Couture jewellery is grand in scale and lavish in detail. A single piece might be years in the making, on hold until an elusive jewel that perfectly matches another is found or a niggly design flaw is overcome. Yet, once those challenges are mounted, the result is an opulent tempo to precious gems.
Dior’s artistic director of jewellery, Victoire de Castellane has a reputation for pairing colour combinations and cuts of precious stones that few others could, and the brand’s latest collection of high jewellery is no exception.
Dior à Versailles dances in the playgrounds of the Palace of Versailles at the height of Louis XIV’s reign and, since this is haute joaillerie in the hands of de Castellane, the result is a theatrical display that re-imagines the lavish parties of its heyday in sumptuous detail: men and women revelling under the palace’s elaborate interiors with choice elements, perhaps a chandelier, a tassel or an intricate detail plucked from the ceiling transposed into a constellation of precious gems and undulating swirls that swoop into a necklace, a ring or a pair of earrings.
One of the most notable features of the collection is that precious gems are set in oxidised silver, an aesthetic favoured by Georgian and Victorian jewellers to accentuate the stones. In de Castellane’s era, the effect is to create an illusion of Versailles by night, an element that inspired the designer’s ideas for the collection.
“I tried to imagine Versailles by night,” de Castellane says, “with its interior illuminated by candlelight that made gemstones sparkle.”
One of the highlights is the Galerie des Glaces necklace, an imposing interpretation of the château’s Hall of Mirrors reflected in a series of baguette-cut diamonds, dramatic loops of drop diamonds and rose-cut diamonds set in blackened, hexagonal settings, culminating in a diamond chandelier pendant. Elsewhere, bows and ribbons of precious gems weave through scorched silver in an exquisite tribute to decorative detail in the château’s interior – or perhaps the corseted waists of its guests, elaborately displayed in pieces like the Salon de Venus bracelet of pink sapphires, or the Salon de L’Abondance diamante ring.
Part haute-couture fashion and part haute joaillerie, Boucheron stunned earlier this year with a one-off, gold cape entirely crafted by hand. Cape de Lumiere is a masterpiece of couture jewellery that takes the differences between dress-making and jewellery design and sews them into an exquisitely executed French seam.
The cape forms an art-deco pattern in the arrangement of a peacock’s feathers, a motif frequently revisited by Boucheron. Fine, twisted chains reveal a grosgrain effect engineered to move with the body, but with enough tension that its 800-plus diamonds shimmer in absolute harmony.
The cape required a new approach in jewellery design. Creative director Claire Choisne and her team of coteries worked from a sketch that was 70 hours in the making. The team employed the same techniques as haute couturiers, hand fabricating the cape on a mannequin and attaching the diamonds using an embroidering technique, that took more than 1,000 hours to complete.
Choisne says the idea was to create a piece that would be a jewel and a garment.
“If you think about, if you leave high jewellery on a bust, it dies,” she says. “It needs to be worn, to be on skin.”
Giampiero Bodino launched his eponymously-named brand three years ago, and debuted his first collection at the prestigious Biennale des Antiquaries in Paris, 12 months later, in 2014. Not bad for a year-old brand.
Except, Bodino is one of the most influential masterminds in the luxury market who, as art director of the Richemont Group since 2002, has overseen the jewellery and watch designs of its brands, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget.
When Richemont offered Bodino the opportunity to create his own “grand luxe” brand, he jumped at the chance to elevate haute jewels to a new level. Giampiero Bodino has no boutiques; instead, clients are received at the discreet but sumptuous 1930s Villa Mozart, a few blocks from Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, famous for its fashion and jewellery boutiques.
An appointment-only visit to the villa is part of the experience of buying such high-end jewellery, Bodino says.
“I believe not only in the uniqueness of my creations but also in that of the experience,” he says.
“I want my guests to live when visiting Villa Mozart.”
Piaget’s Sunny Side of Life collection captures the flamboyance of couture jewellery with colourful precious and semi-precious gems and facets of gold that give the effect of rich embroidery, particularly effective in the Palm El Dorado necklace; while the Sunny Side of Life cuff is as spirited with sapphires, garnets and spinels giving way to a plumage of blue diamonds and feathers.