Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Chanel Jewelry

Chanel Pate-de-Verre Pendant
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel was born in France in 1883 and, following the death of her mother, was housed with her sisters in a convent. She trained as a seamstress, and after discovering and developing a talent for dressmaking, millinery, and fashion design, she set up her first boutique in Rue Cambon, Paris, in 1910. Her unusually loose-fitting clothes were accompanied by costume jewelry produced in collaboration with artisans such as Gripoix and Goossens, under the supervision of her chief jewelry designer, Etienne de Beaumont.

Chanel's jewelry from the 1920s usually consisted of ropes of pearls with interspersed pate de verre stones, sometimes with crosses hanging from them. She also made strands of pearls and coloured glass for wearing with coloured glass and pearl cuffs and bracelets.

The 1930s saw gilded jewels, chains, cuffs, and buttons in an almost militaristic style. It was around this time that Chanel and I he first large couturiers started to produce lines of costume jewelry to accompany their clothing, a trend continued by Christian Dior among others. It is probably due to this development that Chanel is credited with the "invention" of modern costume jewelry. Many of the designs were simply copies of her real jewelry, which was either given to her or worn by her high-status friends and clients.

Chanel Shooting Star Clip
Some of the most sought-after Chanel jewelry is that designed by the Fulco Verdura (the Duke of Verdura), an Italian nobleman who initially designed fabrics for Chanel and then went on to design certain classic lines of jewelry for her too.

• Chanel employed many talented people to design jewelry for her, among whom Comte Etienne de Beaumont and the Duke of Verdura are perhaps best known.

• It was collaboration between Chanel and Ventura that produced the most famous piece of Chanel jewelry: the enameled cuff bracelet emblazoned with a jeweled Maltese cross. The originals of these bracelets, from 1930, fetch many thousands of pounds today, but beware of modern reissues.

Gabrielle Chanel's first exploration into precious jewelry design took place under intense secrecy in her apartment on St Honore. She hid herself away from prying eyes and, with the aid of wax busts and necklines, indulged her imagination. This was a commission for the Guild of Diamond Merchants, who asked her to produce original designs, an unusual choice perhaps of a designer who up to this time was known for popularizing fake fantasy jewels.

Chanel Cuff Bracelet
Despite owning huge quantities of precious jewelry, her attitude to it was generally one of scorn, and she wore costume jewelry. In an interview in 1969 she was quoted as saying” I only like artificial jewellery because I think it offensive and undignified to lug about millions of pounds' worth round one's neck, just because one is rich. Jewels aren't made to give people a rich look; they are made to give an air of elegance, or adornment, which is not the same thing."

The most famous of Verdura's jewelry must be his enameled and jeweled cuffs with Maltese cross motifs. These have proved to be so popular that they are still made and sold in Chanel boutiques to this day, although the original designs are recognizable as such and are very hard to find at almost any price. During the German Occupation the salons were closed, and it was not until 1954 that the Rue Cambon shop reopened. 

Strands of opera-length pearls and coloured glass were once again sold, but this time the fashion was to wear not just one but many. The '50s also saw the collaboration with Chanel of Robert Goossens, a very skilled metal worker who had trained as a goldsmith. Goossens produced some of the most important Chanel jewelry, including the well-known barrettes set with a faux pearl or glass stone and the triple-ring earrings in gilded metal.

Chanel Pearl & Gilded Chain SautoirWhen one thinks of Chanel jewelry there is one other name that immediately springs to mind: that of Maison Gripoix. For three generations this legendary firm of artisans has produced sumptuous jewelry for the biggest names in fashion, from Poiret to Worth, from Path to Piguet, and of course Chanel. Where Goossens’ forte was metalwork, which of Gripoix was glasswork. The firm perfected a method of pouring glass into slender brass frames to create their famous pate de verre. The resulting look was that of large, sumptuous, natural precious stones set in the Moghul or even the Renaissance style. Between them, Goossens and Gripoix were at the forefront of what is sometimes called bijoux de couture jewelry designed to complement a certain outfit which represented the ultimate in elegance in the first half of the 20th century.

Chanel Pate-de-Verre Pendant, c.1980


Although this pate-de-verre example is relatively late, the principles of creation are the same as in Chanel's earlier work. The styling of the piece borrows heavily from Moghul jewels, with rich emerald, sapphire, and ruby colours crested with faux pearls.

Chanel Shooting Star Clip, 1960s


The maker of this clip is not obvious though it is probably Goossens. Part of the appeal of this piece is the almost surreal form of a spray of shooting stars, along with the wonderfully rich antique-gold gilding. This motif was used many times by Chanel, and one of the more famous pieces is the shooting star necklace, which wraps around the neck and is set with diamonds. At a cursory glance, one would think that the pate-de-verre necklace on the opposite page should be more expensive than this clip, but in fact, the clip is much more unusual and would be snapped up immediately at an antiques show.

Chanel Cuff Bracelet, late 1980s early 1990s


The height of the 1980s saw some of the more ostentatious jewelry produced by the Chanel design house. During the years of the "yuppie" and conspicuous consumerism, bright gold plating and shiny stones were the fashion. This bracelet is brash and bright and very much a product of its time.

Chanel Pearl & Gilded Chain Sautoir, c.1980s


CC EarringsChanel had been producing sautoirs (opera-length strands of pearls and chains) since the beginning, and they are a trademark of the design house. Where the earlier examples were almost entirely made up of baroque pearls, gilded chain, and pate de verre, other motifs were added over the years. This late example of the sautoir includes the coin and double "C" motif espoused during Karl Lagerfeld's helmsman ship of the company.

CC Earrings


Chanel’s obsession with fake jewelry was given a rebirth under the company’s new leader, Karl Lagerfeld. Where intricate glass work and truly talented and skilled metalwork were once employed, acres of gilt metal now ruled supreme.”Flash for cash” was the new fashion, and Chanel jewelry filled and even promoted this demand, with ornate, glittering pieces such as these earrings (valued at £1 00-120/$170-205 a pair).

An integral part of the unabashed self-adornment was the “double Cs” motif, announcing to everyone that the piece was by Chanel and therefore expensive. The intertwined Cs presumably come from the initials of her assumed name, Coco Chanel.

Writer – Steven Miners

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