Chanel's Blé Maria tiara

PARIS — Moving with the times, the gleaming world of high jewelry continues to bend itself to an age that wants it all: spectacular gems and out-of-this-world experiences — but also diversity and transparency. The collections at haute couture week here showed actors across the spectrum opening up new frontiers as they jostle for attention — and relevance — with the arrival of Gucci on the high-jewelry scene, further pressuring traditional brands.

A fresh infusion of modernity came in the form of a three-dimensional rock crystal, onyx and cacholong marquetry at Boucheron, a pixil-ized color theme at Dior and a broadening of the scope of materials — with De Beers Jewellers working mother-of-pearl to reflect its diamonds, while Cartier added an infusion of rutilated quartz to its Magnitude collection. The house is taking its collection to New York in the fall, but couldn’t resist offering a preview in Paris.

Gucci ring

Gucci ring.  Courtesy/Fabio Pianigiani

A lot is happening on the digital front, too. Net-a-porter hosted an evening party in the Marais with canapés and elderflower cocktails to celebrate its deeper push into the sector, showing exclusive pieces it will sell online from houses like Piaget and Chopard, as well as Ana Khouri and Bina Goenka. And from an upper floor perch overlooking the Place Vendôme, Boucheron chief executive officer Hélène Poulit-Duquesne outlined plans to revamp the house’s web site to bolster its multichannel approach.

Physical spaces count more than ever, meanwhile, as seen by the cement trucks that displaced Town Cars on the Place Vendôme, pumping new foundations into future boutiques. Gucci and Qeelin inaugurated stores on the famed square while Chaumet, Bulgari, Graff and Van Cleef & Arpels are all refurbishing future selling floors there.

The streak of newness has swept in a new ceo at de Grisogono, Céline Assimon, and brought two designers out of the shadows: Chanel’s Patrice Leguéreau and Grace Lepard of De Beers. 

Across the board, jewelry-staging client events have taken on a life of their own, transforming jobs at the upper echelons of management. Events planning, it seems, has never been so important — and as brands move closer to clients, they are also forging new kinds of community networks.

Chanel got a head start on the jewelry shows, kicking off viewing of its new designs with a Russian-themed dinner in a corner of the Grand Palais. Champagne-sipping guests wound their way through an elaborate set that relayed a spirit of crumbling grandeur, with chandeliers, mirrors, haystacks and small, oil landscape paintings, to take in the jewelry before reaching a long table with dried wildflowers and caviar.

“Gabrielle Chanel never went to Russia, so she conjured up an idea of Russia through stories from friends, by what she read and descriptions from her entourage,” said Leguéreau. “I wanted to create a collection that was very Parisian, very French, very Chanel. Russia imagined from Paris, seen through the Russian mirror in her apartment — it’s a dreamed up vision of Russia,” he added. Chanel’s friends included Russians who flocked to Paris in the early Twenties, such as the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, with whom she had a steamy affair. 

Chanel's Sarafane headpiece necklace.

Chanel’s Sarafane headpiece necklace.  Courtesy

Assertive eagle symbols were worked into the collection, offset by softer, embroidery-inspired pieces like the Sarafane necklace in white gold, diamonds and cultured pearls; it could be worn as a necklace or a proud headpiece. There was also an infusion of yellow, evoking the sun and heat — the wheat necklace had a fringe of yellow diamond tassels, and, adding color, the Blé Maria necklace featured an 18.32-emerald cut yellow sapphire with a mix of pink spinels, mandarin garnets and colored tourmalines.

De Beers has increasingly been mixing more color into its jewelry, as well as rough diamonds to emphasize their natural state, as well as some lower-grade stones to bring down prices. The jeweler worked an exotic animal theme, such as pink flamingo-inspired pieces with fancy pink and orange diamonds, the Knysna Chameleon necklace, which combines graphic, square-cut diamonds with colored and rough ones that seem to drip down. In a striking combination, the house worked mother-of-pearl into its zebra necklace.

“We know we can do classic, diamond jewelry well, so…we wanted to bring a little more fun into the diamond, breathe new life into it,” said Lepard. Seeking to avoid pieces that would land in a safe, they were also after an emphatic look.

“We really wanted to create pieces that have a presence, but that you can wear to places, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a gala,” said the Central Saint Martins graduate, who gained experience working with semiprecious jewels earlier in her career.

Like their luxury counterparts, De Beers executives have been busy hosting clients, ceo François Delage said, whipping out his smart phone to show photos of a piano placed in the front of one of the walls covered by Monet’s water-lily paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie at the Tuileries gardens. The previous week, guests had been treated to a private concert there, followed by dinner in the museum, surrounded by paintings. He recalled enjoying seeing guests wander past the artwork late into the night, following a five-course meal.

“When I saw a Chinese client from the U.S. exchanging contact [information] with a Japanese client from London — that sense of community around common interest and passion is something that I really want to foster. We are in a world which is about ecosystems and like-minded people,” he said.

Poulit-Duquesne similarly noted conviviality among clients. Boucheron had hosted around 140 people for a dinner in the garden of the Ritz; the house likes to show jewelry in movement, sending dancers spinning around the tables. “We try to arrange the tables so people have an enjoyable evening,” she said, noting that her guests continued to linger after the meal was finished, so they finished the evening at the Hemingway Bar.

Now that the house has finished rebuilding its Place Vendôme flagship, the executive is spending more time with clients. Boucheron’s Jack launch has done well, she said, noting its playful, stackable nature has been particularly popular with its young clientele — the brand has high jewelry clients in their 20s.

