BIJOUX DE DIAMANTS
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90 years ago, Gabrielle Chanel created the world's first High Jewellery collection, Bijoux de Diamants. She applied her fundamental design principle to the pieces: liberating women's bodies while also adorning them.
Chapter 1 IF THE WORLD STOPS, NOTHING STOPS THE SKY FROM MOVING
BELIEVING IN SIGNS
“Nothing could be better for forgetting the crisis than feasting one's eyes on beautiful new things, which the skills of our craftsmen and women never cease to unveil.”
1932. Three years after life came to a standstill on Black Tuesday, the day the world was plunged into the darkness of the Great Depression and the point at which the joyous years of the 1920s turned into sorrow. Amid the gloom of inflation, the decline of consumption and dizzying unemployment rates, times were bleak. And this is exactly why 1932 was the perfect time for hope and renewal. Because there is no shadow without light, a series of spectacular events took place at the beginning of 1932, like spells cast upon the crisis. Elwyn Dirats and Jacques Auxenfants opened the Hot Club de France and the swinging sounds of jazz could be heard everywhere. The magnificent Opéra Garnier premiered Un Jardin sur l'Oronte under the direction of Philippe Gaubert. Some 200,000 people attended the long-awaited launch of the SS Normandie ocean liner. And, in November, Diamond Corporation Limited of London had a brilliant idea for re-establishing itself on the diamond market...
Diamond Corporation Limited of London called on the talents of a visionary woman. Not only had she brought modernism to clothing, but she was also a gifted accessory designer who made costume jewellery that was even more beautiful than the real thing. A powerful woman who ran her own empire, which was expanding more and more each day. A friend of the arts and artists, the beating heart of her time, she rebelled against the expectations placed on women, their bodies and their morals on both sides of the Atlantic. Gabrielle Chanel was chosen to revive the world's interest in diamonds.
Countering the ambient gloom, she inspired dreams and shined a light on beauty. Mademoiselle created Bijoux de Diamants, the world's first High Jewellery collection. Just two days after the collection's release, Diamond Corporation Limited's stocks jumped in value, transforming the entire industry and revitalising the era.
CHANEL AND CELESTIAL BODIES
“My stars! How could one find anything more fitting and eternally modern?”
It is thought that Gabrielle Chanel cultivated her determination for rigour and purity during her childhood at the Abbey of Aubazine. When it came to inspiration, the Cistercian Abbey, bathed in the light of the Correzian sky, was an ever-renewable source of energy. For example, this map of the sky, a coat of arms immersed in the stone of this ground trod upon so many times, where the moon, the stars and the sun embrace... Keeping one's feet on the ground—is that the best way to reach for the stars? Although Mademoiselle always trusted in the seemingly magical power of symbols, it wasn't until she met Boy Capel—a man who found joy in transforming life into a sublime experience—that she learned to believe in signs.
A summer night in Paris. The weather is warm and the sky would be dark were it not streaked with stars, a jet-black canvas illuminated by the halo of a crescent moon. These stars, sparkling like weightless diamonds, would inspire the foundation of all CHANEL High Jewellery. It was while watching them glimmer against the immense night sky that Mademoiselle decided to adorn women's skin and hair with a shower of meteorites, to make crescent moons glow and allow the sun's full radiance to shine bright. Creating Bijoux de Diamants was the epitome of her taste for the irresistible brilliance of beauty and life.
BIJOUX DE DIAMANTS, THE FIRST HIGH JEWELLERY COLLECTION IN THE WORLD
“I chose the diamond because its density represents the greatest value for the smallest size.”
The creation of Bijoux de Diamants followed a very personal syntax, a way of having new ideas and applying the principles of Haute Couture to High Jewellery. In 1932, Mademoiselle designed the first High Jewellery collection in history, based on a single theme, and presented everything together in the same place. This was the exact opposite of the way jewellers worked at the time.
Her approach to designing jewellery was no different from her approach to designing clothing. The line leads so that only allure matters. A diamond's perfection is enhanced by the greatest simplicity. Bare, with no visible setting, cut in a classic style, the diamond, with its balanced size, displayed an extreme purity of unalterable value, unsinkable against time, or worse, trends.
“I seek out the motifs that best showcase the brilliance of diamonds—the star, the cross, the fall of graduated stones and large sunburst cabochons.”
