By Åse Anderson
Chaumet Paris has opened an ephemeral museum displaying some of the Maison’s most iconic jewellery, at its flagship store in the City of Light.
Entitled Promenade Bucolique, which translates as a country walk, the exhibition offers visitors the chance to see a selection of 16 pieces of nature-inspired Chaumet jewellery dating from the Romantic period through to the 1980s.
Open for five months only, the pop-up museum also features never-seen-before archival drawings and photographs. For 130 years, each piece of Chaumet jewellery created or reworked in its workshops has been documented in a series of black and white photographs. This visual record continues to form the starting point in the design process for the jewellery collections produced today.
Since the very beginning, nature in all its glory has been a recurring motif and rich source of inspiration for Chaumet’s designers. The Maison likens the presence of nature in its jewels to the “taming of the wild” - an extraordinary journey whereby ordinary plants, such as a blade of grass or a sprig of mistletoe, are transformed into graceful, refined jewels.
Among the historical pieces on display is a wheat sheaf Chaumet tiara designed in 1811 for Empress Marie-Louise, Napoléon’s second wife. She commissioned Chaumet founder Marie-Etienne Nitot to create 150 bejewelled wheat stalks to form part of the Crown Jewels, which symbolised the modernity sweeping through the modern French Empire. However, it was Napoléon’s first wife, the legendary Joséphine de Beauharnais, who initially brought the neo-classical tiara back into fashion and, with it, the use of naturalistic motifs such as the sheaf of wheat.
Another extraordinary piece is a Chaumet aigrette with a shape inspired by the V-shaped hairstyle of Mary, Queen of Scots. Dating back to circa1910, it features pins that are reminiscent of the swaying wildflowers found in the magnificent landscape north of the border. From the same era is a timepiece decorated with a colourful enamelled rose on one side and a pansy on the other, designed to be worn around the neck on an enamel chain. More recent jewels on display include a pair of Chaumet earrings in the shape of arum flowers and a necklace with stylised leaves, both from the 1970s when designs featuring exotic naturalist motifs were popular.
The newest pieces are a limited-edition Chaumet brooch and Épi de Blé ring, which have been created specifically for the exhibition, with a design that pays tribute to the aforementioned wheat sheaf tiara. A new 13-piece Chaumet high jewellery collection has also been launched to coincide with the opening of the museum. It features another signature motif of the Maison, the bee, picked out in vibrant coloured gemstones on Chaumet necklaces, rings, brooches, earrings and a watch. The bee has been a cherished symbol since the 18th century when Nitot was the official jeweller to Napoléon, whose emblem was the buzzing insect.
The setting for the exhibition also deserves a mention. The Arcade on Place Vendôme has been home to Chaumet Paris since 1970 and its modern interior, with suspended glass cubes, is a fitting backdrop to the iconic jewellery on display. With stunning scenography curated by Elizabeth Leriche, Promenade Bucolique will be open to the public until 30 January 2016.
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