The summer air is comfortably crisp, the skies, a clear, lucid azure… One could not have asked for more glorious weather to fly into Monaco by helicopter. Though just seven minutes long (the chauffeured drive from the airport to the hotel proves longer), the flight offers a staggering panoramic introduction to the independent state; one that’s as known for its diminutive size as its reputation for being a haven for the world’s wealthiest and most powerful.
This is home for the next three days, thanks to Chaumet, which has flown us in especially for the launch of its “Chaumet in Majesty: Jewels of Sovereigns Since 1780” exhibition at the principality’s Grimaldi Forum. The month-and-a-half long showcase charts the brand’s history and its strong royal connections through some 250 relics and, of course, jewellery, including an impressive array of 50 tiaras.
It’s the first time that Chaumet has gathered such a big collection of tiaras for an exhibition—all the better to illustrate the evolution of the glorious headband from a symbol of sovereignty to one of glamorous femininity. (The two dreamy Chaumet tiaras that Angelbaby wore on her wedding day in 2015 spring to mind.)
Crowned with glory
“[Some of the tiaras] are from our own archives, but others are from private owners and royal families: One is the official tiara of the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and it’s the first time ever that we have such a piece. It’s only because it’s summer that this
is possible because, usually, she’s using the piece for official appearances,” says Chaumet CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt when I quiz him on what to expect at our exhibition preview the next day. “We also have four absolutely exceptional tiaras from Qatar that have not been seen for many, many years. Another of the pieces you’re going to see is a tiara with a series of incredible emeralds—more than 400 carats in total. It’s the most expensive tiara in the world and it has never been sold by auction,” he continues with pride.
In addition to tiaras that trace back to the Maison’s founding days over two centuries ago, the exhibition offers a sizable collection of historically significant artefacts, artworks and jewels (many of which are being shown publicly for the first time) to reinforce the royal theme.
From the early 19th-century jewellery box belonging to Empress Joséphine (Chaumet’s original muse) on loan from Musée National des Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Rueil-Malmaison, to Empress Marie-Louise’s ornate gothic belt in gold with pearls and onyx (1813) from the Chaumet collection, and Georges Rouget’s The Religious Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie-Louise in the Salon Carré at the Louvre, on April 2, 1810 oil painting—depicting a retinue of female guests crowned with Chaumet tiaras, no less—from the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles, the exhibition celebrates the symbolic significance and beauty of gems that have passed through the hands of the world’s blueblooded families, while strengthening Chaumet’s centuries-long ties to those families.
When shown in this light, it becomes perfectly clear just why Monaco is the perfect host for “Chaumet in Majesty”, launched under the patronage of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II. After all, the reigning Grimaldi family has been ruling the Principality of Monaco since 1297 and remains one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most glamorous nobility.
“We always try to find a place or a city of a certain importance, and Monaco for us is interesting because there is a direct connection between this exhibition, particularly with the tiaras, and what everybody knows about Monaco’s royal family,” Mansvelt explains. “But of course, Monaco is also about glamorous people, celebrities, artists, and these are also the clients of Chaumet. So the content of the exhibition is really a sort of mirror of what Monaco is.”
This perhaps also explains why Chaumet has taken this opportunity to present, once again, its new thematic collection for the year, Les Ciels de Chaumet (meaning “the skies of Chaumet” in French), in Monaco, despite having debuted it in Paris during Fall 2019 Haute Couture Week just days earlier. This astute move allows the brand to present a contemporary context alongside its historical one, to reinforce the overarching vision, creativity and expert skills of the 239‑year‑old house.
Comprising four chapters, Les Ciels de Chaumet pays an encompassing homage to the skies and its inhabitants: Les Couleurs du Ciel looks to a capricious sun that colours the sky with a full spectrum of hues long painted by artists of yore, while Les Caprices du Ciel celebrates the mesmerising beauty of the clouds and lightning. With Les Fulgurances du Ciel, the stars’ spectral night‑time journey is rendered through a gamut of precious metal and gems, before the collection finally rounds up with the elegant flock of rare birds found in the Les Habitants du Ciel range.
As expected of Chaumet, there’s an astounding play of textures, hues and delicate volume.
This is best exemplified by the Nuages d’Or parure. Employing the Maison’s signature goldworking tradition, sensuous volume is pared down through the expert use of cutout linear lines that lend a graphic lightness to the voluptuous designs. In the necklace (graced with a 12.88‑carat “golden yellow” Ceylon sapphire), this results in a cascade of filigree bubbles that wrap the neck with an abstract, yet intriguingly accurate, depiction of sunlight streaming through the clouds.
Then, there’s the Lueurs d’Orage necklace that translates the turbulence of a stormy sky into a serene picture of bliss through a blaze of graduated colours from Madagascan and Ceylon sapphires, spinels and diamonds. Topped with a stunning 37.68‑carat pear‑shaped imperial topaz (that can be detached for greater style versatility), this transformable number presents a cacophony of gem‑cuts and sizes for a spectacular design that commands attention.
Yet another personal favourite from the collection is the Passages necklace, which features an astonishing 28.11‑carat Australian black opal, complemented with five other sizeable iridescent cabochon opals, held to the white gold frame through a meteorite shower‑ like rose gold setting. A generous helping of fancy‑cut tourmalines from Mozambique and a Brazilian Paraïba tourmaline round up the pretty picture.
Of course, what is a Chaumet high jewellery collection without the appearance of the headband for which the Maison is famed? Two tiaras crown Les Ciels de Chaumet: The Soleil Glorieux tiara, adorned with a 2.51‑carat cushion‑cut Fancy Intense Yellow diamond surrounded by 21 cabochon‑cut rock crystals; and the Étoiles Étoiles tiara that encircles the head with a shooting star display of diamonds. Each is as majestic and regal as the ones that are currently displayed in the halls of the Grimaldi Forum.
“Les Ciels de Chaumet presents themes that have been around since Chaumet’s beginning,” says Mansvelt. “[With this collection], we want to show, I think, very simply, two things: The creativity of Chaumet—that a theme that has already been worked so many times can still be a surprise—and of course, our virtuosity. Meaning, how we can really create miraculous pieces by pushing, as much as possible, the limits of jewellery making, for example, in terms of very thin elements with stones in suspension, which is very Chaumet.”
Past, present tense
With nearly 240 years of history to its name, Chaumet’s decision to showcase its latest haute joaillerie alongside the vast breadth of its historical gems presents its guests with a unique perspective to
the brand. Having started out as the official jeweller of royalty (or Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Joséphine, more specifically), Chaumet has, in one fell swoop, reasserted itself as jeweller to the stars as well—thanks to the attendance of high‑octane celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Song Hye Kyo, Natalia Vodianova and Tsubasa Honda among others, who have descended upon Monaco in full force to lend their support to the Parisian brand.
Having just accomplished such a successful event, what does Manvelt feel are Chaumet’s biggest challenges to overcome in the coming years?
“I think the sleeping giant [that is Chaumet] is waking up, but there are still many, many people who do not really understand or know what the brand is about. So, we have to keep this channel of communication open,” he replies. “Then, the challenge will be how to keep this sense of distinction. I think the reason why people today wear Chaumet is because it’s not on everybody, and it’s something that is different. And that’s the purpose of the exhibitions. People wear something that they understand, so it becomes a choice of culture and that is important. So the challenge for me is keeping this perception of exclusivity as we become more popular. We will see.”
This article was originally published in Harpers Bazaar.