PARIS — The once-guarded realm of high jewelry demonstrated new verve, diversity and digital savvy during Paris Couture Week.
Technology muscled its way in: Cartier spotlighted necklaces with designs augmented by computers, while Buccellati, known for intricate, centuries-old chiseling methods, has employed a wide-eyed virtual influencer. Cultural diversity is making inroads — Asian houses Anna Hu and Mikimoto joined the official calendar of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
And intense competition to capture imaginations has pushed boundaries, resulting in a profusion of color, vibrant and African-flavored at Chaumet, and with a Far Eastern aesthetic at Cartier, while De Beers juxtaposed rough and colored diamonds with the sharply polished brilliant ones it built its name on.
Even logo references snuck into the mix: Design teams at Louis Vuitton referenced the label’s flower outline and letter V on diamond-encrusted necklaces with one colored stone — a nearly 20-carat tsavorite, in one case.
Amid the pomp and dazzle, however, one of the most talked-about presentations was tied to the age-old pursuit of capturing and preserving the natural world.
Two years ago, Boucheron chief executive officer Hélène Poulit-Duquesne and creative director Claire Choisne set out to mark its 160th anniversary year with a nature theme.
“We are in very much in love with this nature that is sublime but entirely ephemeral, so giving eternity to nature through jewelry is the ultimate philosophical quest — this is how the project started off,” explained Poulit-Duquesne. Eschewing sketches, Choisne took her team to a florist shop where they played with flowers, wrapping them into rings around their fingers. Then they sought to catalogue the flower shapes, and realizing jewelry scanners were not powerful enough to register petals, found a solution in medical scanners—hauling in bouquets after hours, when patients had left.
Key to the process was the discovery of an artist, Claire Boucl, who managed to stabilize the aging process of petals, preserving vibrant hues without chemicals or pigment for her works made from vegetation.
Boucheron took these petals and applied them to titanium flower models built from the scans, covered them in a transparent sealer and embellished the pieces with stones, in the middle, or encrusted on the underside. They passed the heat and water tests standard in the watchmaking sector, Poulit-Duquesne said.
There were nine of them on display, including the Hortensia Rosita with jonquil diamonds in the center.
The thin, silky petals were shown to visitors viewing the collection. Placed on the palm of a hand, the flattened membranes — hues slightly varying from their original colors — looked as is they were curling gently back to life — apparently drawing moisture in contact with human skin.
Boucheron, which is refurbishing its flagship on the Place Vendôme, also showed an ivy necklace, reproducing a strip of ivy — again, using a scan — with diamonds and metal, but no real vegetation matter this time. The nuage de fleurs necklace was another standout, forming a collarlike cascade of hydrangeas that spilled off the collarbone, the two sides fixed with a 42.95-carat cushion-cut pink tourmaline.
Taiwanese designer Cindy Chao also trained her focus on nature’s wilder side. Known for sculpting wax by hand — she doesn’t keep a computer in her workspace — the designer spent two weeks on Nootka Island in Canada’s British Columbia, with no Wi-Fi.
“The nature is so powerful, it’s such a remote place without too much human pollution,” she recalled from a lounge in the Ritz, where her jewelry dragonflies were displayed.
Her label is taking an increasingly international turn, and last month she landed an award at Masterpiece London for a peony brooch.
Built on titanium encrusted with large, oval-shaped rubies, 172 carats in all, she made use of their varied sizes, layering the folds of the petals with the different hues. It was delicate and chunky all at once — fitting squarely in the pictures-don’t-do-it-justice category.
Sales grew around 80 percent last year compared to the previous one, Chao said, noting her house has gained ground in the Middle East and Europe, including with Russian clients. As she gears up for her label’s 15th anniversary, she is also bulking up the business side, and recently hired former Boucheron and Cartier executive Albert Lin to head marketing efforts.
Another label channeling the natural world was Tasaki, a house that tackled it with a stylized approach, and drew on the trained nature of the sequestered garden of the Ritz. “Surrealism” was the first collection by Prabal Gurung, appointed creative director of the Japanese Akoya pearl producer last year; it included cascade earrings that emulated flowing water, mixing pearls and diamonds, white gold and the house’s Sakuragold — warmer than traditional rose gold.
Tasaki recently teamed up with Philip Treacy for a headdress worn by Diane Kruger at the Met Gala, which animated the house’s display at the Ritz — the short dress and its pearl-encrusted train sitting in the center of a room leading to the garden. Gurung emphasized his intention to push inclusivity and diversity through the label, “with purpose and intention.”
The company delisted from the Tokyo stock market last year in a management buyout, and is pursuing international expansion.
Garden-inspired pieces included a necklace with black opal cabochons — one more than 35 carats — with emeralds, alexandrite and demantoid garnets.
