The Australian - Wish Magazine
With its new Maison in a historic building in the centre of Paris, Chaumet has created the perfect homage to its rich history and exquisite craftsmanship
IT seems only fitting that French jewellery brand Chaumet’s new threestory Maison should sit in the shadow of Napoléon Bonaparte’s statue standing 42m high atop Place Vendôme’s elaborately embellished bronze column in Paris. After all, his great love story with his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais lies at the heart of the house’s 240yearold inception, and even today their legacy lives on in many of the motifs used throughout Chaumet’s collections of tiaras, necklaces, rings, earrings and brooches. Now it is also physically embedded in subtle, textural ways into its newly restored home, 12 Place Vendôme.
Founded in 1780 by MarieÉtienne Nitot – the son of a wholesale fish merchant who learnt his craft from AngeJoseph Aubert, jeweller to Louis XV and XVI before becoming jeweller to the first Emperor and his beautiful wife – the Maison did not establish itself at number 15 Place Vendôme (now the site of the Ritz Paris) until 1812. In 1907, the boutique and workshop moved across the elegant square – today, one of the jewellery world’s most soughtafter addresses – to number 12. By then it was headed by Joseph Chaumet – who had changed the jewellery house’s name to his own in 1889 and also incorporated workshops for stonecutting, sculpting, drawing, metal work and mechanics, as well as opening a photographic studio.
Today, 12 Vendôme is “much more than a boutique”, enthuses JeanMarc Mansvelt, Chaumet’s CEO since 2015. “In a single address, Chaumet’s hôtel particulier combines the three dimensions of the brand: on the ground floor and mezzanine, we welcome our clients; on the next floor, the historic salons express the Maison’s culture and patrimoine (heritage); and lastly, on the top floor, the heritage department and high jewellery workshop are the nerve centre of Chaumet’s virtuosity,” he explains.
On every level, there are subtle but symbolic references to the brand’s most famous first clients, Napoléon and Joséphine (the latter so enamoured of Nitot’s tiara presented to Pope Pius VII, embedded with 3346 precious stones and 2990 pearls, that she immediately named Chaumet Jeweler in Ordinary to the Empress, in 1805). Words taken from the couple’s love letters have been hand inscribed into the stucco walls that follow the grand
escalier (grand staircase), connecting the two floors of the boutique; noble materials such as walnut and oak deepen the connection to the brand’s longstanding relationship with royalty and aristocracy, from Queen Victoria to the Russian Czars. Motifs associated with the house – from ears of wheat and laurel wreaths to spring swallows – have been carved, embossed, painted and embroidered into the very fabric of Maison’s physical structure.
This intricate attention to detail owes everything to Parisian architect Patricia Grosdemange, who has been working in collaboration with Mansvelt since 2015, first on the new look for boutiques from Monaco to Tokyo and then starting on the 18month restoration of 12 Vendôme. This proved “an altogether more complex and
complicated project, where the stripping back of all the levels exposed structural weaknesses and inconsistencies with the original floorplans,” she says. “Not least because for its age – [ it had been] tampered with for centuries by its previous occupants – but also for the scale of bringing the building back up to standard.”
The building was designed in 1779 by architect FrançoisJoseph Bélanger, who was responsible for designing the Château de Bagatelle for Comte d’Artois, Louis XVI’s brother. Grosdemange worked on its restoration with the architectural conservator Florent Richard. “Sometimes we had to destroy or remove elements before rebuilding,” she says of redesigning each space to be open and bright yet intimate, while respecting the historical listing of the façade, rooftop and Salon Chopin (named after its most famous resident, the composer Frédéric Chopin, who died here in 1849).
Aesthetically, Grosdemange’s starting point was “the richness of nature”, she says, as well as a celebration of hand craftsmanship, which echoed the traditions of the centuriesold jewellery house. “I’m really passionate about texture and material so I drew on all branches of the decorative arts, including contemporary cabinetmaking, stonecarving, metalwork and passementerie to create something absolutely unique for 12 Vendôme.”
This included working with the alabaster and rock crystal specialist Atelier Alain Ellouz to sculpt display cases that imitate sunbursts and imprint fields of swaying wheat into the delicate nature of the walls (mirrored by more wheat fields, stitched in gold thread onto walls padded with raw silk, by Paris’s oldest embroidery atelier, Maison Lesage). “We asked our artisans to be much more demanding of their art,” says Grosdemange.
Elsewhere, delicate basreliefs of trailing tree branches carved into plaster stretch across walls to ceilings; in a room dedicated to brides, a tiara has been sculpted into the wall above a long sofa. Against large wall panels inlaid with straw marquetry by Yann Jallu Ébénisties, fashioned in glowing gold or Chaumet’s iconic rich, deep midnight blue, the Maison’s jewellery pieces, studded with diamonds and precious gems in platinum and gold, come all the more vividly to life.
Gilded ceilings, carved with concentric circles intimating rippling water; plush, silky carpets sculpted with the parterre patterns of Joséphine’s favourite gardens at the Château de Malmaison; balustrades upholstered in creamy leather; and photographs by Julia Hetta, showing Chaumet’s pieces used in different ways (sautoirs become headbands, bracelets worn as armbands, earrings act as hairpins) and framed in highlytextured antique frames from Maison Lebrun – all attest to Grosdemange’s love of sophisticated layering. It is difficult not to reach out and touch it all.
