n 1937, Gabrielle Chanel decided to rent a room at the Ritz in Paris. From her balcony, she had a panoramic view of all the hôtels particuliers or private mansions in the Place Vendôme, especially those housing the great jewellers: Chaumet in the Hôtel Baudard de Saint-James at No. 12; Boucheron, in the Hôtel de Nocé at No. 26; Van Cleef & Arpels in the Hôtel Ségur at No. 22; and Cartier and Mellerio were not far away, at No. 13 and No. 9 rue de la Paix respectively.
Was this her way of looking down her nose at them? Perhaps... Five years earlier, Gabrielle Chanel had had a run-in with the great jewellers of the Place Vendôme. The reason was a collection of diamond-set jewellery signed Chanel, which had been commissioned by the Diamond Corporation Limited of London with a view to boosting diamond sales.
- Article on “Bijoux de diamants” published in VU in November 1932.
“Sales of diamonds had been badly hit by the economic crisis of 1929, and they put their trust in the creative talent of Gabrielle Chanel, then at the height of her fame, to revive them. With her contemporaries – the artist Paul Iribe for the design of the jewellery, the poet Jean Cocteau for the collection manifesto, and Robert Bresson (later a celebrated film director) for photographs of the pieces – Gabrielle Chanel created a collection that was unique. It caused a sensation at the time and still today it remains the cornerstone of our jewellery designs,” explains Marianne Etchebarne, Chanel’s International Director of Product Marketing, Client and Watch and Jewellery Communication.
The International Guild of Diamonds’ idea to approach Coco Chanel was brilliant: the Guild provided the stones and covered all the production and publicity costs, leaving the designer to revolutionise the genre.
An ultimatum from the jewellery establishment
This collection, simply titled “Bijoux de diamants”, was designed by Coco Chanel with her lover Paul Iribe. Together, they created pieces of unique beauty, such as necklaces without clasps, rings that wrapped around the fingers and the ‘fringe’ necklace. “If I chose diamonds, it is because they represent, with their density, the greatest value in the smallest volume,” the couturière told the press when asked about her motivation. The International Guild of Diamonds’ idea to approach Coco Chanel was brilliant: the Guild provided the stones and covered all the production and publicity costs, leaving the designer to revolutionise the genre.
- Press article on “Bijoux de Diamants” published in VOGUE France in January 1933.
The exhibition was to be held from 7 to 19 November 1932 in Mademoiselle Chanel’s mansion at 29 Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The price of admission was set at 20 francs and the money raised from ticket sales was to be donated to two charities. But no one could have foreseen the ire of the major jewellers. Informed by an article published on 26 October in L’Intransigeant, the representatives of the Chambre syndicale de la haute joaillerie decided to put a stop to the exhibition, which they considered unfair. And so a delegation of jewellers sent an ultimatum to Gabrielle Chanel, ordering her not to sell any jewellery, and to dismantle the pieces after the exhibition, under their supervision. Moreover, part of the entrance fee was to be donated to the work of the Chambre Syndicale.
“Look at these comets whose heads shine on one shoulder...”
It would be an understatement to say that these demands were not met. The exhibition did take place and it was a success. The value of the collection was estimated at 93 million francs at the time, and the borrowed diamonds at 50 million. More than 30,000 visitors flocked to admire these original creations in the form of comets, feathers, bows and cascades of diamonds, worn by wax models.
A delegation of jewellers sent an ultimatum to Gabrielle Chanel, ordering her not to sell any jewellery, and to dismantle the pieces after the exhibition, under their supervision. These demands were not met...
“Gabrielle Chanel took the principles that made her celebrated in the world of couture and applied them to jewellery, highlighting the way the pieces were worn and how they moved by displaying them on eerily lifelike wax mannequins, complete with make-up and hats, which meant women could immediately visualise themselves wearing the pieces,” emphasises Marianne Etchebarne. “In a world that was deeply masculine, Gabrielle Chanel was a woman who designed for women. In her view jewellery should be an idea, not a status symbol of the men who bought it for novative move, she made her jewellery part of her global vision for her Maison, imbuing it with her flair for pared-back elegance, her love of monochrome designs and her instinctive desire for the authenticity of the materials she used – in this case platinum and diamonds, the most precious of all.”
“Some of my necklaces don’t close, as the shape of the neck requires; some of my rings roll up,” said Mademoiselle Chanel. The settings were simplified to highlight the stones. “I wanted to cover women with constellations. Stars of all sizes. Look at these comets whose heads shine on one shoulder and whose glittering tails fall in a shower of stars across the chest!” the couturier confided to L’Intransigeant. Some of the jewellery was sold. Chanel was able to buy back a star brooch that is now part of its heritage.
- Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel. © George Hoyningen - Huene/Condé Nast via Getty Images
A founding episode for Chanel jewellery
In homage to this collection, 90 years on Chanel is launching a high jewellery collection called the “1932” Collection. “Patrice Leguéreau, Director of the Chanel Jewelry Creation Studio, has retained the comet, the moon and the sun. The theme of these celestial bodies remains highly symbolic as they are found on the paved floors of the convent at Aubazine where Gabrielle Chanel spent part of her childhood. Thus the comet becomes a shooting star, the moon seems to shimmer and the sun radiates,” explains Marianne Etchebarne.
- The centrepiece of the “1932” Collection is the Allure Céleste necklace in white gold set with diamonds, which features an exceptional oval-cut sapphire weighing 55.55 carats in its centre.
The centrepiece of the 81-piece set has already been released. The Allure Céleste necklace in white gold set with diamonds features an exceptional oval-cut sapphire weighing 55.55 carats in its centre. Various elements of this transformable necklace can be detached to become brooches or a bracelet. While the original collection was entirely dedicated to diamonds, the 1932 collection also highlights coloured stones, including blue sapphires, yellow diamonds, rubies, spinels and opals.
- Chanel 1932 Collection Allure Céleste necklace in white gold and diamonds with a 55.55 ct. oval-cut sapphire, 8.05 ct pear-cut diamond D FL (Type IIa) and a 2.52 ct brilliant-cut diamond D FL (Type IIa).
Gabrielle Chanel never had the opportunity to see her name inscribed on the pediment of the Hôtel Duché des Tournelles, at number 18, Place Vendôme, just opposite the Ritz Hotel. This is the address of the Chanel Joaillerie boutique that opened its doors in 1997. Finally, she has found her place among the great names in jewellery.
While the original collection was entirely dedicated to diamonds, the 1932 collection also highlights coloured stones, including blue sapphires, yellow diamonds, rubies, spinels and opals.