By Claire Roberts in London
You are probably familiar with the image: Coco Chanel, one of the 20th century's greatest style innovators, captured side-on wearing a little black dress, swathed in rope upon rope of pearls, with a cigarette held casually between her lips. Mademoiselle loved pearls as much as she loved causing a fashion rumpus when she wore them - with sweaters and even sportswear, if she fancied it.
To honour Coco Chanel's passion for this gem in particular, Chanel has launched a high jewellery collection devoted to the classic pearl.
Les Perles de Chanel comprises an impressive 87 pieces and is the most cohesive collection of pearl jewellery I have ever seen. In total there are 24 sets of pearl jewels and each is quintessential Chanel, weaving in references that lead straight back to historic moments and symbolic designs that have been instrumental in shaping this famous couture house's identity.
One of my favourite sets is the Perles Swing necklace, bracelet and earrings. The beauty of this trio of jewels boils down to the exquisite choice of colours - four strands of perfectly matched gold, white, silver and pink cultured pearls which, set side by side, are the perfect confection of pastel shades.
Coloured gems bring an immediate sense of vibrancy to the Printemps de Camelia suite of a kind that is rarely seen in pearl jewellery. Sapphires in pink, purple and yellow form the stamen of the diamond-set Camelia flowers, providing a sparkling contrast to the shimmering luster of the pearls.
Motifs so dear to Coco Chanel - lions, celestial bodies, feathers and knots - have been reimagined in pearls of all shapes and sizes.
A star is transformed into a chic medallion, descending from a three-strand pearl necklace, in the centre of which sits a huge, creamy South Sea cultured pearl, orbited by diamond and pearl 'planets'.
Capturing the spirit of the 1920s, when pearls were the height of fashion, the Perles de Jour neckace features 45 Australian pearls of exceptional quality and size, with tassels of tiny pearls swinging freely at either end. Fastened with a baroque-style clasp, it is designed to be worn either as a sautoir or draped seductively down a bare back.
One anecdote, told by the French composer Georges Auric, recalls Mademoiselle Chanel breaking her 2m-long pearl necklace while dancing the Charleston in 1925. Unperturbed, she watched in amusement as a group of men in evening dress scrabbled on the floor, searching for the fallen gems.
As precious as the pieces in the new Perles de Chanel collection are, they are designed, in the spirit of Mademoiselle Chanel, to be worn with the same kind of casual insouciance that Coco would have adopted were she to be wearing these exquisite jewels today.
The new Perles de Chanel jewels will be in Paris until 12 February 2014, after which they will travel to Asia before returning to Europe for a month in mid-July. The collection will be available at Chanel boutiques from November 2014.