Woman-To-Woman Jewellery

It may have started with Coco Chanel offering her clients fine jewellery with a fashionable touch. But a century on, woman-to-woman jewels are the story of the moment.

Boucheron’s grand boutique on the Place Vendôme has been transformed back to its original ‘Maison de Famille’ by CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, who herself is indicative of the female power flowing through the fine jewellery world. That is reflected in general by three significant traits: changes in the stores to make them more appealing to female customers; normalising the concept of women buying for themselves; and a focus on serving female customers with busy lives.

Chanel has created a new collection that is an elevated version of do-it-yourself. Nearly half the 50 pieces on display are designed to morph into another form, for example, with a cluster of diamonds that can be added or subtracted from a necklace. Rather than being seen as a gimmick, this collection is a thoughtful development where the changeable stones seem appropriate to women of today, who are more likely to go to an event straight from a boardroom than from home.

The focus is – not surprisingly – on the camellia, Coco’s fetish flower, but single blooms in the collection are convertible in five different ways to look conventional or more daring. The precision of this collection is seen also in the restrained palette of just three colours: red rubies and spinels, pink sapphires and quartz and white diamonds, pearls, mother-of-pearl and moonstones.

And guess who thought up this mix-and-match idea? Coco Chanel herself, who said, “My jewels are flexible and detachable. You can take apart the jewellery and use it to match a hat or fur. In this way, jewellery is no longer an immutable object, life transforms it and bends it to its needs.”

The Boucheron transformation is built into the four-storey corner building that looks out on the statue of Napoleon atop the Place Vendôme central column. Favoured clients might look instead at the Hôtel Ritz, for, if you are invited for a very private visit, you would walk up a historic, but newly revealed stairway, past north-facing windows offering jewel-friendly light, to a private suite of rooms. That invitation extends to an overnight stay with dinner from the Ritz as the ultimate ‘experience’.

As part of the Kering luxury group, Boucheron has been given a deep and all-embracing make-over but at the heart of it all is, of course, the jewellery. Creative director Claire Choisne insists that a jewel should not “impose itself” on the wearer.

“Jewellery should enable women to express their singularity,” says the designer, who has found herself changing the process of creation. “Traditionally, a design first takes shape as a gouache sketch, but more often we find ourselves skipping that stage in order to work directly with the material – and, above all, seeing the piece being worn. For me, creation becomes real when it is embodied by a woman.”

Chaumet is another Place Vendôme jeweller which is committed to renovation. Its show store is currently on the Left Bank, where there is a dramatic display of high jewellery. Very high indeed, as stones gleam and wink and one of the flickering tiaras is named Josephine. That can only be seen as a reference to Napoleon’s empress, so are these historic-seeming pieces primarily a Chaumet history lesson?

“No!” is the answer from Bertrand Bonnet Besse, the house’s ambassador. He explained that these are tiaras designed today, primarily for mature Asian women who have reached the pinnacle of a career and wear these circles of stones in the boardroom to stun (and perhaps intimidate) their colleagues. Empowered women, indeed!

“If we consider the fact that in the 1950s it was only men buying the jewellery – then women started working and they had their own incomes and first started bijou jewellery,” said the Chaumet ambassador. “Today we have female customers who choose and buy their own pieces. A lot of the women buying a tiara today will send around seven special orders a year, buying them for themselves with their own money. A diadem is an object of power for them.”

The Cartier store in London’s New Bond Street has been restored to its original depth right through to parallel Albemarle Street. The different floors have various enticements, starting at the entrance with an area suitable for women’s purchases from jewellery through to watches and leather goods.

Like so many stores which want to pull in the super-rich, there is an entire floor devoted to very special customers. That means an apartment for evening events, although not a full night’s stay. As Laurent Feniou, Cartier UK managing director, puts it, these luxurious new areas are a long way from his own simple office dressed with a photograph of Charles de Gaulle.

“But there is a limit,” the executive said. “This is not a hotel. There is no bedroom, but you stay for a few hours when you fly in from Dubai or Doha, Moscow or Beijing – and you land on Bond Street.”

Female customers are only just now being discussed in the 21st century as powerful jewellery shopping leaders. But haven’t rich and strong women always been present? In the small exhibition on the first floor of London’s Cartier, I saw a great brick of an emerald held up by surrounding diamonds. This was made in 1932 for the Countess of Granard, formerly Beatrice Forbes, an American heiress – and I am willing to bet that that feisty horse-riding woman chose her own jewels.

At Chopard, its co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele sent a clear message about the latest jewellery collection “celebrating freedom and empowering femininity”.

Her other jewel decree is: let there be light! The idea behind the design of pendants, earrings or even classic floral clusters was to focus on the intense light and lustre in the heart of each gemstone. She intended to capture the essence of stones that she had seen as a child when she played with her mother’s “trinkets”.

The aim of the collection was to create modern – and above all light-filled – classics. The radiance was described as “magical setting”, making a light show of traditional pieces such as decorative flowers set in contrasting coloured stones. So, a frame of rubies around a single diamond, emeralds with a crush of diamond pieces at the centre or rubies encasing a flower – each offered a modern spin on the time-honoured cluster.

In the same spirit, Chopard partnered with Giambattista Valli for his Spring/Summer 2019 couture collection, where the designer’s youthful spirit for his young clients was a fine fit with Chopard’s fairy lights.

The Piaget focus on light brought a freshness to classic jewels in a collection that had been started during the July high jewellery season. ‘Warming lights, Exalting Sights and Dancing Nights” was the descriptive title used to define what might best be described as ‘classicism in movement’.

Fitting the ‘Warming’ category was the White Sun watch – as its name implied, rays of white diamonds that might have been from an Arctic sky surrounded a burning sun at the centre. The ‘Exalting Sights’ included snowflakes, where the patterns of stones seemed to be frozen into space.

The electric colours of the aurora borealis inspired the most dramatic Piaget offerings with luminous shades of colour taken from nature and reworked as jewels.

Like all fine jewellery, the question is not whether the magnificent pieces are appropriate to be bought by male or female shoppers. It is about the beauty of the workmanship and the emotion evoked by the finished object.