Ever since its inaugural diamond-centric collection debuted over 90 years ago, Chanel’s high-jewelry creations have embraced the fashion flair of founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Chanel High Jewelry, a slipcased new tome by Julie Levoyer and Agnès Muckensturm, delves into the house’s recurring themes and symbols, exploring the significance they had for the famed French couturier whose designs became wardrobe staples of well-dressed women.
It all began with an invitation from the London Diamond Corporation to revitalize diamond sales. The result was Chanel’s Bijoux de Diamants collection in 1932. Showcasing the brilliance of diamonds, the pieces centered around themes of comets, the moon and the sun. The book’s extravagant array of photos and archival images provides a visual through-line from that initial collection to contemporary iterations.
Allure Céleste necklace from the 1932 collection. (Atelier Mai 98/Thomas Dhellemmes/Jeremy Zenou/Chanel)
Sprinkled throughout are quotes from and photos of Chanel herself that offer the reader a glimpse of the woman behind the designs. The volume’s four sections — “Origins,” “Symbols,” “Spirit” and “Allure” — place the jewelry’s themes in the context of her life.
[The designer used] her courage and intuition to help women show off their natural elegance and style.
Born in August, Chanel embraced the lion, her astrological symbol. Its strong, proud presence appears in pendants and necklaces, rings and bracelets. In a nod to a childhood memory of walking past wheat fields with her father, her designs also depicted sheaves of wheat in the summer sunshine, sparkling with gemstones and diamonds.
The camellia flower was a favorite for Chanel; she admired its geometrical shape, which she reinvented in diamonds and precious stones. Pearls were a talisman she favored as well, whether in earrings, chokers, or single or multiple strands. Then there was the number five — her lucky number and the namesake of her groundbreaking fragrance. Both the numeral and the Chanel No. 5 bottle have served as motifs in the brand’s collections.
Gabrielle Chanel, Place Vendôme, Paris. (Chanel)
Among the other elements that provided fodder for Chanel’s designs were Venice’s baroque and byzantine splendors, the vibrancy of the Ballets Russes, and the “Café Society” that allowed her to mingle with aristocrats, artists and the bohemian avant-garde. The tweed suits of her lover, the second duke of Westminster, figured in her works as well, as did the days she spent aboard his yacht, The Flying Cloud.
Chanel boutique at 18 Place Vendôme. (Roger Schall/Collection Schall)
In all of these creations, the book says, she used “her courage and intuition to help women show off their natural elegance and style.”
Chanel High Jewelry was published by Thames & Hudson in March.
Main image: Chanel Horizon Lointain necklace from the Coromandel collection. (Julien Claessens and Thomas Deschamps/Chanel)