Chaumet and the art of the jewellery brooch

The brooch has evolved into one of the most versatile and fashionable of jewels and leading the way is Parisian jewellery house Chaumet.

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Abeille de Chaumet tanzanite and aquamarine bee brooch

Brooches are one of the strongest trends in jewellery right now, and the Parisian jewellery house Chaumet is uniquely placed to show us how it’s done.  

From the maison’s enviable Place Vendôme headquarters, Chaumet has been nurturing the art of the jewellery brooch since 1780. Capturing the nuances of changing styles through the eras, Chaumet’s archive of brooches is a glittering walk through the history of France and its military, cultural and social changes.

How better to understand the ambitions of Napoléon than by looking at the Greco-Roman Empire-style jewels signed by Chaumet? In fact, the Emperor’s bee and star motifs continue to influence jewellery styles in brooches two centuries on. Decades later, attune to changing sensitivities, ears of wheat and sprays of delicate diamond en tremblant flowers occupied Chaumet’s craftsmen.

In 1840s Paris – the epicentre of French style – salons were the entertainment of choice for the nobility, and women dressed to impress in head ornaments and elaborate, diamond-set, bow-shaped Sévigne brooches. Lady Granville, Great Britain’s ambassador to France from 1824 to 1841 and a devoted customer of Chaumet, held some of the most memorable salons, and among the many jewels she owned was a clover-shaped brooch set with onyx and diamonds. 

A cultural  fascination with nature sparked by Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in 1859, is reflected in the precision with which plants and insects were depicted in Chaumet’s brooches. And when Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes shook the world in the 1890s, Chaumet embraced the excitement of the new with a daring winged griffin brooch.

In the Belle Époqué era, elaborate brooch-style corsage ornaments glittered on the waist or shoulder of a dress and were often transformable into other smaller jewels, a tradition that dates back to the time of Empress Joséphine. And during the Art Deco years, Chaumet’s brooches became more avant garde and coloured gemstones came to the fore. In keeping with the artistic, free-spirited times, they were worn by both sexes. Notable males who bought brooches from Chaumet included the celebrated portrait artist Jacques-Émile Blanche and the Maharaja of Indore, whose collection of Chaumet jewels was legendary. 

Abeille fibula tourmaline bee brooch
Abeille fibula de Chaumet bee brooch in yellow and white gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, 1 pear-shaped green tourmaline, round green tourmalines and 1 pear-shaped greenish-blue tourmaline (POA).

Picking up this rich historical thread and bringing it up to date, today Chaumet proposes a new way to wear brooches for men and women. With subtle echoes of Napoléon’s grandeur, the Abeille fibula bee brooch, above, set with green and blue tourmalines, is poised for action. Resolutely handsome, the large bee is attached to a safety chain that is reminiscent of pocket watches.

Araignée morganite spider brooch
Araignée de Chaumet brooch in white gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, coloured stones and a pear-shaped pink morganite (POA).

Pinning this bee to your lapel will transform an everyday black jacket into a look worthy of a modern-day dandy, or make a more challenging statement with an outsize spider adorning your tie. The plump morganite body of the arachnid comes complete with diamond-set legs. Interpret this how you will, but few will be able to resist the allure of taking a closer look at this dangerously fascinating jewel.

Abeille tanzanite and aquamarine bee brooch
Abeille de Chaumet bee brooch in gold and diamonds, set with an aquamarine and tanzanite (POA).

A more delicate bee, with intricate delicate-as-lace wings that spread over a vivid blue tanzanite and aquamarine body, is a chic final touch to the most minimal of outfits. And unlike other jewels, you can pin your gem to any part of your wardrobe leaving you to choose what part of you body your bee will hover over today.

One of Chaumet’s most romantic and feminine jewellery collections is Hortensia, named after Hortense Eugénie Cécile Bonaparte, born in 1783 and the daughter of Joséphine de Bearnaise, who married Emperor Napoléon I. The Chaumet Hortensia is a fresh interpretation of the naturalistic style of jewellery that Chaumet embraced and became known for in the early and mid 1800s.

Aube Rosée tourmaline and coral brooch
Aube Rosée de Chaumet brooch in pink & angel-skin opal, set with eight marquise-cut pink tourmalines, a brilliant-cut pink sapphire and brilliant-cut diamonds (POA).

The Hortensia Aube Rosée brooch above blooms with angel skin coral and pink sapphire, tourmaline and diamond petals. Fasten this bouquet to your blazer, evening dress or coat for instant stand-out-from-the-crowd impact.

But I have saved my favourite Chaumet brooch for last. The Epi de Blé, or ear of wheat, brooch harks back to Chaumet’s famous wheat sheaf tiara, created for the Empress Marie-Louise, Napoléon’s second wife, in 1811.

The spartan beauty of the timeless wheat motif is captured in the brooch below, which comes in two parts, allowing the wearer to create their own arrangement of gold and diamond wheat strewn across their outfit. Resolutely modern or classical beauty? Your call, but I think we can agree that this is most definitely a brooch for both men and women. The solution? Wear one each. 

Moissons sous le vent diamond brooch
L’Epi de Blé de Chaumet brooch in yellow gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds (POA).

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