PARIS — High-jewelry makers are celebrating a new Jazz Age.
Riding strong demand for their most exclusive creations, many brands showcasing their wares during Paris Couture Week conjured the spirit of the Roaring Twenties with creations that combined clean, geometric lines with lightweight, supple fabrications designed for frequent wear.
Creativity was at a premium, with many houses previewing the collections they will show at the La Biennale des Antiquaires, taking place in Paris from Sept. 11 to 21.
Chanel named its collection Café Society in honor of the artistic scene that emerged in Paris after 1913, with Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel one of its key players. With names like Broadway, Charleston, Jazz and Bubbles, the 87 pieces featured graphic designs with a prevalence of diamonds and onyx interspersed with splashes of color.
With the exception of a couple of necklaces produced in its workshops on Place Vendôme, most of the pendants were as loose as a flapper’s row of pearls.
“We worked a lot on ease of wear for all occasions,” said Benjamin Comar, international director of Chanel Fine Jewelry. “I think that sums up Chanel in a way — a certain notion of freedom as opposed to trophy or status jewelry.”
De Beers also tapped an Art Deco spirit with its Aria collection, the first spanning from entry price points to one-of-a-kind pieces. The latter featured diamonds offset by aventurine in stylized swirling motifs.
“We wanted, from a brand point of view, to start going out of diamonds and offer color, but in a different manner,” said François Delage, chief executive officer of De Beers. “We thought aventurine was a nice way to do that because it was not a semi-precious stone, it was not a gemstone, it was something different which was bringing an element of surprise.” The Aria launch will also mark the return of De Beers’ jewelry watches, which will go on sale in its stores on July 21.
Louis Vuitton tapped the sketchbooks of Gaston-Louis Vuitton for its Acte V collection, using his stylized renderings of the house’s initials from the Twenties as the springboard for jewels constructed around a V shape, including the Apotheosis cuff in white gold, onyx and diamonds set off by a 16.5-carat tsavorite garnet. “It’s about expressing the historic codes of the house in a graphic way that differs from the classic LV monogram,” said Hamdi Chatti, vice president of fine jewelry and watches at Louis Vuitton.
This marked a departure for the brand, which previously worked a monogram flower into many of its high-jewelry pieces. Chatti noted this collection was designed by an in-house team instead of Lorenz Bäumer, Vuitton’s artistic director for jewelry, though he confirmed that Bäumer remains active with the house.
The season was Vuitton’s first in the rarefied circle of high jewelers showing on the official couture calendar alongside Boucheron, Buccellati, Bulgari, Chanel, Chaumet, Dior and Mellerio dits Meller. A host of other brands took advantage of the presence of customers and editors to stage presentations.
Among the newcomers was Kara Ross, who is gearing up for international expansion in tandem with the launch of an outdoor advertising campaign in New York City, where an image of the designer’s daughter Avery will be featured on a billboard outside the Midtown Tunnel from July 15 to the end of August.
Ross, whose jewelry and clutches are carried in stores in Dubai, Turkey, South Korea and China, said she hopes to gain new accounts by showing during couture. Her latest collection features raw stones like pyrite and black tourmaline alongside polished pieces. The Cava cuff, for instance, is made from 18-karat yellow gold with a black onyx base, rock crystal and diamonds.
Chatti at Vuitton said it made sense for competing brands to join forces during couture week, when Paris is flush with high spenders. “We are rivals, but we do things at the same time because we have the same customers, so there is an emulation and we stimulate each other,” he said. “Thanks to Instagram, they all know what we are doing, but I also know what they are doing. I think that’s very powerful.”
Indeed, Van Cleef & Arpels raised eyebrows on the Place Vendôme by breaking away from other houses and showing its jewelry to customers on June 26 at an extravagant event staged at the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley, complete with an Indian elephant, carriages and masked dancers in medieval costume. The big-budget event reflected growing competition among high jewelers to capture the attention of wealthy customers.
During couture week, Chanel hosted a client dinner at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where its dramatically lit collection was presented on the main stage. Dior held a dinner for 120 people at the Palace of Versailles, while Louis Vuitton is planning a client event on July 25 at its Maison on Singapore’s Marina Bay.
“I think the client experience is fundamental,” said Comar at Chanel. “It’s not only the creations. The jeweler’s craft is about everything that goes with them — it’s emotion, beauty, the presentation, and therefore you have to make an effort to show the pieces in their context.”
