Gabrielle Chanel had a love affair with Byzantine and Oriental aesthetics: in a new high jewelry collection, Patrice Leguéreau revisits the city where it all began
Coco Chanel and Venice
Each Jewelry collection by Chanel draws its raison d’être from the house’s history, replete with motifs, objects and locations cherished by its founder, Gabrielle Chanel. Ears of wheat, the pearls worn by her at all hours of the day, the camellia (her favorite flower), tweed fabric, coromandel screens, the Paris Ritz hotel, Venice, and more, have all been sources of a new collection. Of all the places close to Coco Chanel’s heart, the Italian city is where she sought solace after the death of Boy Capel, the love of her life. It is also where another of her more intimate symbols presides. On the pinnacle of St. Mark’s Basilica is the Lion of St. Mark winged sculpture—the lion being Chanel’s zodiac sign, and the principal motif of the 2013 Sous le Signe du Lion high jewelry collection. In 2018, Patrice Leguéreau, director of the jewelry creation studio, decided to revisit Chanel’s first encounter with la Serenissima by traveling there with his notebook. What stemmed out of his pilgrimage were «extremely colorful drawings, snapshots of everyday Venetian life which inspired me to create the gouache paintings for this new story», he says.
Chanel Escale à Venise
Unlike the first high jewelry collection dedicated to Venice in 2013, Escale à Venise looks at the Venice of today. It is made of seventy pieces of high jewelry—including twenty-two one-of-a-kind creations—grouped into four chapters, each focusing on one of the city’s postcard hallmarks. Emperor Justinian brought Venice under the rule of the Byzantine Empire following the signature of the Byzantine-Venetian treaty of 1082, and to this day, everywhere one looks, remnants of the empire abound. As a result, the emphasis of the collection is on capturing the richness of colors and the abundance of marbles and stones throughout the city, to which the use of exceptional gemstones throughout the collection is a direct reference. There is a 30.92-carat blue sapphire from Sri Lanka, a 15-carat yellow diamond, and several top-grade (D-color Flawless / D-color Internally Flawless) white diamonds of over 20 carats each. The collection reflects the meandering of Leguéreau along the canals, through the city’s narrow paths leading to hidden palaces. «It was vital that each piece of jewelry should refer to one or more Venetian elements, that the link should be immediate. Gabrielle Chanel only appears implicitly», he explains.
Chanel La Sérénissime
‘La Sérénissime’ chapter evokes the mosaic pattern seen on the facades, the polychromatic marble floors of the Byzantine St. Mark’s Basilica, and the motifs of its celebrated Pala d’Oro altarpiece. The first set, Sérénissime, is in a neo-baroque style, directly referencing the Byzantine spirit of the mosaics found in the basilica. These mosaics were made according to the tesserae technique, which is credited for the rendering of ‘Eternal Paintings’. The name refers to the enduring quality of the colors, and the ability of the technique to replicate any pattern, design or motif, no matter how intricate. No brushes or paints are involved; instead, miniature rods of gold and Venetian enamel are obtained by melting nine base colors to create an infinite palette of shades. In the Sérénissime set, the idea was to zoom in and magnify the tesserae squares. The polychrome is brought in by onyx and diamond squares, micro-paved squares of pink, yellow and orange sapphire, and spessartine garnets. Each piece in the set bears a rare gem: a 27.09-carat oval mandarin sapphire, itself surrounded by a shower of diamonds, for the plastron necklace; and a 6.04-carat pink Padparadscha sapphire for the ring, which is constructed as a cross made of onyx, yellow and mandarin sapphires, and diamonds.
Chanel High Jewelry collection
In the second set, titled Éblouissante, the almost stitch-like design evokes the basilica’s pink and white marble floors; hence the use of a reduced palette composed of platinum, pink gold, pink spinels, white diamonds, and white pearls. Serrated outlines convey the mosaic effect thanks to Asher cuts, baguette cuts and little ingots, each set with two round brilliant-cut diamonds. In this set, the minimalist design relies on symmetry and lightness, as seen in the Éblouissante master necklace. Three Asher-cut white diamonds blend into the checkered ensemble, of which two are hanging on either side of the middle section; these are set within a diamond halo hinting at Greek Byzantine crosses, while the third Asher-cut diamond is bare and unexpectedly nestled in the upper V section. Leguéreau spent time walking along the famous waterways of Venice. In ‘Canal Canale,’ the four sets that compose this theme are united by nautical references and a sense of fluidity. The vision of the striped mooring poles used by the gondolas is replicated in lapis lazuli and white diamonds in the Volute Marine and Volute Vénitienne sets; and in red spinels and white diamonds in Volute Croisiére. In the necklace and earrings of Volute Marine, as the eye travels down the pieces, the lapis lazuli zigzags turn into loose, fluid tassels of both stars set in yellow gold and dots of brilliant-cut diamonds in white gold. The stars are at times made of solid yellow gold or set with a round diamond in their center. A circle of yellow gold divides the bodies of the ring and bangles; a full diamond pavé on one half, lapis lazuli/white diamond oblique stripes on the other. A star faces a pear-shaped diamond in each case. Volute Vénitienne adds in gold chains and pearls. In the sautoir piece, the former is made of double infinity links and is framed between a single line of diamonds and a longer strand of pearls. The chains are cabled to two bejeweled mooring poles on each side. «The design of the jewelry relies on strong architecture, and we have worked hard on their fluidity for greater suppleness and lightness against the skin. The necklace frames are articulated, several elements have been enameled one by one to accentuate their suppleness, and the backs of some bracelets have been rounded to improve their ergonomics», Leguéreau shares. «On the reverse side of some pieces of jewelry, a special surface treatment has been developed to obtain a softer and comfortable effect when worn».
