Despite being christened Eugénie, Coco Chanel’s mother was known simply as Jeanne. Her sister Antoinette was one of her first models, parading her clothes daily along the resort boardwalks of Deauville where Chanel had her first clothing boutique – the Paris address at rue Cambon was originally only licensed to sell hats. Actress Suzanne Orlandi was the first woman to wear the little black dress, a Chanel creation and arguably the most important contribution to the modern wardrobe.
These are just some of the women who made their mark on Chanel’s life in her early days before 1920, and their names are immortalised in the latest fine-jewellery collection, Coco avant Chanel.
The collection is done up in chic shades of white, pink and grey, realised in Padparadscha sapphires, Japanese and Tahitian pearls, morganite, grey spinels and moonstones. However, most of the pieces, including the pièce de résistance – the Gabrielle Chanel necklace – are unsurprisingly dominated by the most enduring gemstone of all: diamonds.
In keeping with the theme of origins, the necklace is deliberately named after Chanel’s given name rather than Coco – the nickname she gave herself. It’s a collar necklace made of 1,581 diamonds, with camellia patterns that overlap and swirl around a 10.02ct pear-cut diamond set in the centre.
Despite the necklace’s girth, the overall impression is one of lightness, thanks to the strategic gaps around the central diamond that resemble the bold snips of a seamstress’s scissors.
Another highlight – the Jeanne brooch – exhibits the same airiness and features camellias, leaves and abstract birds which bring to mind the beloved Coromandel Chinese folding screens she kept in her Paris apartment.
The brooch is centred on a dazzling pink cushion-cut spinel weighing 10.07ct, with pink sapphires and grey spinels scattered around illustrating the motifs. The piece features touches of blackened gold that lend it a depth and gravity that impeccably balance the overall lightness of it as well as add a cool contemporary feel.
The Maud and Marthe series are where Chanel’s penchant for ribbons shines through.
The craftsmanship is outstanding – they look so real. The Maud series makes a motif out of the uneven fanned ends of a ribbon at the end of a knot, and the contrast between the angular ends and curvaceous twists is enhanced with the use of round brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds. The Maud earrings are a perfect example, and are artfully finished off with two pear-cut diamonds of approximately 1ct each.
The Marthe series is a study of black and white. Blackened gold edges give the illusion of chic monochromatic ribbon winding around itself and falling perfectly in place, imparting just enough intensity without being too stark.
The choice of grey spinels atop the darkened ends subtly adds depth while preserving
the overall translucency of the piece. The addition of creamy strands of small pearls is a masterstroke. Japanese cultured pearls bridge the dichotomy of black and white and enhance the movement created by the diamond ribbons, bestowing the sumptuousness and femininity synonymous with pearls.
The gorgeous collection is composed of 11 jewellery sets. Camellias seem to be laser-cut in gem-set lace. Ribbons of diamond loop, knot and drape so fluidly it’s easy to forget their true hardness. Each piece is punctuated by a deliberate asymmetry, but far from jarring the eye, it seems to flow in perfect tandem with the slopes and lines of the body.
Each set bears the first names of Chanel’s early influencers and collaborators. It’s an intimate gesture that invites one to have a personal interest in the women, yet, like the enigmatic Chanel herself, many are shrouded in mystery.
The designs though, are unmistakably Chanel. The jewellery perfectly illustrates the guiding principles of her clothes – freedom, lightness and sobriety – while proudly displaying stylistic elements representative of her tastes – the camellias that she loved, and the lace and ribbon that were her first tools in defying convention.
Chanel actually started as a milliner, and her works favoured chic lace and ribbon over feathers which she deemed too ostentatious. Fresh, feminine and sophisticated, Coco avant Chanel is a masterful collection and a fitting homage to a style legend.