Bulgari took the unusual step of showing its collection on the runway during couture week. The house, which this year celebrates its 130th anniversary, featured its largest assortment ever. The wares included the new Musa collection, which uses a rainbow of colored gemstones, many of them in an Indian-inspired “takhti” cut reminiscent of a curved tile.
Bulgari also organized an exclusive preview for about 50 couples in mid-June at Villa Olmo on Italy’s Lake Como. “It’s a way, on the one hand, to thank them and reward them for their loyalty and trust, and at the same time to tease them with our new collections,” said chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin, adding that clients want to experience the jewelry in a highly exclusive setting. While he would not disclose figures, Babin said the Lake Como event yielded higher sales than a similar affair held last year in Portofino with more guests and media in attendance. “And this is where I come to the conclusion that less is better,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have a better return with fewer people feeling more intimate and private than with more people feeling a bit banalized.”
Pierre Bouissou, ceo of Boucheron, noted he did not have the budget to rival with grand gala dinners or glamorous trips.
“Of course, it must be very pleasant to go to a destination like Venice or the Château de Chambord but that’s not my main concern right now,” he said. “We are concerned with catering to our clients’ needs, and I think that in order to do that, you need closeness, and this closeness must be achieved in a small group, face to face, and not in the middle of a sumptuous meal.”
Boucheron plans to capture the attention of customers in Hong Kong and Mainland China with its Rêves d’Ailleurs collection, inspired by the early 20th-century travel diaries of Louis Boucheron, the son of founder Frédéric Boucheron.
“I was very surprised to see that the image of Boucheron there is not the same as elsewhere in the world,” said Bouissou, adding that the new line, designed by artistic director Claire Choisne, aims to show Chinese customers and the rest of the world that “we are truly an international house and we have been for a long time.”
Divided into sections inspired by China, India, Japan, Russia and Iran, it features extraordinary stones including an 188.79-carat Mughal emerald that formerly belonged to a maharaja — now the centerpiece of the Fleur des Indes necklace — and a cabochon sapphire that was once the property of Iran’s Imperial family, set into a ring dubbed Trésor de Perse.
A few other houses also tapped their archives. At Chaumet, creative director Claire Dévé-Rakoff said she came across one of the house’s designs from 1904, a diamond tiara designed to resemble stalactites, which gave her the idea of representing water in all its forms. Her Lumières d’eau collection consists of 12 sets ranging from rock crystal pieces evoking an iceberg to tourmaline creations inspired by the turquoise atolls of the Pacific. “Everything is supple. Nothing is rigid. It was really about making sure that all the necklaces are very easy and pleasant to wear,” Dévé-Rakoff said.
And Piaget, celebrating its 140th anniversary, divided its lineup into two sections, roughly corresponding to day and evening. The former referenced the Sixties and Seventies, with colorful pieces incorporating turquoise, opal and jade, while the latter shone the spotlight on marquise-cut diamonds.
The line includes women’s watches inspired by a 1965 model owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and a limited-edition men’s watch that is a slimmer version of a Piaget watch that belonged to Andy Warhol.
Many of the pieces highlight Piaget’s gold craftsmanship, with delicate links, cabled gold necklaces and rings, and cuffs where the precious metal is hammered, carved or — in the case of one grid-patterned cuff — inset with tiny diamonds.
“Gold is worth a lot right now and it’s expensive, so it’s important to make it a central feature of the pieces, and not always to hide it behind precious stones,” said Jean-Bernard Forot, head of jewelry at Piaget.
The Biennale will also see the return of Reza, staging its first commercial show since Olivier Reza took over the brand founded by his late father, Alexandre. He plans to feature a rotating selection of one-of-a-kind pieces including the Gouttes necklace, made from diamonds and three drop-shaped cabochon emeralds from Colombia, and the Turban ring, featuring an unheated Ceylon sugar-loaf sapphire weighing 27.74 carats surrounded by trapeze-shaped diamonds.
The year-old Giampiero Bodino brand, backed by Compagnie Financière Richemont, will be making its Biennale debut with the Italian designer’s personal voyage through his country’s history. The unique creations include diamond and pearl necklaces incorporating cameos, and mosaic cuffs combining diamonds with white chalcedony, or pink diamonds and sapphires with pink opal.
Bodino, who has served as Richemont’s group art director since 2002, said Richemont’s founder and shareholder of reference, Johann Rupert, gave him free rein to express himself. “It isn’t based on a very defined strategic marketing plan. The idea is to really try to make beautiful things, or things we love,” he said. “I think if you have too much strategy, you lose freshness, and I want to keep that freshness.”