de Paon” peacock feather necklace carried a 12.41 carat pink tourmaline, surrounded by pink gold barbs paved in diamonds.

Boucheron Lierre de Paris question mark necklace

Boucheron Lierre de Paris question mark necklace.  Courtesy

Following the press presentations, Poulit-Duquesne said she planned to welcome the house’s retail partners to discuss the strategy for the year. “We are very retail-oriented — and I don’t see a reason to change this,” she said.

At Dior, Victoire de Castellane drew in the volumes while boosting the colors — playing with geometric shapes with mostly asymmetric styles and adding dashes of bright lacquer into the mix.

“They’re little constructions, nearly science fiction-like — little imaginary towns,” she said. Drawing on the Art Deco period, she likened her use of lacquer as similar to the use of enamel in the Twenties of the last century. “Art Deco reinvented!” she said.

Dior necklace from 'Toi et moi' collection

Dior necklace from the “Toi et Moi” collection.  Courtesy

A black opal double ring was paired with a pink sapphire and a pearl, with the lacquer to highlight the stone, while a gold ring paired an emerald with malachite, with a touch of green lacquer.

“Underlining with lacquer on the sides — it makes them stand out. It’s like they’ve been underlined, it highlights the stones,” she said.

Back at the Ritz, Chopard showed its collection of stones in a bed of flowers. These included a 61.79 carat round-cut emerald, a 26.44-carat cabochon black opal and a 33.26 carat emerald-cut fancy vivid yellow diamond.

Cindy Chao took a fresh approach to working the color of her stones, taking the daring move of mixing blue and red on her annual butterfly brooch, which she unveiled during couture week at the Fitzgerald Suite of the Ritz.

“When I told my craftsmen ‘OK, I’m going to use red ruby in the center and a blue wing with a brown vein,’ they looked at me like ‘Are you OK?’” laughed Chao.

“I said, ‘Look! This is a challenge of our aesthetic side, how are we going to manage that with two extreme different colors together?’”

Cindy Chao 2019 Butterfly Brooch

Cindy Chao 2019 Butterfly Brooch.  Courtesy

The designer had just celebrated the induction of one of her earlier butterfly brooches into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, becoming the first jewelry artist from Taiwan to have a piece in the permanent collection. “This is the mother country of high jewelry,” she said.

She reflected on reaching a certain level of maturity and experience — Chao sculpts her organic pieces in wax by hand, a fine-jewelry technique used by European royal jewelry designers for centuries.

“In middle age, you have a certain life experience and it gives you so much maturity in terms of you know what you are capable of, what you are not — and I think that’s very important as a creator,” she said.

The designer has broadened her client base abroad, and estimates around 60 percent of her customers come from Asia, down from around 65 percent before. Sales have been brisk in Hong Kong despite the unrest, she said, explaining that her pieces are portable assets.

“Thank God we don’t make mass production,” she said, noting that sourcing gems can be challenging.

As for the Vuitton diamond across the square, she had some advice.

“I think they shouldn’t — if I were them I wouldn’t — what shape are they going to cut? Round gradient? Oh, my God, it would be so chunky!” Chao laughed.

Celebrating her label’s 15th anniversary, she is gearing up for the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Netherlands, in March.

“I’m very much looking forward to what’s coming in the next 15 years,” she said.

Downstairs in the Ritz, Suzanne Syz presented her playful pieces, including a chunky, 44-carat rubellite tourmaline ring, set in coated aluminum, worked for a quilted effect. A bracelet was fashioned out of titanium, cast to resemble a tire, with gold link chains spotted with diamonds.

“I only work with natural stones — I never work with heated stones or anything like that. Nature does it best,” she said.

Suzanne Syz rubellite tourmaline and aluminum ring

Suzanne Syz rubellite tourmaline and aluminum ring.  courtesy

She wasn’t overly excited about the big rock across the square.

“I’m not crazy about huge diamonds — I’m crazy about color. What could excite me more than a big rock like that is a nice Golconda diamond,” she said, referring to India’s historic mines.

Messika Lucky-Move necklace.  Courtesy

India was inspiration for Michelin-starred chef Darroze, who whipped up a bright lobster tandoori dish for Messika’s small group of guests. Jewelry was discretely placed around the room, including pieces from the “Born to be Wild” collection, which is built to resemble feathers, with pear-cut and marquise-cut diamonds mixed with brilliant cut diamonds. There were also pieces from the new Lucky Move collection, modern, rock-infused medallion necklaces. Guests were invited to watch Darroze and her team at work, and share thoughts about quotes from inspiring women, including Beyoncé, who has been known to wear Messika pieces. On one wall there were blown up photos from the latest campaign — featuring Kate Moss, Sylvia Hoeks and Joan Smalls.

Here are some other highlights from the collections in Paris.

• French jewelry label Hint is adding colored tourmalines to the options for its personalized pieces based on the Morse alphabet, which range from delicate chain rings and earrings customizable through its web site to long multistrand necklaces.

Statement My Way gradient ring.  Courtesy

• Statement went for gold, an 18-karat update to its octagonal My Way ring, featuring a 1-carat Asscher cut diamond centerpiece. The original silver version also received a more graphic twist in black rhodium with a pavé gradient of black, gray and white diamonds.

• For its first fine jewelry collection, Moscow-based brand Anima brought together ancient Egypt and the razor-sharp metalwork available in the 21st century. The edges of the 18-karat gold pieces feature a triangular section inspired by the Great Pyramids and the centerpiece of its filigree Scarab pendant is an egg-shaped impactite rock — naturally occurring glass formed by the impact of a meteorite on sand.

• Le Gramme added a further layer of stealth wealth to its graphic ranges, such as lines of pavé diamonds on the clasp of its Cable bracelets, baguette diamonds set on the inside of their best-selling Ribbon ring or the new Entrelacs range, composed of nested and interlocked silver rings.

• Emmanuel Tarpin has come up with two more twists to his ultra-light anodized aluminum designs: a pair of pristine Arum earrings with yellow diamonds dressing the inner part of the buds, and the Coquillage, a gradient blue pair delicately outlined in white diamonds.

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