The story of how Gabrielle Chanel turned the world of jewellery upside down with a few borrowed diamonds
A S$15 million necklace headlines Chanel’s new 1932 Collection, which commemorates the 90th anniversary of the world’s first high jewellery collection. CNA Luxury was in Paris for the launch and discovers a fascinating story of comets, stars and grumpy old men.
Gabrielle Chanel is, undoubtedly, in a league of her own. As one of fashion’s most celebrated designers, the woman behind the instantly recognisable double C logo was famed for freeing women from the shackles of the bone-crushing corset, introducing the iconic Little Black Dress, and fusing boy's club sensibilities with womenswear. Her indelible body of work continues to inspire and has been tirelessly reimagined by designers who came after.
However, her contributions to the world of high jewellery is comparatively not as widely discussed. During the midst of the Great Depression, when diamonds were the furthest thing from people's minds and spare cash was as rare a commodity as unicorns, the late couturier came into the scene like a saviour shrouded in white light.
The panic-stricken London Diamond Corporation – they were the diamond supplier for Europe – desperately needed to pull a proverbial rabbit out of their cobwebbed hat. They needed someone who could bring a fresh new perspective to diamonds before the stones lost their sparkle altogether.
At that time, Chanel had been designing shiny and opulent costume jewellery, which the high society set were choosing over real gemstones. Intrigued by her wit and talent, the company invited Chanel to design a diamond collection in the hopes of revitalising the then-ailing diamond economy – much to the chagrin of the men who dominated and tightly guarded the business.
Chanel created Bijoux De Diamants, the world’s first high jewellery collection in 1932.
Before Chanel, the diamond cohort was made up almost solely of male traditional jewellers who would only create a handful of jewellery pieces at one go for intended customers. Tasking a woman – and one who seemingly had no background in the art of jewellery-making – to create an entire collection of diamond jewellery had offended many of them. Even though the diamonds were only on loan to Chanel, she was instructed to dismantle unsold pieces and return the precious stones to the company.
But Chanel was never one to shy away from controversies and detractors. In fact, the opposing voices only spurned her on. Single-handedly, she created Bijoux De Diamants, the world’s first high jewellery collection in 1932. The collection, made up of 50 pieces of diamond and platinum creations, took inspiration from everything that mattered the most to her, particularly the starry night skies over of Paris.
As Chanel hated anything that restricted movement, she banished traditional clasps that impeded the freedom of movement and instead, kitted the pieces with unprecedented suppleness and transformability, putting the power into the hands of the wearer to use the jewellery as they saw fit, positioning them as finishing touches freely on the body.
Not content with presenting diamond pieces on unimaginative flat trays, which was the norm then, Chanel presented her elaborate creations on lifelike human busts that she personally dressed. It was like dispensing styling advice as the busts helped women imagine how the pieces would look on them: A supple pave feather brooch reminiscent of the lightness of an ostrich feather draped along the curve of the shoulder, a diamond-encrusted necklace ingeniously transformed into three bracelets and two brooches, and a comet brooch festooned at the waist to draw attention to its slenderness.
That 13-day jewellery showcase in Paris would revolutionise the way the world saw jewellery forever. It was conceived was a charity event, with tickets sold for 20 francs and the takings donated in aid of two charities. Sales were reportedly so brisk that the share prices of London Diamond Corporation skyrocketed.
It is unclear exactly how many pieces were sold at that jewellery showcase. What is certain though is that only one piece from the Bijoux de Diamants collection remains in the patrimony of Chanel. The platinum comet brooch with 7.8 carats of diamonds surfaced at an auction in Switzerland some 22 years ago and has since been one of the most prized possessions in the collection.
That same comet brooch has become a cornerstone for Chanel and now plays a pivotal role in the French house’s new-to-market high jewellery collection, the 1932 Collection that commemorates and pays tribute to the 90th anniversary of the Bijoux de Diamants collection created decades ago.
The Allure Celeste necklace features a 55.55 carat blue sapphire and costs S$15,156,400.
Of the new collection’s 77 sublime creations, it is impossible to miss the Allure Celeste necklace which features a 55.55 carat blue sapphire centerstone. Its impressive carat size commemorates the fact that the number 5 was Chanel’s favourite number. Commanding a cool S$15,156,400, the necklace is the most expensive jewellery piece ever designed at the house of Chanel. This grand celebratory gesture is definitely one for the books.
The elaborate necklace can be worn as is or broken down into simpler pieces: The halos can detach to become brooches, the central row of diamonds can be fashioned into a bracelet or transformed into a short version, depending on the wearer’s imagination.
“The Allure Celeste necklace is very transformable and detachable. We can wear it in 20 different versions,” explained Leguereau. “Transformability is something that is very important for me and it is a very signature touch of Chanel high jewellery. This transformability offers women the freedom to choose the style of jewellery she wants to wear at any time of the day.”
Another commemorative highlight is the Comete Volute. “The central diamond is very special, with a very special lucky number. The weight of the oval diamond is 19.32 carat like the year 1932 when Gabrielle Chanel created the first jewellery collection, the collection that we celebrate the 90th anniversary this year,” shared Leguereau.
The homage may have started with stars and comets favoured by Chanel, but it is by no means the be all and end all of Leguereau’s repertoire. “The 90th anniversary collection is inspired by the sky and the stars. For me, this is the origin, the very beginning, the direction, the spirit and the vision that Gabrielle Chanel wanted to create at that time,” he said.
Looking beyond the twinkle of stars, Leguereau sought inspiration from other heavenly bodies. "I wanted to return to the essence of 1932 and to harmonise the message around three symbols: The comet, the moon, and the sun. Every heavenly body shines with its own light."
With these never-before-seen elements of the sun and moon, Leguereau brought newness to the table. “I developed the moon because it is very soft and feminine, it brings a touch of femininity that I really, really like. Whereas the big and warm sun shows power. They are created with the same spirit to nourish the collection.”
As with everything at the house of Chanel, the new motifs have dotted line links to Chanel. Magnifying her love of heavenly symbols, a waning crescent is added as the solar balance to the perennially loved star motif as seen in the Lune Eternelle set made up of a delicate necklace that lines a crescent moon alongside a star, and a crescent brooch that features a flying rocket.
The sun series, on the other hand, charts a totally different course. Referencing Chanel’s rising star sign, Leguereau energised the sun’s palpable power through audaciously graphic lines. The most eye-catching of the 24 sun-related pieces is unquestionably the three-tier Soleil 19 Aout necklace. This transformable piece, pegged at S$6,639,900, features a 22.10 carat cushion-cut yellow diamond brooch that can either be worn on the necklace, on the ring or on its own as a brooch.
Gathering the star, the moon and the sun, these celestial symbols align intergalactically to tell a compelling tale that will live on for light years, just as Chanel’s legacy has.
Commanding a cool price tag of over S$15 million, the Allure Celeste necklace features a 55.55 carat blue sapphire and can be worn in 20 different ways. It's one of the highlights from Chanel's newly launched 1932 collection.