Chanel’s new high jewellery collection, Les Intemporels, celebrates the enduring motifs of Coco Chanel
The ribbon, comet, star, lion and camellia— Emilie Yabut-razon explores the stories behind the five enduring symbols of Coco Chanel, showcased in the house’s high jewellery collection, Les Intemporels
"Iwant jewels to fit a woman’s finger like a ribbon would,” Coco Chanel once said. While bows were often seen in 1930s fashion, Chanel made them her own with a playful, slightly asymmetric movement. The satin ribbons she used in her couture were supple and often detachable. It’s in the same breath that her ruban (ribbon) jewellery is structured—diamond-set gold wires of extraordinary flexibility overlap, fit together and intertwine around the central stone in beautiful architectural pieces.
Chanel was a trailblazer when it came to jewellery design. With the release of her first collection, 1932’s Bijoux de Diamants, she was the first in Paris to simplify jewellery settings and make them lighter. She designed pieces where the stone wasn’t the focus; rather, as in the world of couture, lines and patterns took the spotlight. She recut and repurposed her own jewels to create new ornaments, emphasising fluidity by removing clasps and lengthening necklaces.
When she presented this first collection of jewellery using only diamonds, Chanel surprised her contemporaries with her avantgarde style and ruffled a lot of feathers in the male-dominated jewellery maisons on Place Vendôme. Her bold style favoured creativity over ostentation, very different from the style of jewellery available at the time. She designed clasps that were hidden to offer more freedom in the design, as well as flexible necklaces that naturally embraced the silhouette of the neck and moved with the wearer.
Chanel was often captivated by the Parisian night sky and comets in flight, which to her were symbols of eternal beauty, movement and freedom. She once remarked, “I want to shower women in constellations… what could be more suiting and more eternally modern!” The star and the comet would go on to feature prominently in her fine jewellery collection, sparkling across shoulders and décolletages, along with the rays of the sun and the plumage of birds.
Chanel spent seven years in a convent, the Abbey of Aubazine, from the age of 12; this ascetic world inspired her sense of austerity and her monochromatic taste. In her 20s, she met a wealthy Englishman named Boy Capel, who became the love of her life. Their relationship lasted for more than a decade and Capel’s sartorial style influenced the Chanel look. He also helped the designer by investing in her first boutique in Paris.
Chanel was devastated when Capel died in a car accident in 1919. Venice became a refuge for her in the ensuing years, and it was there that she was inspired by many symbols that came to represent the brand. She was particularly intrigued by the bronze winged lion of St Mark’s Square that embodied the city’s history and spirit. A fan of astrology and a Leo, she began using the lion in her designs, whether on the buttons of suits or the clasps of handbags. She also decorated her Rue Cambon apartment with lion statues and ornaments.
A rose without thorns or scent, the white camellia was Chanel’s favourite flower. It is said to have been the first flower she received from Capel, and it is found on the embellishments of several Chinese coromandel folding screens that adorn her apartment, as well as on lamps, mirrors and a sculpted bouquet in rock crystal. From the 1920s, Chanel made the camellia one of her favourite accessories, wearing it as a brooch on her shoulder or in her hair. She liked to wear the flower since it had no smell, so it didn’t compete with her perfume, the heralded No. 5. Above all, it was the natural elegance of the camellia’s geometry, with its almost perfectly round form, that led Chanel to make it her signature. And the camellia shrub retains its leaves through the changing seasons, symbolising purity and long life.
Chanel’s modern-day team of jewellers reinterpreted elements of the designer’s universe in creating this year’s Les Intemporels collection of high jewellery. It’s name means “timeless,” and the pieces showcase the lion in necklaces and rings in diamonds, onyx and white opal. The star and comet appear in a watch, earrings, necklace and a bracelet set with diamonds and cultured pearls. The ribbon is represented in different forms, moving parts and varying cuts of diamonds, while the camellia is showcased in classic multistrand pearl necklaces and bracelets, with the motifs outlined in diamonds and black spinels. Through modern pieces, Les Intemporels pays tribute to the significant achievements of a woman who was truly ahead of her time.
pretty as a bow Clockwise from left: Ruban diamond brooch and necklace; Constellation du Lion onyx ring; Camelia Ganse earrings; all from Chanel’s Les Intemporels collection
hear me roar From top: Coco Chanel in 1937; Chanel used lion ornaments in the decoration of her Rue Cambon apartment, and the lion became one of the brand’s motifs