Venice played a fleeting yet poignant role in Gabrielle Chanel’s life and these jewels capture the scenes of the floating city that the impressionable young Gabrielle would no doubt have soaked up. Gabrielle Chanel first visited Venice in 1920, shortly after the death of the love of her life, Boy Capel. Chanel returned to Venice in 1929 for the burial of her friend Sergei Diaghilev. She paid for the funeral and its elaborate all-white gondola cortege as the director of the Ballets Russes travelled to the San Michele island cemetery, his final resting place.
Evocative, haunting, otherworldly and dazzling, the 70 one-of-a-kind Escale à Venise jewels capture the spirit of Venice. Under the direction of Patrice Leguéreau, in charge of Jewellery Creation at Chanel, dreamlike Venice drifts into Place Vendôme. Like the city itself, where water yields to land, all is not as it seems. Shards of light bounce off unexpected surfaces, caught out of the corner of the eye. Diamonds flow out in soft ripples from around Gabrielle’s emblematic camellia and planes of perfect blue lapis lazuli create a tantalisingly fractured reality.
My favourite pieces are from the Volute Vénitienne set that are one of the most literal interpretations of the city. A pair of earrings feature the blue and white striped gondolier’s mooring poles that dissolve into scintillating diamond reflections, just as they would appear on a bright day, the solid wood sinking into the lapping waters of the lagoon. I can imagine Gabrielle herself wearing the three-strand Volute Vénitienne necklace. Just as Gabrielle transformed the overlooked and mundane into something new and elegant, so the necklace combines pearls with chunky anchor chain links and striped mooring poles and little diamond-studded buoys for a new take on chic.
The Constellation Astrale set is another vivid memento of Venice. One glance at the deep blue lapis lazuli necklace studded with diamond stars and a vibrant yellow sapphires is uncannily familiar. The subtlety of this collection is revealed when you discover that the design was inspired by night sky on the façade of St. Mark’s basilica featuring the famous golden winged lion of Venice.
Architecture is also present in the Eblouissante set. As light as the setting sun playing on water, the Eblouissante necklace and earrings delicately weave together a geometric design of pink spinels, white diamonds and pearls. The symmetry of this set is a tribute to the rich decorations on the palace façades and the colourful marble floors of the churches of Venice.
Elements of Gabrielle’s life are present throughout the collection. In the Camélia Vénitien set, rock crystal mimicks the famous glass works of Murano Island and garlands of rose gold remind us of the sumptuous gilt mirrors found in the palazzos of the Gran Canale. Adapting materials and techniques shows a new facet to the famous camellia, Gabrielle’s favourite flower.
The diamond-set Camélia Baroque set echoes the magnificence and unimaginable opulence of Venice at its zenith when all the wealth of the world was traded through this small island state. The Camélia Baroque captures the spirit of the exoticism and sophistication of this era with an open ring featuring a vibrant emerald and diamond-set camellia, framed in black onyx.
No Chanel jewellery collection would be complete with a lion, the symbol of St Mark, patron saint of Venice and whose relics rest in the Basilica. The Lion Emblematique set glows with the fire of diamonds and yellow sapphires. The central medallion features a lion, a reminder of the power of this key nation in the history of Europe and beyond.
Lions are hidden in the intricate designs of the Secret rings. A majestic blue 30.92-carat sapphire is flanked by two diamond lion heads, facing out as if protecting the precious gem. A diamond-pavéd lion stands guard by a 10.07-carat D colour Flawless Type IIA pear-cut diamond. The lion was dear to Gabrielle Chanel as well as being the archetypal symbol of Venice.