Im­pe­rial Jew­els

High jew­eller Chaumet re­veals its soul amid the splen­dour of Bei­jing’s Palace Mu­seum with a glit­ter­ing ex­hi­bi­tion chart­ing its il­lus­tri­ous 237 years of his­tory, Char­lene Co writes

Hong Kong Tatler - - Style | Jewellery -

The jew­elled sword worn by Napoléon Bon­a­parte when he was crowned em­peror of France in 1804 stands re­splen­dent in an un­likely lo­ca­tion at present— Bei­jing’s For­bid­den City— on its first trip ever out of France. Adorned with the French crown jew­els, in­clud­ing a mag­nif­i­cent 140-carat di­a­mond from In­dia’s Gol­conda mine, it is just one of 300 his­toric items on dis­play un­til July 2 in Chaumet’s Im­pe­rial Splen­dours ex­hi­bi­tion at the Palace Mu­seum. The Con­sular Sword, also known as Napoléon I’s Corona­tion Sword, is dis­played against an 1806 paint­ing of the em­peror in his corona­tion robes.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, brought to­gether by Henri Loyrette, who was pres­i­dent of the Lou­vre for 12 years and di­rec­tor of the Musée d’or­say for two decades, and Béa­trice de Plin­val, cu­ra­tor of Chaumet’s mu­seum and ar­chives for close to 40 years, spans the his­tory of the jew­ellery house from the lat­ter part of the 18th cen­tury into the 21st cen­tury. It fea­tures both her­itage and re­cent high jew­ellery pieces from the lux­ury mai­son, sketches and por­traits of the house’s most iconic and promi­nent clients from its 237-year his­tory, and items be­long­ing to the Palace Mu­seum.

When dis­cus­sions be­gan about stag­ing a her­itage ex­hi­bi­tion for Chaumet, De Plin­val con­sulted Loyrette. “He told me that there are only two places in the world we should con­sider for such an im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tion: the Musée du Lou­vre in Paris, be­cause of the rich­ness of its ar­chives and Chaumet’s strong ties to the French monarch, and the For­bid­den City—the Palace Mu­seum—in Bei­jing, the cra­dle of Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion,” De Plin­val says. Chaumet set its sights on the Palace Mu­seum, which was the im­pe­rial palace of the em­per­ors of the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties from 1368 to 1912. To­day, it is where the trea­sures of the an­cient Chi­nese im­pe­rial fam­i­lies are pre­served.

It took five years to bring the Im­pe­rial Splen­dours ex­hi­bi­tion from idea to re­al­ity. “To even be con­sid­ered to ex­hibit at the Palace Mu­seum, you have to have the her­itage, which Chaumet has,” says De Plin­val. “But apart from that, there were other po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic mat­ters to con­sider. When we fi­nally got the ap­proval of the Palace Mu­seum, then be­gan the ar­du­ous process of ne­go­ti­at­ing the terms of the loans with mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tors. It was not easy, but then again, great things never are.”

Ul­ti­mately, 17 mu­se­ums—in­clud­ing the Lou­vre, the Napoléon I Mu­seum of the Chateau of Fon­tainebleau, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Palace of Com­piègne, and the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Chateaux of Mal­mai­son and Bois-préau—and 45 pri­vate col­lec­tors agreed to loan ex­cep­tional pieces for this ex­hi­bi­tion, many of them leav­ing France or go­ing on pub­lic view for the first time. The pre­cious pieces are dis­played along­side a se­lec­tion of ex­quis­ite jew­ellery, crafts and or­na­ments be­long­ing to the Palace Mu­seum, set­ting up a di­a­logue be­tween Chi­nese and French jew­ellery and dec­o­ra­tive arts.

“We worked very closely with Mon­sieur Loyrette in select­ing the pieces that went into this ex­hi­bi­tion,” says De Plin­val. “Through the pieces, we wanted to show Chaumet’s his­tory and how it was as­so­ci­ated with the golden age of dec­o­ra­tive arts, and as well the birth of high jew­ellery. Chaumet was cre­ated at the end of the 18th cen­tury and be­fore the French Rev­o­lu­tion, and its founder, Marieé­ti­enne Ni­tot, was the per­sonal jew­eller of Marie An­toinette. The French Rev­o­lu­tion vir­tu­ally de­stroyed Paris. Un­der Napoléon and Joséphine, Paris had to start all over again, and the house of Chaumet was part of this cru­cial time in France’s his­tory.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion be­gins with a pre­lude high­light­ing mile­stones of Chaumet’s his­tory from 1780 to 2017 through 12 em­blem­atic pieces—from its old­est cre­ation (a memo­rial box for the Mar­quise de La­woes­tine, 1789) to a con­tem­po­rary Joséphine ring. This mag­nif­i­cent spread segues to the first sec­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion, where the evo­lu­tion of styles ac­com­pa­nies the his­tory of France and the suc­ces­sion of po­lit­i­cal regimes. The ma­jor cre­ations of the im­pe­rial and royal courts—from the Con­sulate to the Se­cond Em­pire—are pre­sented, as are the il­lus­tri­ous fig­ures who com­mis­sioned them: Napoléon I, who hand­picked Ni­tot to am­plify his sym­bols of power; the Em­press Joséphine, whose love of jew­ellery is re­flected in cer­e­mo­nial parures adorned with pearls and di­a­monds; and the Em­press Marie-louise, the in­sti­ga­tor of neo­clas­si­cal jew­ellery’s golden age.

The se­cond sec­tion evokes the mai­son’s open­ing onto an in­creas­ingly cos­mopoli­tan world, and the def­i­ni­tion of a style that re­flects the Parisian taste and spirit. An in­ter­play of dif­fer­ent eras is pre­sented here, fo­cus­ing on four of the themes dear to Chaumet: the art of the neck­lace; the po­etry of na­ture; an ode to flora and fauna; and sen­ti­men­tal jew­els, from the bowknot to the liens mo­tif and the art of the di­a­dem.

The ex­hi­bi­tion cul­mi­nates with the un­veil­ing of the Ver­tiges di­a­dem, or “the 21st cen­tury di­a­dem,” which is the re­sult of a jew­ellery de­sign com­pe­ti­tion ini­ti­ated by Chaumet at Cen­tral Saint Martins, a con­stituent col­lege of the Uni­ver­sity of the Arts Lon­don. The di­a­dem is a fit­ting end, be­cause as much as the ex­hi­bi­tion is a homage to Chaumet’s rich her­itage, it is also about what the fu­ture holds for the mai­son.

“For close to four decades, I have en­riched, de­vel­oped and pro­tected the her­itage of Chaumet,” De Plin­val says. “Per­son­ally, I feel that this project is the cul­mi­na­tion of all the work and love I have poured into this mai­son over all those years. And for Chaumet, this ex­hi­bi­tion demon­strates that the tra­di­tion of ex­cel­lence con­tin­ues, and with the wealth of ex­per­tise and his­tory it holds, there’s so much more to achieve.”

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