Color abounded. Cartier named its collection “Coloratura,” an opera expression that captures the broad and elaborate singing range offered only by the profession’s masters — a nod to the breadth of hues on display.
The Chromaphonia necklace counted nearly 200 carats worth of baroque emerald beads from Afghanistan, which also featured spinel, mandarine garnets, turquoise and onyx; the Matsuri tourmaline necklace’s graphic forms were augmented with the help of computers.
This was the label’s first high-jewelry presentation in Paris since it showed at La Biennale des Antiquaires in 2014, before the exodus of Place Vendôme jewelers from the fair. Organizers recently said talks are ongoing for their return, but industry sources signaled no progress on that front during couture week.
“It’s surprising to see us again in Paris, we’ve been traveling a lot around the world,” said Arnaud Carrez, who directs Cartier’s international marketing and communications. The house navigates the tension between seeking renown and maintaining an aura of prestige by increasingly opening up the house to the public, while also holding celebrity events behind closed doors — or a window-lined courtyard in the Louvre museum. Naomi Watts, Golshifteh Farahani, Monica Bellucci and Freida Pinto were among guests at a gala dinner with concerts and dancers that closed with a performance by Dua Lipa — and the press was not invited. Magazine editors and journalists had joined executives for Champagne and soufflé on the Seine, on a boat parked at the foot of the Eiffel Tower earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, the label’s collection is open to the public — those who register online — at its Paris store on Rue de la Paix from July 15 to 21.
Cartier has its sights on fast-growing Asian-fueled demand, which is transforming markets that were historically small for high jewelry, noted Carrez. “Alongside our so-called traditional clientele, today we have an emergence of new clients with very interesting profiles — in China, you have people with well-established fortunes, but also young generations that have a real appetite for objects,” he added.
Chaumet, which started its round-the-world tour this year with inspiration from Russia before moving on to Japan, turned to Africa this time.
“We said to ourselves, we need to be daring, we need to push the frontiers of the house, and we need to shake up the world of high jewelry. So it came naturally, this idea of Africa, the continent unexplored by high jewelry,” said Chaumet ceo Jean-Marc Mansvelt, speaking in his office that overlooks the column of the Place Vendôme.
The house covered the walls of its historic salons on the floor below to show the collection, which included the bright Ronde de Pierres necklace, inspired by Dinka communities in Sudan and the Maasai communities of Kenya and Tanzania. Bright strands of red, green blue and yellow formed with beads of Mandarin garnets, sapphires, red spinels, emeralds and black spinels; anchored by a 10-carat blue sapphire from Ceylon.
Also on display was artwork by Evans Mbugua, a Kenyan artist who sets colorful contemporary portraits — faces mostly hidden — against a patterned backdrop. Mbugua collaborated with the house for a series of whimsical animal brooches.
Earlier in the week, the house had spread out colorful African mats across a wide terrace of the Pompidou Center suspended over the rooftops of Paris, where a large crowd gathered for cocktails, tropical fruit hors d’oeuvres and artwork, including a Picasso.
Mingling with partygoers, Naomi Campbell, Natalia Vodianova and Liya Kebede were deep in conversation as cameras flashed around them and people angled for selfies, and models wearing the jewelry stood on a mirrored platform with screens of changing colors behind them.
The rainbows of colors shown on couture runways extended to fine-jewelry collections, and beyond stones to be conveyed by enamel and aluminum.
Pomellato, which has a well-established reputation in the colored stone department, offered a Montenapoleone ring with a bright green Peridot stone set against rose gold with white diamonds.
Aurélie Bidermann hosted an intimate dinner at the Hotel Martel the previous week to show her new collection for Poiray, which included ropelike bracelets in gold and bright, rhodolite encrusted strands.
Suzanne Syz worked a whimsical pair of fruit basket earrings in her show at the Ritz — the basket made with titanium for lightness.
Nuun designer Nourah Al Faisal showed a pastel-infused collection that mixed diamonds and stars with enamel, channeling her carefree memories from the Eighties — on vacation in the mountains with her cousins and grandparents.
David Yurman also used enamel, coating the house’s signet rings with bright colors, shown alongside the high-jewelry pieces, including a chunky, white diamond-encrusted chain necklace with a yellow beryl in a cushion cut. The label is bulking up its offer for men, which includes opal rings and skull charms.
Chopard brought pieces from creative director Caroline Scheufele’s collaboration with Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, including a lucky talisman piece depicting good overcoming evil. Inspired by Mongolian tribal necklaces, with a collar of black feathers, it featured in its center a turquoise angel cameo, with a 24-carat gold setting, blue and yellow sapphires and red jasper. There were also items from its silk-road collection, including earrings in colored aluminum, a material introduced a year ago by Scheufele, who plans to use more in the future.
