By Maria Doulton
For the past few seasons, Chaumet has been delighting us with the exceptionally feminine Hortensia - or Hydrangea in English - sets of jewels. From one-off pieces to more wearable golden pendants, dainty Chaumet rings and watches, the Hortensia is becoming a familiar favourite with the more than 230-year-old jeweller.
The latest Chaumet Hortensia designs weave in another thread of Chaumet's history by dedicating a set of jewels to the Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais. As Francophiles and followers of Chaumet will know, the Empress Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon I, is an intrinsic part of the Maison's history, and her influence echoes through its creations, spanning across the centuries. Beyond the regal tiaras and impressive diamond jewels, there was another side to Joséphine: the Empress loved the beautiful world of botany, as reflected in Chaumet's latest flower-inspired jewels.
Read about the Chaumet Empress Josephine collection here
But what we know of Joséphine is usually the grand image of France's first Empress. An 1805 portrait depicts her in a rich white silk "grand habit" and diamond tiara looking serene. Her passionate marriage to Napoleon in 1796 resulted in extravagant commissions for Nitot, the founder of Chaumet, and established the brand as the jeweller par excellence of the Empire and particularly for Chaumet tiaras.
Today, in the impressive first floor salon of its 12 Place Vendôme headquarters in Paris, visitors can feel the spirit of Empress Joséphine among the opulent 1777 interiors - the height of elegance during the reign of King Louis XVI of France. Magnificent fireplaces, fluted gilt columns and sky-high ceilings decorated with exquisite frescos, remind the visitor of the regal patronage that Chaumet has enjoyed.
Yet it is Joséphine's love of flowers that Chaumet celebrates today. In her garden at Chateau de Malmaison near Paris, the Empress lived another life, and it is here in her greenhouses and potting sheds that she became a competent botanist and gardener. It is this gentle pursuit, far from the madding crowd, that is evoked in the Chaumet Hortensia collection. Exquisite coloured gemstones, such as soft pink opals, regal blue sapphires and rich red rubies, recreate flowers that will never fade and will look as fresh as the moment they were picked.
The new high jewellery pieces complement the wider range of Hortensia jewels, which include both everyday jewels and Chaumet watches, as well as more elaborate evening wear. The forms echo the natural clusters of Hydrangeas and the pompom shapes, garlands and bouquets that they form.
The everyday jewels wrap garlands of gold petals around the wrist and finger, or suspend a posy of petals from a sautoir-length golden chain. The dewy freshness of a garden is captured in carved opal, diamond-set garlands of flowers draped along a Chaumet bracelet or necklace. White gold and diamonds express the fragrant Hortensia flower in its most pure form - the openwork gold structures as light as a bouquet.
The mother-of-pearl dials of the Chaumet watches are etched with fronds of concentric petals, as though looking at a blush bloom from above, with the nacreous reflections like the soft shimmer of white Hortensia petals. Chaumet has captured the charm of the Hortensia so well that you can almost smell the sweet fragrance of the petals, and this may be the Empress' most enduring legacy.