In a room dark with atmosphere, dimly lit by chandeliers packed together on a mirrored ceiling, Dior transported us to the glamour and intrigue of the Palace of Versailles in its 18th century heyday for the launch of its latest high jewellery collection, Dior à Versailles.
The collection is inspired by the opulent French palace and its notorious goings-on, and Dior à Versailles matches the tempo with jewels that star much larger gemstones than you would normally find at Dior, including pieces with serious carat weight and some creative nods to nostalgia.
High jewellery in the days of Louis XIV would have been made in silver, not the gold or platinum we associate with the luxury jewels of today. To reference this, Dior’s high jewellery maestro Victoire de Castellane has used the metal in flashes throughout the collection, appearing with a tarnished, blackened appearance in curls, swirls and buds set with diamonds.
Other historical nods include the use of rose-cut diamonds, which give the jewels a vintage look, and the limiting of coloured gemstones mostly to traditional rubies, emeralds and blue sapphires. Although on closer inspection, many of the large ruby-like gems are actually pink sapphires, and there is a yellow diamond and spinel or two.
The palace itself also plays a role, with silhouettes of jewels recalling individual details like chandeliers, Rococo furniture and elaborate curtain ties. “I tried to imagine Versailles by night, with its interior illuminated by candlelight that made gemstones sparkle,” says de Castellane. “The women are bejewelled, and if you listen closely you can almost hear the chime of silverware on porcelain.”
While jewellery belonging to this era prized perfect refinement in its execution, de Castellane shakes it up by introducing wonderfully flamboyant asymmetry. Swags of diamonds decorate one side of a necklace before winding tight at the other; a bracelet is fastened with a crumpled, blackened silver bow on one side.
Dior à Versailles is not meant to be a faithful reproduction of the jewellery of the 17th and 18th century royal French court, but a pantomime that plays on the themes of the era. De Castellane plucks out the elements she is fascinated by, melds them together and the result is strikingly quirky and unconventional.
That is not to say the collection is not beautiful. It is. And the sheer quantity of stones decorating the glamorous designs are as awe-inspiring as the Hall of Mirrors itself. Dior à Versailles is also the largest haute joaillerie collection Dior has produced to date, with 29 unique pieces and 31 repeatable designs.
Both its scale and opulence, as well as its rebellious theatrical streak, pay homage to the lavishness that Louis XIV enforced in his day, and it is just right for the season ahead in which maximalism is making a return to court.