Piaget turned to the far north, looking at the polar lights and the never-setting summertime sun, which it represented with opals, red and pink spinels and Paraiba tourmalines. The label included feathers, hand applying them to manchettes and earrings, and, for the first time, bringing in touches of straw and wood through wood marquetry.
Van Cleef & Arpels drew color from fairy tales, and, in a literal take on the theme, offered 12 princess clips, each individual, and as a whole, offering all of the colors of the rainbow. Princess Danica wore yellow sapphires and diamonds while Princess Iris was made of pink sapphires and emeralds, with tsavorite garnets thrown into the mix.
The fresh wave of openness sweeping high jewelry is taking the house’s school of jewelry arts to New York in the fall, where it will offer 15 classes, a variety of lectures and three exhibits.
“We consider that jewelry is a true component of artistic creation…and as such deserves to be exhibited, deserves to be shared, deserves to be explained, beyond the limited circle of people who can afford to buy these pieces, be it historical pieces or new pieces,” explained Nicolas Bos, ceo of Van Cleef & Arpels.
The executive echoed sentiments relayed by others in high-end industries — doing business in the U.S. market has been complicated by unpredictability.
“It has a lot of opportunities and contradictions…of course a bit of uncertainty and these days — it’s not the first time in history — but these days, definitely you’re kind of wondering every time you wake up what the level of taxes and the new constraints are going to be,” he said.
Trade wars are a source of concern, he also said. “It’s never good news, everything that goes against international commerce is always a bit worrying so we’ll see,” Bos added.
Meanwhile, China is fueling fast growth in Asia, offering a new generation of knowledgeable and discerning luxury clients.
“Clients are more and more interested in brands that are a bit more understated, that really stand for tradition and quality and not necessarily looking for the big logos and the obvious brands that you look for when you enter the world of luxury,” he said.
The rise of digital channels has added pressure on the house to pay close attention to pricing as clients can easily check how much a piece costs in different places.
“Price sensitivity has really become more and more an issue in the conversation with clients…it requires more discipline to make sure we have harmonious pricing around the world,” he noted, stressing fluctuating currency rates complicate the task.
Hermès focused on form more than color, opting for the figurative, rather than literal, and driving home an emphasis on fluidity with a dance performance. Marking 80 years since the creation of the house signature Chaine d’Ancre, Pierre Hardy offered a collection based on chains. Hardy played with volume and geometry and the large rose-gold and diamond-encrusted Fusion necklace was one of the more visible pieces in the performance choreographed by Christian Rizzo. Dancers in black turtlenecks paced the stage, linking arms for brief moments before moving into different formations.
Hardy brought movement to the house’s anchor chain, as well, rebuilding its form on a grand scale by weaving together mini versions of it into a sort of chain fabric, in yellow gold, to build the Hermès Voltige necklace.
Fabric was also present at Mikimoto. Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the Japanese label showed in Paris for the first time, choosing its Place Vendôme boutique to display the new jewelry. Its “Jeux de Rubans” collection carried references to ribbons and fabrics, with diamond-encrusted white gold bows attached to swathes of pearls, woven together to look like fabric collars.
Paris has been historically important to the house, which set up shop in the French capital 90 years ago, said Yugo Tsukikawa, senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy.
Last year, Mikimoto reopened its mammoth Tokyo flagship with six floors of retail space; the house does most of its business in its own stores. The company keeps close tabs on shifting consumption habits as digital channels expand, and Tsukikawa noted the store experience has gained in importance.
“There’s a certain brick-and-mortar expectation that [clients] appreciate — they do want the classic jewelry experience, trying it on, seeing it for yourself, taking time to see, feel the piece, so it’s not as shallow as a quick digital transaction,” he said.
Fast growth in Asia has the house’s production lines working at full capacity, and putting pressure on pearl sourcing, he noted. The Japanese label is benefiting from fast growth in Asia as well as its country’s new status as a top tourist destination in the region, he added.
Fabric references were also present at Djula, with the label offering an array of cuff bracelets, including one in yellow gold with rows of baguette-cut diamonds lined up against one another in an interesting play on light.
Dior, too, considered fabric, with Victoire de Castellane offering an haute couture-inspired collection called Dior Dior Dior.
Shown in the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and open to the public over the weekend, the setting was a contrast to last year’s show, held in the Avenue Montaigne store where a flower-laden staircase led to a hedge labyrinth built to represent Versailles. This year, a rose bouquet sat modestly in the corner of the gray concrete museum’s restrooms.
De Castellane, who will mark 20 years since her first collection with the house next year, had considered haute couture in previous collections Cher Dior and Dior Dior. This time, she had her eye on lace.