The Chanel look
The effect of the ropes that anchor the gondolas to the shore is explored in Volute Croisière. Striping is here suggested by tassels made of diagonal lines of red spinels between two diagonal lines of white diamonds. Lines of black onyx cap the upper section of the poles. The seven strands that compose the sautoir necklace start from a dense position on top, and gradually spread into wider spacing as they hang down—a vision of the mooring poles slowly fading as Leguéreau sailed away. Gondolas led to canotier hats in the last set, Ruban Canotier. A fixture of Coco Chanel’s silhouette, and subsequently one of the identifiers of the ‘Chanel look’, the canotier hat is here adorned by a scarf rendered in red lacquer, while black onyx underlines the rims and diamond pavés make up the straw. There is movement to each piece, in part thanks to the seemingly free-floating scarf. All nine lagoon islands around Venice are very distinct destinations, yet they have instilled Leguéreau’s imagination with one uniting idea: the camellia flower. In ‘Isole Della Laguna’, this is seen as Baroque (a white diamond and black onyx camellia flower as the center of white gold swirls), Venetian (an interpretation of the glass work for which the island of Murano is known, using rock crystal combined with yellow gold), or Byzantine, in a homage to ancient mosaics from the island of Torcello, and primarily using hard stones. In the Camelia Byzantin bib necklace, yellow diamonds and sapphires showcases a camellia motif in its center. The combination of fire opals, nephrite jade, tsavorite garnets, and carnelians create the central red camellia motif, in the middle of which a 10.07-carat yellow diamond is set. After mastering the warp and weft effect in last year’s Tweed high jewelry collection, the ateliers have applied the same skill to achieve the tessellation of ornamental and precious gemstones. «Even the most complex designs should make women want to wear them, both on seeing them and on touching them. The choice of stone color was fundamental for achieving harmonious shades and nuances», Leguéreau observes. Ornamental hard stones being an integral part of the chromatic plan, the work of lapidaries, or stone cutters, was to carve and re-cut to the right size and shape. Best examples are in the Camélia Byzantin and the Constellation Astrale sets, where the cornelian, the fire opal, the jade, and the lapis lazuli were all cut directly on the piece.
Spirito di Venezia
The latter set belongs to the ‘Spirito Di Venezia’ chapter. It presents a scale-like mosaic of lapis lazuli onto which yellow diamond stars are set. It is intended to evoke a night-time view of the Venetian starry sky reflected in the city’s lagoons. Being a fragile rock, each lapis lazuli ‘plaque’ is reinforced with a second layer, the two fused onto a thin layer of yellow gold in between. Gold hinges melded to each gold sheet attach the scales to each other. For the ring, the lapis lazuli scales are positioned to represent the facets of a diamond. In all pieces, the central stars are set with yellow sapphires (4.47 carats on the Constellation Astrale necklace; 4.25 carats for the matching ring), contrasting with the deep blue surfaces. The ‘Spirito Di Venezia’ chapter has two further themes, both celebrating the Lion motif: Lion Emblématique (yellow and white with a winged lion face and chains made of the same gold links as for the Volute Vénitienne set), and Lion Secret, for which the monochromatic option looks regal. Each piece showcases a duo of lions in the manner of a coat of arms. There is one touch of color: a 30.92-carat cushion-cut blue sapphire for the ring, in which the gem is bookended between two white diamond-paved lion heads. The profiles of two lions (which are set with pear and shuttle-cut diamonds) encase a central camellia set with a round brilliant-cut diamond, in the Lion Secret neckpiece. A 15.55-carat pear-shaped white diamond drop completes the bas-relief motif; the same is found in the matching bracelet. «While the graphic signature of CHANEL is clearly present, this collection, with its rich patterns, colors and details, is inspired by the cultural heritage unique to the city of Venice», Leguéreau summarizes. «This is the first time a High Jewelry collection features symbols in such a varied chromatic palette. Each piece of jewelry is embodied by and recounts a part of Venice’s history that we have mixed with the icons of CHANEL.The two universes resonate».
Escale à Venise
It is the latest high jewelry collection of Chanel High Jewelry. The Italian city stands in a special place in the French luxury house’s history, and five years after dedicating the first high jewelry collection to it, Patrice Leguéreau, director of the jewelry creation studio, returned to Venice in 2018. It was during this trip that he collected the imagery that would structure this new collection. The Byzantine aesthetic specific to the city is one of the main elements, from the wall mosaics to the marble flooring. It was possible to evoke this by using ornamental hard stones and precious gemstones alongside one another. The ultimate aim was to present a contemporary Venice with ‘Gabrielle Chanel only appearing implicitly’.