His­toric French jew­eller Chaumet brings a con­tem­po­rary ap­proach to clas­si­cism

Chaumet may be more than 250 years old, but the jew­eller of­ten acts a lot younger, writes STEPHANIE IP

#Legend - - Contents -

FRENCH JEW­ELLER CHAUMET has pulled off the im­prob­a­ble: mount­ing what may be the largest ex­hi­bi­tion yet of pieces of art from Im­pe­rial France and Im­pe­rial China, at the Palace Mu­seum in the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing. The Im­pe­rial Splen­dours ex­hi­bi­tion, due to close on July 2, dis­plays no fewer than 300 paint­ings, items of jew­ellery, sil­ver­ware, jade and other arte­facts on loan from pri­vate col­lec­tions and from 17 mu­se­ums around the world, in­clud­ing the Palace Mu­seum, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don, and the Lou­vre and the Chaumet mu­seum, both in Paris. Many of the ex­hibits are na­tional trea­sures. The sword borne by Em­peror Napoleon Bon­a­parte at his coro­na­tion is among them. The sword has never be­fore left France.

Putting on the ex­hi­bi­tion was a com­pul­sion for the man who has been pres­i­dent of Chaumet since 2014, Jean-Marc Mansvelt. Mansvelt told The New York Times last year that Chaumet had be­come “a sleep­ing beauty, a much-ad­mired and ex­quis­ite jew­ellery house that had nev­er­the­less qui­etly slipped un­der the radar over the years”. He has made it his task to ad­min­is­ter the awak­en­ing kiss.

“The Palace Mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion is im­por­tant as a way to wake up the sleep­ing beauty,” Mansvelt tells #leg­end, “be­cause when you have more than 250 years of his­tory, it's a long time. The mai­son was also very dis­creet for many years. And there was a time when we weren't sure: is the pub­lic still in­ter­ested by this her­itage? How do we find the bal­ance be­tween this great his­tory and moder­nity? If we only tell the story of the past, no­body will be in­ter­ested. We had to find a bal­ance, and use other meth­ods.”

Chaumet has been busy. Apart from ar­rang­ing the Palace Mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion, the jew­eller has pub­lished a tril­ogy of books about

its his­tory, about the art of mak­ing tiaras and about its mo­tifs taken from na­ture. And in Hong Kong last month, it put on a brief event which in­cluded a vir­tual re­al­ity visit to the Chaumet premises on Place Vendôme in Paris.

The jew­eller is no stranger to the digital realm. At the end of last year Chaumet launched its first mo­bile phone app, called You Me Paris, which it de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with My Lit­tle Paris. You Me Paris is more than your usual e-com­merce app. It is a travel guide, which shows the best side of the City of Light from the Chaumet per­spec­tive. It is full of in­side in­for­ma­tion, di­rect­ing the user on foot along lit­tle-known by­ways to the cosiest cafes, the hippest ho­tels and the most ro­man­tic corners of the city.

“Chaumet is about cou­ples. It's about young cou­ples. It's about wed­dings and love,” Mansvelt says. “So when you put the two things to­gether, why not dis­cover Paris as a young cou­ple in a way that is dif­fer­ent from what every­body is do­ing?” The em­pha­sis is on ap­peal­ing to a younger, tech-savvy gen­er­a­tion. “You only sur­vive if you adapt your­self to the dif­fer­ent decades and the dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions,” Mansvelt says. What he calls “the choice of dis­tinc­tion” im­bues ev­ery­thing that Chaumet does. “Chaumet is for peo­ple who want to live and ap­pear in a dif­fer­ent way,” he says. “They don't wear what every­body wears.”

In China, the highly pub­li­cised mar­riage of celebri­ties An­ge­lababy and Huang Xiaom­ing in 2015 gave a huge boost to the pop­u­lar ap­peal of Chaumet, par­tic­u­larly among the young. The ring Huang gave An­ge­lababy is a Joséphine “Ai­grette im­pe­rial” ring by Chaumet, bear­ing a five-carat, pear-shaped di­a­mond sur­rounded by another half-carat of bril­liant-cut di­a­monds.

An­ge­lababy's ring had an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on the jew­eller's pen­e­tra­tion of the Chi­nese mar­ket. “It's not the en­try point for Chaumet, but it's true that it was an ac­cel­er­a­tor,” Mansvelt says. “For sure, the choice of An­ge­lababy and her hus­band to come to Paris and se­lect the pieces we had, and wear­ing some of our an­tiques dur­ing the wed­ding, it was a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for us,” he says. “They were very in­ter­ested in some­thing that was not worn by every­body.” Mansvelt adds: “It was a nice con­nec­tion, a happy mar­riage on top of their mar­riage.”

Watch­mak­ing will re­main a side­line for Chaumet. “There's a good rea­son,” Mansvelt says. “It's very quiet but it still ex­ists. Watches have been part of Chaumet since 1811 but the way it has al­ways been done has been as a jew­eller. Beau­ti­ful bracelets, beau­ti­ful neck­laces, se­cret watches: they're still watches but at the end, it's not the main pur­pose,” he says. “The rea­son peo­ple have loved Chaumet for so many years is be­cause it's a jew­eller rather than a watch­maker. We'll con­tinue to do watches, but high jew­ellery pieces, rather than as a watch­maker.” #

Above: Chaumet’s JeanMarc Mansvelt Right: the plat­inum and di­a­mond Bour­bon-Parme from 1919

Clock­wise from above: Qing Dy­nasty hair­pin; Coq Chante­cler brooch, circa 1969; the Ver­tiges crown (2017); a trio of ai­grette, light head­pieces worn in­stead of a crown

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