Out of Africa
With the final chapter of its Les Mondes de Chaumet trilogy, the French Maison shines the spotlight on the rich colours and materials of sub-Saharan Africa.
ma magine if you could go on an epic jou journey around the world, travelling acro across different continents to experience as d diverse an array of cultures as possible. Y You might start in Russia, followed by Japan, and finally end up in Africa. Sounds like an impossible dream? Not according to Chaumet. Les Mondes de Chaumet (French for “The Worlds of Chaumet”) is a high jewellery trilogy staged beautifully by the Maison, starting with the Russian-inspired Promenades Impériales before moving on to the Japan-inspired Chant du Printemps.The grand finale? Trésors d’Afrique (French for “African treasures”), inspired by the natural wonders of sub-Saharan Africa.
Consisting of five distinct parts, each sub-collection in Trésors d’Afrique pays homage to a different aspect of the continent.The Terres d’Or line, a symbol of desert sand and ochre earth, boasts rubies from East Africa, yellow sapphires and a modern mix of red lacquer.The exceptional rings were designed with the Toi et Moi ring (an iconic ring given to Empress Josephine by Napoleon Bonaparte) in mind. Inspired by an African bride headpiece, the necklace from the Cascades Royales line is a bold mix of the rare Colombian Muzo emerald with onyx and diamonds.The Rondes de Pierres line is a clear nod to the Maasai tribe’s fondness for dynamic colours, expressed in a circle of beads of mandarin garnets, red spinels, black spinels, emeralds and the purest non-heated sapphire beads.The Talismania bangles and rings, meanwhile, symbolise a good luck charm, juxtaposing ebony with gold, lapis lazuli, tiger-eye, malachite and turquoise.
The last line, Espiègleries, sits as a special series as it highlights a collaboration with Evans Mbugua, a Nairobi-born, Paris-based contemporary artist. Directly translated as “playful harmony”, Espiègleries depicts scenes from the African savannah, mainly using the Grand Feu enamelling technique.The resulting brooches and watches are awe-inducing pieces that have been created with a sense of play and wonder.
As always with Chaumet, every collection is about celebrating the connection between art and the Maison, the past and present, as well as the dialogue between history and the world today.We speak to Chaumet’s Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Marc Mansvelt, to find out more.
Can you take us back to how Les Mondes de Chaumet began?
The journey is really about coming back to what is important for us since the beginning of our Maison. [For us,] it has always been about reiterating the fact that Chaumet is a Parisian Maison with a strong point of view and distinctive style. Paris is the capital of, not only fashion, but also art; and she has been exposed to many visitors from various countries, cultures and continents. Of course, some of them have become Chaumet clients. So the idea is to celebrate the fact that Chaumet has been opening its doors to the world. We planned this in three chapters. The first was based on historical influences, and we chose Russia. Chapter two was more of an educational outreach, with the opening of our exhibition in Tokyo (“The Worlds of Chaumet”, held at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum). The third chapter culminated in the first week of July, focusing on Africa with the launch of Trésors d’Afrique. It’s a territory that has not been explored much by other high jewellery brands.As far as I know, this is the first time a high jeweller has done a full collection dedicated to Africa.
With such a worldly theme, is it fair to say that Chaumet is now looking out instead of looking in?
I think the world of Chaumet is dialectic between inside and outside; between being true to your style and the way to see the world. That’s why we regularly bring in talents to collaborate. In the past we had Pierre Sterlé. Some 40 years ago, he was creating jewels for his own brand as well as for Chaumet. Also, at the end of the 19th century, the key factor to some of Chaumet’s iconic pieces was René Lalique, before he started his own Maison. He contributed great drawings and initial ideas for wing-themed designs that by extension became our famous wing tiara created for Gertrude-Vanderbilt in 1908.
That’s why I thought Les Mondes du Chaumet is an interesting concept: The first two chapters are familiar to the Chaumet world, because we have done so many orders for important Russian and Japanese clientele.The last chapter, on Africa, is a bit unexpected.
Why was Africa chosen for the last chapter?
Many may not know how much African culture has influenced the world of art; that’s why we are celebrating it. Plus, we always want to celebrate this connection between Chaumet and art in general.Africa is everywhere in the world of today and, I believe, the world of tomorrow. Chaumet has survived for so many decades because clients still come [along] with us. So we play the good role by opening up their eyes and their horizons.Taking into account that many of our clients are also very much involved in art, and are themselves collecting great art pieces from the past and from today. Some of our clients hold some incredible pieces from the 20th century; [Georges] Braque, [André] Derain and Picasso, as well as contemporary artworks from Africa.That [is] also our way, to connect different things.We need to, because otherwise, we could be very dusty, very soon.
Trésors d’Afrique was created in collaboration with artist Evans Mbugua. What was the process like?
Evans Mbugua came into the picture about two years ago. By then, we were already working on the third chapter. He brought in his own point of view, something relevant to today. The initial work on Trésors d’Afrique was more related to some of the African-influenced artworks done in the 20th century by well-known artists like Pablo Picasso. At Chaumet, we connect the then with the now, history with modernity. Mbugua’s role in the collection was more of a collaborator; to add dialogue and to incite reaction. [He also worked on] a series of brooches, where he was given a blank [slate] to imagine his own story through the portrayal of African animals.
What is the essence of the Trésor d’Afrique collection and what does it aim to capture?
Every collection [that we create] is an answer to the question on energy, joy and colours, because jewellery is created for celebration. Even though the theme feels rather different—the brand has actually been a little bit audacious in its approach—Trésors d’Afrique still feels very Chaumet to me. There will always be lightness and fluidity, a sense of harmony or equilibrium in every single Chaumet piece. The goal for each collection is to define the brand. Once this is achieved, it’s all about the journey. Personally, I believe people respond to the collection well if the journey was joyful. That’s the thing we have to guarantee. What’s also important with Trésors d’Afrique is that with it, we celebrate Africa, but we don’t promote nor fight for Africa. The collection is not a political statement. We are inspired by African culture and people because they bring a lot of meaning to us. [It’s] as simple as that. It’s as if we opened a window for us to think differently, to think outside, to think about certain wonderful moments. Trésors d’Afrique is a dream. It’s a dream of Africa. ■
Models wearing pieces from the Chaumet Trésors d’Afrique collection
From left: An illustration of the Espiègleries flamingo brooch. The Espiègleries parure includes white and yellow gold, colourful precious stones and Grand Feu enamel. The transformable Espiègleries ant brooch
From top: The Espiègleries elephant brooch in white gold, pink opal and multi-stone. The Cascades Royales parure mixes white and yellow gold with emeralds and diamonds. An illustration of the Espiègleries zebra and monkey brooch