The first floor, the étage noble – previously a dark rabbit warren of closed, disconnected rooms with low false ceilings – has been transformed into a series of private salons, filled with light and grand details such as the three walls of the Salon des Diadèmes, which is lined with nickelsilver maquettes of more than 250 of the 500plus tiaras previously created by Chaumet.
Here, there is a maquette for the cabochon emerald, diamond and platinum tiara Joseph Chaumet designed for Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, in 1926. William Moulton Marston took this as inspiration for the peakedheaddresshiscomicbookcharacterWonderWoman wears to honour her Amazonian heritage as Princess Diana of Themyscira and her supernatural powers.
Another represents the tiara with platinum and diamond trefoils (originally commissioned by the Baroness Émile de Cartier de Marchienne) which was worn by
Gilded ceilings, carved with concentric circles to imitate rippling water; silky carpets sculpted with the parterre patterns of Joséphine’s gardens...
Countess Mountbatten of Burma,, the last Vicereine of India, to the coronation of King George VI in 1937. Her daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks (marriedarried to the renowned interior designer David Hicks) recountsounts in Chaumet Tiaras:
Divine Jewels (Thames & Hudson) that she used to travel with it stuffed inside her beret so that she could move more easily through customs on her way to various balls.
Also on display is a pair of wings, commissioned around 1908 by the billionaire philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (founder of the Whitney Museum in New York) and set with 1274 diamonds, which could be worn either as an aigrette or separated into two brooches.
In the Salon Chopin, a decorative 1920s Pleyel grand piano handsomely offsets the room’s gilded boiserie, carved with shells, dolphins, anchors and tridents by the Rousseau brothers, and murals depicting scenes of Neptune and Venus painted by Lagrenée Le Jeune – all were artisans favoured at the time by the court of Versailles. In what is now called the Salon des Perles, a newly created boardcumdiningroom, the reinterpretation of a very old wallpaper technique, inset into the Napoléon IIIstyle wall panelling, brings the space a modern dynamism.
On the top floor, the high jewellery workshop, run by Benoît Verhulle, is flooded with natural light and views of the Place Vendôme below. Here, the collection of 12 Trésors d’Ailleurs rings, devised to celebrate the opening of 12 Vendôme with a take on the lovers’ tradition of suitors giving their fiancées a “house ring” as an emblem of the life they will build together, also honour “our many clients from around the world, since the very beginning”, according to Mansvelt.
In the collection’s mix are designs such as Artemesia, with its large domed turquoiturquoise centre reflecting the patinated rooftops of Paris, and Grand Palais, a diamond and emerald studded homage to the city’s famous BeauxArtArt iron and glass building built for the Universal Exposition of 1900; ShéhérezadShéhérezade, an Ottomanstyle ring embellished with sapphires, lapis lazuli and lacquer set in yellow gold; and the Lady Wei, an elegant interpretation of a Chinese pagoda in gold emembellished with indicolite tourmaline and mandarin garnet.garnet
Also unique to the store is LLégende, a limited edition of 29 medallions portraying carcarved symbols pertinent to Chaumet, such as the Vendôme CColumn, J for Joséphine, a tiara,laurelwreathandfleurdelyfleurdelys,studdedwithdiamonds, rubies, emeralds or motherofpeamotherofpearl. “The Chaumet style is about lightness, enhancement of the stones and refinement in the details,” says Verhulle. “TThe metal is there to hold the stones but not to smother ththem, as best evidenced by the fil couteau – a Chaumet signaturesign – that renders the mounting as imperceptible as the effect is airy.”
“It was very important to cecelebrate Chaumet’s 240th anniversary and our return to PlacePl Vendôme in the right way, but that has also been the chance to do something new,” says Mansvelt after WISH WIS tours every floor. We pass a fullsize statue of EmpressEmpre Joséphine, a replica of an 1865 original by Vital Dubray kept at the Palace of Versailles, and enter rooms showcasing recent collections, including the graphic honeycombinspired Bee My Love, Liens – marked by links, crosses (representing kisses) and bows – and Joséphine, a contemporary twist on the style of tiaras and aigrettes beloved of the Empress and now transposed into rings, pendants and bracelets.
Mansvelt’s dream for 12 Vendôme was also that it should express Chaumet’s different moments and different emotions, “but it’s not given all in one go”, he says. “Like a beautiful painting, a good book or a fantastic film, the beauty is when you look at the painting 10 times, or if you read the book three times or if you see the film 20 times, and each time it opens new doors. We hope the same applies every time you visit 12 Vendôme.”
So while it is in part homage to Chaumet’s illustrious past, and its most famous muses – Joséphine and Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, endless duchesses, princesses and queens, as well as Out of Africa author Karen Blixen, arts patron and friend to the Surrealists Vicomtesse MarieLaure de Noailles, and Olga Khokhlova, wife of Picasso and former Sergei Diaghilev Ballet Russes ballerina – it is also very much grounded in celebrating today’s modern women. “The Chaumet woman has purity, audacity and strength, without pushing the limits too much,” says Mansvelt. “This tension – between lightness and presence, tradition and modernity, femininity with a certain character and grace – is at the heart of Chaumet.”