Suzy Menkes is dazzled by the sensuous forms of this year’s Paris Haute Joaillerie collections
Alexandre Vauthier for Mellerio dits Meller
The emerald necklace with its snaking tail of diamonds undulated across bare flesh and dropped deep into the plunging V-shaped bodice of a black dress.
The collaboration between the Parisian fine jeweller Mellerio dits Meller and the edgy French couturier Alexandre Vauthier might seem unlikely: one is a noble house whose lineage goes back to 1613 and has a history of dressing European and Russian royalty; the other is renowned for scissoring fabric to create geometric flashes of flesh and is more likely to dress rock royalty.
But partnering the two brought drama to four pieces of graphic high jewellery that were inspired by a series of 19th-century brooches, a sketch of a diamond necklace and a 1970s bracelet. The result of the ‘V’ for Vauthier designs — which when doubled and reversed create ‘M’ for Mellerio — is jewellery that fits with the designer’s linear style. Even with no diamond fringing to compete with the strips of leather on his clothes — unless you count an earring finished with shocking pink feathers — there was still a strong rapport between the jewels and naked skin.
Native American fringing combined with Place Vendôme jewels is not such a surprising combination, whether applied to a necklace, pendant earring or a ring. For the crucial element for each is geometry taken to the highest standard of handwork. The result was a fresh departure for high jewellery and haute couture.
Chanel: On the Body or Under the Lights
When I entered the Chanel haute couture show and saw the extraordinary ‘Casino Royale’ stage set, I thought I already knew what to expect from its high jewellery.
Earlier that week I had visited Paris Descartes University, with its endless rooms and noble statuary, to see ‘Les Talismans de Chanel’. These were exceptional new pieces set in yellow or white gold, with dazzling brilliant-cut diamonds that lived up to their name.
Based on Coco Chanel’s favourite things, the high jewellery collection included enamel camellias framed in 18-carat white gold and set with brilliant-cut diamond swirls, and a ‘magnetic’ cuff in yellow gold set with a central oval-cut diamond. Most dramatic of all was the colourful ‘Attirante’ brooch, whose name means ‘attractive’. The shape was based on elaborately tied ribbons, as colourful as they might be in a couture atelier. The jewels mimicked silken fabric in an exuberance of red and yellow spinel, orange topaz and yellow sapphires.
These were just three striking pieces from the 34 that were displayed in dramatic lighting against digitally filmed scenes of Paris that continually morphed in the background. But for the show itself, Chanel came up with a different range of jewels that were inspired by the diamond collection created by Gabrielle Chanel in 1932. There was no chance of these re-editions seeming historical or out-of-date, for they were worn by celebrities or ‘children of’, who acted as players at the casino tables.
Among the list of famous models were the actresses Vanessa Paradis wearing the ‘Soleil’ sun-shaped brooch in yellow and white diamonds and Julianne Moore wearing the ‘Comet’ necklace of platinum and diamonds; while Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Paradis and Johnny Depp) wore a ‘Comet’ headpiece and Violette D’Urso, daughter of Inès de la Fressange modeled the ‘Comet’ bracelet.
Boucheron: An Indian Interlude
With Maharajah Gaj Singh of Jodhpur as advisor and marble from India’s Makrana quarries as base material, Boucheron turned the jewellery story of a century ago on its head. That was when Indian royals were frequent visitors to Parisian jewellers on the Place Vendôme.
Claire Choisne, creative director at Boucheron, had a fresh approach. She took what she called ‘Jodphur blue’ as the litmus paper for her exceptional pieces, which included a peacock feather bracelet where white gold was paved with diamonds and set with agate and sapphires.
More dramatic still was the ‘Jodphur’ reversible necklace, inspired by the Maharajah, who played an active part in this Boucheron collection. Using the translucent marble from the same quarry from which the Taj Mahal was built in 1631, the designer produced a reversible necklace, mixing marble and rock crystal and paving the surface with sapphires and diamonds. The sophisticated effect was of a muted glow, not a bright sparkle.
For a more exotic effect, Choisne created a lotus flower necklace set with marble but illuminated with rubellites and sapphires. There was an element of wearable art, rather than conventional jewellery, but as the designer put it, using the words of Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Bulgari: Italian Gardens
Why the unification of Italy — the ‘Risorgimento’ of the 19th century — gave birth to beautiful gardens is a mystery to me. But Bulgari proved that this period of Italian history can inspire high jewellery. A necklace where enamel flowers gleamed above emerald “leaves” and earrings of cushion-cut Zambian emeralds were just two examples of the verdant display. The fact that some famous names were packed into Bulgari’s tiny garden on Avenue George V, to be greeted by CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, added to a sense of floral romance.
Ever since the jeweller took former First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy as its muse, strong pieces, especially necklaces, have framed the necks of the famous who included, at the Paris event, French actresses Juliette Binoche and Clotilde Courau, Princess of Venice and Piedmont.
Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s creative director, aimed to use the gemstones for a colour palette, as in Italian frescoes. In the bold pieces, primarily necklaces, I did not really see the emerald boxwood hedges and fountain sprays of diamonds that she described. But this is the challenge faced by all jewellery houses: whether to show their incredible high-end pieces as a static display in order that the customer sees details of stones and settings, or to showcase the jewels on flesh and blood. Perhaps the solution is a bit of both.
Buccellati: A Sparkling Milan
The sight of French actress Elisa Sednaoui photographed by the legendary Peter Lindbergh as she mimicked scenes from La Dolce Vita in Milan rather than Rome was an inspiring introduction to Buccellati’s new ‘Opera’ collection.
In the photographs was a lively young woman looking not at all operatic as she wore pieces from the collection, while we, the audience, could see the background to the shots – landmark buildings including Milan’s Duomo and the photographer himself at work.
This introduction brought to life the jewels that Andrea Buccellati showed me: necklaces in choker styles or delicate circular chain-links; earrings dangling or as small studs; rings solid but lighthearted; cuff bracelets engraved or set with colourful stones.
Maybe it was the grand setting of the Salomon de Rothschild mansion combined with the casual spirit of the photographs that made this high-end Buccellati collection seem fresh and modern.