Joséphine Bonaparte’s jeweller, Chaumet, gets a modern makeover
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Few luxury brands have such an illustrious history as Chaumet. The 240-year-old maison was the first jeweller to take up residence at the Place Vendôme; its most famous clients were Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, the Empress Joséphine, who had a passion for gems that bordered on obsession and whose innate style remains an inspiration for the house; it is also famed for its exquisitely refined belle époque creations, its sharp art deco designs and flurry of innovative modernism in the 1970s. Now the heritage master jeweller marks a new chapter in its story as it opens the doors to its renovated Bond Street boutique (following the complete restoration of its Place Vendôme hôtel particulier last year) and appoints a new creative director.
“We are driven by a sense of being both contemporary and the oldest maison in Place Vendôme,” says CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt, who joined the company in 2015. He has been the main architect of change, instrumental in reframing the image and identity of Chaumet, which was acquired by LVMH in 1999. This reinvigoration is surely intended to capture a bigger share of the fine-jewellery market, which is estimated to grow to $340-$360bn by 2025. To create the look of the new London boutique, with its Lesage embroidered walls and powder-blue staircase, echoing the grey-blue skies of Paris, Mansvelt enlisted designer Patricia Grosdemange. The renovation, which has lasted a year, aims to entice clients into an intimate, storytelling space, generating an immersive buying experience that is as cultural as it is transactional.
The jewellery showcased in the revamped stores demonstrates the continued exploration of Chaumet’s most emblematic themes – the tiara, love of nature, belle époque refinement and a touch of ’70s modernity. The recent Joséphine collection celebrates the maison’s patron and muse, while the famous Napoleonic acrostic bracelet has recently been reimagined. Yet, despite the historical narrative, Mansvelt believes Chaumet’s minimal, understated style chimes with today’s quest for “something more essential”.
It is a challenge taken on by Chaumet’s new creative director, Ehssan Moazen, who joined in March 2020 after a five-year stint at Tiffany & Co in New York. He works closely with Benoît Verhulle, Chaumet’s long-serving workshop director, only the 13th to hold the position in the maison’s history. It is a collaborative relationship, with design working hand-in-hand with materials, gemstones, craftsmanship, technical innovation and ingenuity, so that, says Moazen, everyone in the company has an input, just as each artisan makes their own individual contribution. Moazen sees Chaumet as the ultimate Parisian maison, but also as much more than just a heritage brand. “We are playing with very clear design codes, with a consistent vocabulary, strong roots and a well-kept path through history. It is a challenge and responsibility to contemporise these codes, not to overdo them, and to make them relevant to today. It’s about pushing the territories and perspectives of the brand.”
Torsade, Chaumet’s latest high-jewellery collection, launches this month. The basic concept is a ribbon, the classic, linear motif stylised into a restless twist of diamond light, twirling and spiralling with a hint of sensuality. “We had to find a way to mix tradition and creativity, in a concept that is clear to understand and designs that are comfortable to wear,” says Verhulle. “They look very simple, but are in fact very complex, in their details and three-dimensional aspect.” One technique used to develop the illusion of movement was reverse-setting rose diamonds to represent the back of a ribbon as it twists and turns. There is, Verhulle adds, a shared passion with Moazen, which makes the conversation easy. “There is a great deal of emotion in the collaboration, from the person who dreams up the design, to the artisan who has a vision for realising it.” Verhulle tells how his artisans switch easily from new technology to age-old hand skills.
This reinvigoration comes at a time of shifting consumer priorities. Winston Chesterfield, director of Barton Consulting, specialists in the jewellery market, says: “There’s a good deal of appetite for heritage and stories, even sometimes told through antique pieces in store – people have mentioned being able to see the evolution of collections over decades.” He adds: “Acquiring knowledge is a big super-trend for wealthy consumers. It’s about being able to take something away from the purchase that’s useful, something they can pass on to others.” At the same time, Chesterfield says there’s a greater desire for jewellery to be fun. “Many fine jewellery brands feel too fusty and old-fashioned, particularly for younger consumers.”
Meanwhile, Mansvelt has seized on this moment to nurture Chaumet’s march toward modernity. “This is not a moment of frenetic consumption, but of considered, enduring purchases, when people look for more substance, more value,” he muses. “There is a new recognition of the emotional role of the jewel, and an understanding of the high-jewellery creation as a true work of art.” And, he adds, an appreciation of a maison with longevity. The future, he feels, is bright for the jewellery world. And for Chaumet.