Like archaeologists who plough into the earth to uncover historic artefacts, jewellers are known to delve deep into their archives before revealing a new collection of sparklers made fresh and relevant for contemporary times. The House of Chanel, however, has a somewhat different approach, faithfully turning instead to the storied life of its enigmatic founder for that magical spark of inspiration.
With instantly recognisable motifs, such as her favourite camellia and the lion (she was a Leo), and relatively more obscure ones like the humble wheat (her talisman against austerity) and the coromandel screens she so loved, the atelier retells Gabrielle Chanel’s scintillating tale with each new collection it launches. Glittering chapters of haute joaillerie have even been dedicated to her impassioned affairs. The nautical-themed Flying Cloud collection of 2017, for example, was named after the magnificent yacht that belonged to her former lover Hugh Grosvenor, who ignited her love for the sea. More recently, the Escale à Venise collection released at the start of the year pays tribute to the floating city in which she sought refuge after the death of Boy Capel, the great love of her life.
This March saw Chanel launching what was arguably its most ambitious haute joaillerie collection to date: The 123-piece Collection N°5, which celebrates the centennial anniversary of the world’s most famous perfume with a storied past that rivals that of Gabrielle herself. Yet, for all the commentary and reportage that surrounds Chanel N°5, the one thing that experts all agree on is the historical and financial significance it plays in Chanel lore.
Related article: Chanel N°5 Looks Back On 100 Years Of Celebrity
“This is a collection that’s very important to me because I have dreamt about it for a long time,” says Patrice Leguéreau, Director of the Chanel Fine Jewellery Creation Studio. “When I joined Chanel in 2009, I discovered the richness of the Chanel patrimony and realised how precious and how very special the N°5 perfume is to Chanel. The idea of creating a high jewellery collection inspired by a perfume came to me a long time ago, but I had to just wait for the right time to go in that direction because there were many things to do during the last decade. This year, with the 100th anniversary, was the right time.”
Related article: Chanel’s Quilted Bag Is Reborn As A New Mini Treasure
What were you most excited about going into this project and its perfume inspirations?
As you probably know, I’ve been a jewellery designer for nearly 30 years now, and I have designed and developed many collections for Chanel. I’ve been very motivated because I’ve been able to discover new themes and new artistic territories [within Chanel], and for me, it’s very important for each collection to tell a new story and to go in a different direction from those before. Last year, there was the Tweed [de Chanel] collection—the first high jewellery collection to be inspired by the fabric. And that’s why N°5 [was a great source of inspiration for] me: To design for the first time in Chanel, and even in the jewellery world, a collection inspired by a perfume? Only N°5 could be [a subject] strong enough to offer creativity for a full high jewellery collection.
As excited as you were to start on the project, did you have any reservations going in?
Yes, there were many because it’s never easy to start, create, design and develop from nothing. With time, I found solutions to achieve this collection, but there were many [concerns] in the beginning—with regard to the stones and techniques I wanted to use, and the stories that I wanted to tell.
What you’ve also done is to make the intangible tangible. Can you tell us more about the Sillage range and how you translated something that’s olfactory into something that can be touched?
From the beginning, it was important to me to not only design from the visual aspect of N°5. Of course, I started the process with designing from the bottle stopper, but this perfume is something different; something special. I smelled this very recognisable perfume on my skin every day and when you smell it, something very unique happens in your mind. There’s a feeling, a special mood, and it was interesting and exciting to try and illustrate that feeling. The direction I went with was the explosion, the brightness of the perfume; something that radiates with movement because N°5 is warm, it’s dynamic, it’s full of energy and it has a strong personality.
What emotions and experiences do you hope people will get from the collection?
A little bit of [what they get when] they smell the perfume. It’s a complex perfume because it’s made with many ingredients. When you smell it, it’s possible to get a bit of jasmine, a bit of the freshness from the aldehydes… What Gabrielle Chanel said when she created this perfume was that she didn’t want one smell to be more recognisable than the others; many things come together to create N°5. For the jewellery collection, it’s the same. You’re going to see a lot of the elements that make up the N°5 universe all together. Some are going to be recognisable very easily, while with others, only small details [give it away]: A small number five on the back of a ring or a clasp in the shape of the bottle stopper. There’s always a visual signature to link all the pieces.
Tell us more about the hero of the collection: The 55.55 necklace.
It’s a beautiful story because it [started as] a dream in the beginning. I dreamed of a unique stone—not the biggest, but the one that could be special for Chanel; one with a story to tell. I didn’t know if it would be a special carat, colour or weight, but [it had to be] something that interprets the richness and splendour of N°5. After months of work and research, we found a very beautiful rough diamond that could give us a 50- to 70-carat diamond, but it was obvious that 55.55 carats was the best. The stone is detachable, [but on the necklace, it’s] surrounded by baguette diamonds that are all specially cut to fit perfectly into the bottle-shaped pendant. There are more than 150 carats of diamonds on this necklace, which is very flexible and articulated. I’m very proud to have realised this piece. It’s the most spectacular thing I’ve ever designed and never done before by Chanel, so it’s very important to the story of the jewellery in Chanel.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this collection to life?
Technically, it’s quite classic jewellery work, with new settings and special crowns that we developed; but this was not especially complicated. The most challenging aspect probably has to do with the stones because when I first design, I have an idea of the colours I want to use. Then, with the team, we find the stones to fit the design. It’s very frustrating for me sometimes because we find the right colour and the right shape, but the quality of the gem isn’t good enough for Chanel. So I have to refuse a stone that from my artistic point of view would look perfect but that the gemmologist says no to. It has to be perfect. I think it’s important to note that a collection like this one is possible only because the Chanel team is very talented and very motivated. It’s really the result of the spirit and culture at the Maison.
Do you have a personal favourite design from the collection?
The 55.55-carat diamond necklace is spectacular and amazing, but let me surprise you: For the N°5 collection, I also designed a precious jewellery collection— “precious jewellery” is what Chanel calls pieces that you’re able to wear every day. From the smallest piece in the collection to the most spectacular, it’s the same creative process, the same energy and the same pleasure for me to create. But the difference is that this precious jewellery will be worn by many in the world and that’s also very beautiful for me. So the most beautiful piece, to me, is not [necessarily] the most expensive or biggest, but one that is worn by many women around the world.
This is indeed a surprising answer! What would you say are some of the main things that characterise Chanel jewellery?
With Chanel jewellery, you can see a purity of design that is clear to understand; it is very well designed, supple and comfortable. It is timeless as well and something you can wear for a long time—like N°5, which is a timeless perfume. I’d say all of Chanel’s products can be worn for a long time. This is a very important aspect of a Chanel creation: It has to be signed by time.