Much more than its name suggests, Bijoux de Diamants was an extraordinarily striking collection. Gabrielle Chanel designed an estimated 50 pieces with white and yellow diamonds set in platinum and yellow gold, to be worn both day and night, like incredible concentrations of light. Among the pieces identified, 22 drew the map of a sky filled with stars, comets, moons and suns. Mademoiselle also created 17 optical illusions, reproducing supple ribbons, dancing fringe and lightweight feathers, as well as eight pieces exploring the graphic purity of spirals, circles, squares and crosses. A prolific collection that would slowly reveal its secrets over time. Despite testimonies that affirm the existence of monumental brooches in the shape of the numbers 3, 5 and 7, no trace of them has been found thus far. 2012 saw the discovery of a documentary, filmed by Pathé Gaumont and released in the 1930's in all French cinemas during newsreels, the forerunner of Journal Télévisé, a French news programme. This short film featured a meaningful selection of jewels filmed at Gabrielle Chanel's apartment at 29 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
A must-see film about a woman who never followed the crowd and was always one step ahead of the rest, it focuses on two pieces in gold and yellow diamonds, long before '60s fashion trends, and reflects Coco's love for the sun's energy: a fine gold spiral wraps around the finger, featuring a yellow diamond and echoing the talisman—a small, yellow topaz ring—of a Mademoiselle born under the blazing August sun, and a sun brooch whose myriad of yellow diamonds gives it extraordinary value.
“I want the jewellery to be like a ribbon on a woman's fingers. My ribbons are supple and removable.”
Solitary, in triptych or shooting to infinity... An abundance of stars and flaming suns swarms the body, on coats and corsets or encircling the waistline. Meteors and comets dot earlobes or wrap around wrists and necks without ever enclosing them. Here, a mere breath makes the Big Dipper sparkle over the solar plexus. A profusion of stones, bows, feathers and fringes brings suppleness to an outfit, a hairstyle, the collarbone or the hands.
A contrasting black-and-white ribbon studded with diamonds encircles the wrist. Among the creations identified are 17 brooches, 9 pieces of head jewellery, 8 necklaces, 4 rings, 3 bracelets, 2 pairs of earrings, 2 watches and 2 accessories—including a cigarette case set with diamonds on both the outside and inside—all intent on rendering women exceptionally brilliant.
RADICAL JEWELLERY, REVOLUTIONARY LOOKS
“My jewellery never departs from the notion of the woman and her dress. My jewellery can be transformed because my dresses change.”
Mademoiselle applied the same modernist principles to her jewellery as she did to her clothes. She envisioned jewellery as a new idea, a way of establishing a unique relationship with the body. While Bijoux de Diamants was the first High Jewellery collection in history, it was above all a collection designed for women. Women anchored in the world and in life, with femininity in perpetual motion, for whom Mademoiselle created pieces free of clasps, which allowed the body to move with ease.
“I despise clasps! I no longer use them! But my jewellery can still be transformed.”
When she created Bijoux de Diamants, Mademoiselle chose freedom. The freedom of women to choose to live as they pleased. To move freely. To wear pieces that enhanced the fire of their individuality, rather than letting the sublime but lifeless diamonds wear them. Women could combine a feather with a crescent moon, place fringes or a bow on a dress or in their hair, bring together night and day by wearing stars, the moon and the sun all together, turn a necklace into three bracelets or even brooches. The collection offered a field of infinite possibilities, which had never been seen before, an inventiveness that was lauded by the press. Because they could be transformed and worn freely on the body to define a look, the Bijoux de Diamants pieces would never go out of style. They would become timeless.
BIJOUX DE DIAMANTS, OBJECTS OF DREAMSDiscover
8 billion sparkles, 93 million stones... Because something new, something real, is often the best catalyst for rumours, the press fed its readers giant numbers, an extravagance that would only increase the mystery around the collection every day. And it would also fuel resentment. What could be more insulting than calling on a clothing designer rather than a jeweller? A dressmaker! Diamond Corporation Limited's choice of announcement immediately put Place Vendôme on edge, and Bijoux de Diamants became the “Chanel Affair”. The whole industry joined forces to prevent Gabrielle Chanel from making jewellery.
A whole industry demanded, successfully, that her creations be dismantled and the gemstones returned. But because some pieces were sold on the first day, some moving testimonies still exist. One is a midnight-blue velvet case containing a fragment of a starry night: a 7.8-carat diamond and platinum comet brooch. Or this long and incredibly supple feather, which could have been worn as a corsage, to fasten a coat like a belt, adorn the forehead with light or hug the curves of the shoulder with its extraordinary mesh.
These fragments of history inspired CHANEL to reissue eight pieces for the launch of CHANEL Fine Jewellery in July 1993. Wrapped around the neck twice and adorned with interchangeable stars, the COMÈTE necklace was showcased at the “Rêves de Diamants” exhibition in 2002. The PLUME brooch was also reissued in September 2010, followed by a selection of 100 pieces inspired by Bijoux de Diamants in 2012.
Chapter 2 AT THE HEART OF BIJOUX DE DIAMANTS: BOLDNESS OR THE ART OF BEING A WOMAN WHO SHINES WITH SUCCESS
DARING TO SHINE IN SOCIETY
Thanks to the Jean Cocteau Committee