House designer Claire Choisne brought a feminine touch to a Paris theme, working an airy rendition of the Grand Palais’ glass-and-steel architecture, with intricate diamond cage and tassels of emerald beads. Pushing into new realms, the house showed the results of a two-year, three-dimensional marquetry project, with rock crystal, cacholong and onyx pieces, fixed together like a puzzle.

“It’s as if we built a stone — a Boucheron stone,” said Poulit-Duquesne. Other pieces included a necklace of paving stones of the Place Vendôme, worked with polished, opaque rock crystal, which hung like tapestry from bright rows of white diamonds; a double ring with an over 31-carat heliodor beryl lined with diamonds and onyx, and a graphic malachite and onyx grosgrain necklace.

Van Cleef & Arpels also worked architectural elements into its collection, which carried a “Romeo and Juliet” theme, including a diamond balcony brooch with green emeralds and tsavorites stones spilling off like vegetation. That was perhaps the most literal interpretation, however, with most of the jewelry inspired by the Renaissance era. 

“There are many ways to approach ‘Romeo and Juliet’,” said ceo Nicolas Bos, who is also the artistic director of the house. It teamed with choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who worked the theme subtly into a modern dance display.

“Of course there are the two lovers, but there’s a lot more than that. There is Italy, the Renaissance, Verona, the architecture, the garden, lots of characters and movement, so from that universe, beyond the love story itself, we looked at the spirit,” he said, noting the structure of the jewelry, including choice of colors and length of necklaces reflected a reinterpretation of jewels from the Renaissance era.

The chunky ‘Lovers’ Path’ bracelet featured three eye-popping blue-tinged Colombian emeralds, while the Belfiore necklace came in pinks, turquoise and violet with oval and cushion-cut sapphires, mixing cabochons of hard stones with faceted precious stones. 

At Chaumet, the theme was the skies, with planet rings made from opals and fiery sun rings, brooches and necklaces with paved diamond rays that bent inwards, towards colorful central stones — shown at a temporary Left Bank mansion while the Place Vendôme store is undergoing renovations. There was also a glorious sun tiara, featuring droplets made from rock crystal — a new material for the house to use on a tiara.

The house was gearing up for a star-studded exhibit in Monaco, where it will bring clients together with royals and royal experts to view jewelry worn by nobility, including the tiaras. The house has fashioned an application for users to point to the sky to identify constellations—and learn about Chaumet along the way.

At Mikimoto, a garden theme — European gardens seen through a Japanese lens — was worked in a fairly literal manner, with wrought iron enclosures made of brushed titanium nestled among patches of colored stones and pearls. Pearls were varied, with a drop-shaped pearl from Tahiti that formed the body of a peacock, and a natural, freshwater pearl was the wing of a swan on another piece, while a few pink conch pearls were added to other, flowery pieces. The house is dabbling into the perfume business for the first time, and worked with Raymond Matts for a new fragrance which comes in a sleek, stylized oyster shell-shaped bottle. The scent is not yet for sale.

Here are some other highlights from the collections in Paris.

• Messika has started to add color, adding pink diamonds to the collection, which also included a diamond encrusted eye mask and a nose-ring.

• Buccellati has devised and patented a new flower-shaped diamond cut—which it showed, along with a demonstration from a diamond cutter, in its sprawling, new Rue Saint Honoré flagship.

• Piaget debuted its ‘golden oasis’ desert-inspired collection, which it launched at the end of June in Monaco, and includes a sapphire-infused waterfall set, with a 14.61 carat cushion-cut blue sapphire from Madagascar. 

• De Grisogono’s new ceo brought simpler versions of the signature Allegra ring to its new Paris store on Avenue George V. The house has established a one-year residency program with a guest designer from Geneva’s HEAD art and design school.

• Mellerio showed lapus lazuli and diamond-encrusted earrings shaped like rivets of water with a matching necklace featuring a 2.5 carat cushion-shaped diamond designed by Laure-Isabelle Mellerio, who has also taken up management of the family-owned house following the passing of her husband, Laurent Mellerio.

• Anna Hu brought her latest silk road pieces to the Ritz, including a blue magpie brooch and a cello brooch in bright green jadeite, drawing on her musical inspiration.

Emerald brooch from Dauphin

An emerald brooch from Dauphin.  Courtesy

• Charlotte Dauphin de la Rochefoucauld opened her family house to show her signature rings in a new steely blue gold with black diamonds, along with more fluid pieces that mix strings of diamonds with stick-straight bars—one was punctuated with emeralds.

• Suzanne Syz showed her brightly-colored titanium and stone pieces at the Ritz, including carved turquoise drop earrings and pastel stone drop earrings. 

• Amélie Huynh of Statement showed floating diamond rings, featuring two half moon-shaped diamonds from the Moonlight capsule collection, alongside the label’s signature stacked, v-shaped stairway ring. She plans to open her first store before the end of the year.

Sarah Jane Wilde's bubble ring

Sarah Jane Wilde’s bubble ring.  Courtesy

• Sarah Jane Wilde brought her champagne ring, demi-cross necklaces and insect jewelry to the Crillion’s Cabinet de Curiosités, celebrating the occasion with a cocktail event with Thom Browne. 

• Ana Khouri added pieces designed for men to her Harmony collection of individual pieces, with chunky stones and smooth, gold rings, which she showed on models at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

• Byredo unveiled its gender-free Value Chain collection of sleek, oversize gold chains designed by Charlotte Chesnais and Ben Gorham; some renditions come paved with diamonds, and the brand is also offering a chain link sculpture on special order.

• Cynthia Ruan displayed pieces from her collection of antique Chinese jewelry along with her zodiac sign-inspired necklaces at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs.

• Rubeus showed a collection of high jewelry built around alexandrite, including one 60.37-carat gemstone, mixed with green sapphires, diamonds and polished black titanium at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs.

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