“I liked the idea of transparency,” she said, noting she sought to keep the jewelry light and close to the skin, like lace.
The Dentelle Tulle necklace had a delicate honeycomb backdrop, and a ring of rose cut diamonds that hung down like sequins. The yellow gold was lit by encrusted diamonds, and brightened with an emerald; pink, yellow and purple sapphires; tourmalines and garnets.
De Castellane also worked asymmetry, one of her signatures, into the mix. “I want it to be balanced, I like the idea of a piece of jewelry that you don’t know where it starts and you don’t know where it finishes,” she said.
One wondered if she had always had a relationship with lace. “In the Eighties, we wore a lot of lace. It was stretchy — not the same thing!” she laughed.
Buccellati’s trademark honeycomb metal lacework — a denser version than Dior’s offer — served as a backdrop for Esmeralda earrings with pear-shaped emeralds weighing 6.14 carats, surrounded by gold lacework and a full camellia brooch with matching earrings. These were worn by virtual influencer Noonoouri, a slight, silky haired figure created by Joerg Zuber that counts 75,000 followers according to her Instagram account that carries a description “cute. curious. couture.”
Backed by its Chinese owners, the house is expanding quickly in Asia, maintaining a brisk pace of store openings in the region.
Chanel, meanwhile, which showed a Coromandel-themed collection at the Grand Palais, has been gradually opening up its high-jewelry collections to a broader audience, solely in the digital domain.
“The press and clients are really the happy few that see the collections, and people have been saying, ‘What a shame, why don’t you open them to a larger audience,’” said Marianne Etchebarne, global head of watches and fine-jewelry product, marketing, clients and communication at the house.
“So we are opening the collections significantly, not with physical access but via the internet,” she said. Showing pieces from the collection on digital channels and social networks was new for high jewelry, she noted. A Coromandel-inspired bracelet generated considerable buzz throughout the week, a reversible piece with diamond encrusted panels — black with a stark white flower outlined in diamonds on one side, and a floral image made from shades of browns and yellows, drawn with sapphires on the other side.
Animals were also featured, on brooches, including a turtle and a deer. A display of five brooches had all been sold — including a stylized flower with petals made of jade.
Chinese designer Anna Hu, who just joined the haute couture calendar, also included animal references in her work. A Koi brooch featured a fish jumping over flowers while a pair of colorful mandarin ducks symbolized strong love. Best known for her impressionist-flavored floral motifs, the designer also showed a delphinium bracelet with a 78.48-carat star sapphire, set with green tsavorites, colored sapphires and Paraiba tourmalines.
Another Chinese jeweler, TTF, recently set down roots near the Place Vendôme, opening up a new store at 9 Rue de la Paix. Just before couture week, the house’s founder and artistic director Wu Fenghua, who said he hopes the store will tap into an international clientele, showed historic jade pieces alongside his creations — including a carved purple jade necklace once worn by Sophie Marceau, who was on hand to celebrate the new store.
De Beers ceo François Delage said his current obsession is ensuring that online and store experiences are complementary at a time when people increasingly use the Internet for research, finishing off with a store purchase, or the other way around.
The house creates pieces that are versatile, like the Vulcan necklace that has a mix of rough, colored diamonds, set against strands of brilliant diamonds, the five strands each ending with pear-shaped drops. On the matching bracelet, the rough diamonds dangle down as earthy-toned drops suspended on a ring of polished diamonds.
De Beers has begun suggesting mismatching cuff earrings — proactively now, even if clients had requested to do so already.
The label is offered on Selfridges.com and took part in Farfetch’s jewelry launch in May.
“To me this was really important because it was giving access to a global audience in a platform which was relevant,” said Delage, noting that bridal clients tend to be younger and tapped into online channels while high-end clients aren’t looking for the same thing.
Valerie Messika, another diamond specialist, was animated following what she described as “the most incredible moment of my career — since the beginning.” She was referring to an image lighting up the Internet in recent weeks — that of Beyoncé and Jay-Z standing in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, for the “Apes–t” clip — she wearing Messika’s Persian drop necklace and earrings.
“To be a French jeweler, that is far from the most institutional in Paris, to be brought into the center of a historic museum in the center of Paris — it’s just incredible,” she enthused.
Messika had recently texted an image of Beyoncé onstage at a concert in Germany, wearing earrings from the Move collection, and was eagerly awaiting house brand ambassador Gigi Hadid’s reaction.
On show was the latest addition to her “Once Upon a Time” collection, the Snow Queen necklace, more than 70 carats of pear-shaped diamonds — including a 10-carat centerpiece stone — set upside down for a teethlike effect, pointing toward the neck.