By Åse Anderson
The animal kingdom has been a rich source of inspiration for jewellery designers throughout history, to the extent that some creatures have transcended their status as mere motifs to become icons that are inextricably linked with a jewellery house.
The bee has been an integral part of Chaumet jewellery since the 18th century, and is as prominent in its designs today as it was more than two centuries ago. The Parisian jewellery house’s founder Marie-Etienne Nitot was the official jeweller to Napoléon Bonaparte, whose emblem was the bee.
This autumn, Chaumet is launching a new 13-piece high jewellery collection featuring the bee motif in a vibrant palette of yellow, orange and green, evoking the colours of honey and springtime gardens. With open-work wings in diamond-encrusted white gold, the buzzing bees are set with an array of coloured gemstones, from mandarin garnets to tourmalines, sapphires and peridots on necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings.
The new Abeille collection will be on display at a pop-up museum at Chaumet’s flagship store on Place Vendôme in Paris from September until January. Centred on the theme of naturalism, which has been a key source of inspiration for Chaumet jewellery designs through the eras, the exhibition will also feature historical pieces and previously unseen archive drawings.
The deeply superstitious Gabrielle Chanel surrounded herself with talismans - including the comet, lion and camellia - all of which make regular appearances in the Maison’s high jewellery collections. Not only was she born under the star sign of Leo, the big cat is also the symbol of St Mark, the patron saint of the city of Venice where Mademoiselle Chanel travelled in 1920 following the death of her beloved Boy Capel.
Launched earlier this year, the Les Intemporels de Chanel jewellery collection celebrates motifs that were close to Gabrielle’s heart, including a lion perching majestically over a diamond-encrusted star, which was another cherished symbol. The aptly named Les Talismans de Chanel high jewellery collection, which launched this summer, also incorporates the king of the jungle in jewels inspired by the amulets worn for spiritual protection in the Byzantine Empire.
The sleek panther, which has been immortalised in so many Cartier jewellery creations, is celebrated in a new book chronicling 100 years of Cartier Panther jewels. Published by Assouline, the book features anecdotes from famous Cartier patrons, including Jeanne Toussaint, Daisy Fellowes and the Duchess of Windsor, as well as stunning archive images. The enduring popularity of Cartier Panther bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings and brooches is proof that customers’ appetite for the jeweller's bejewelled big cat shows no sign of abating.
The snake has been synonymous with Bulgari jewellery since the 1940s, metamorphosing - much like the real thing sheds its skin - to keep up with changing trends. Beloved by Elizabeth Taylor and fashion legend Diana Vreeland, the slithering serpent is regularly spotted draped around the necks of some of the most glamorous celebrities on the red carpet, including Naomi Watts, Jessica Biel and, most recently, Amber Heard.
Finally, I have selected just one creature - the peacock - from Boucheron's menagerie of animals, but the swan, cockatoo and adorable polar bear are all deserved of a mention also. The peacock first entered the realm of Boucheron jewellery in 1889 via the Point d’Interrogation necklace, which was designed with a hidden spring system that allowed it to curl around the neck like a feather. Since then, the exotic bird’s bewitching plumage has been incorporated into an array of jewels as part of the Boucheron menagerie of animal jewellery, including, most recently, the majestic blue sapphire Héra ring.
Read about precious primates featuring in high jewellery