2021 was never going to be a normal year so it was interesting to see how the global upheaval would affect the most precious and aspirational of all luxury goods: high jewellery. With individual pieces ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds and created as one-offs by the most skilled craftsmen and women, haute joaillerie, like its cousin haute couture, is a maison’s standard bearer and a barometer of levels of optimism. When a house is low on big budget jewels, then it is likely it is low on cash.
High jewellery is understandably risk-averse so the strategic minds at the jewellery houses think long and hard before locking many, many millions into the stuff-of-dream jewels and sending it out in the world. Traditionally presented to coincide with the July Paris haute couture shows, this year was different. Although the pandemic has made the rich richer, the mood was largely one of restraint. One risk-reducing tactic is to present smaller collections but most cautious were the houses notable by their absence.
Of the great names of Place Vendôme, neither Van Cleef & Arpels nor Cartier presented high jewellery collections. They may well have held ultra-exclusive events behind closed doors for the crème de la crème of their clients but the extravagant, star-studded launches were put on hold. Of the famous Place Vendôme houses, Chaumet was one of the few that did present a collection. Torsade de Chaumet (above) is inspired by the frieze that winds its way up the Vendôme column, just a stone’s throw from the maison’s freshly renovated headquarters. Less ambitious than previous years, the emphasis was on design and a younger, informality with diamond-set spiralling, sculptural forms enlivened with flashes of brightly-coloured gemstones. There were no show-stopping, prize-quality gemstones nor any jaw-dropping conker-sized diamonds but as always, there was a tiara, giving a princess sparkle to this brave and beautiful new collection.
Boucheron, another Place Vendôme stalwart, shined brighter than ever in its on-going pursuit of making contemporary high jewellery. The Holographique Carte Blanc jewels (above) masterminded by Creative Director Claire Choisne, are quite simply out of this world. Holographic films applied to high-tech ceramic and sprays made of micro-particles of precious metals are the new components bringing luxury jewellery bang up to date. The genius of Boucheron’s approach is the ability to use materials favoured by NASA and Formula 1 alongside earth-mined gems and diamonds to create jewels of sublime beauty. If Boucheron can innovate in these adverse circumstances, then the future for high jewellery is bright. Boucheron has turned the tables on the threat of high jewellery becoming irrelevant by reminding us of its wondrous, awe-inspiring power in the most unexpected of forms.
Chanel has homed in on its most iconic product, the Nº5 perfume that celebrates its centenary and brings it into the world of high jewellery. It is hard to find another high-end house that so rigorously sticks to its brand icons and the jewellery team surprises with its ingenuity in incorporating into each design the famous house motifs. Diamonds and the legendary scent make for an unusual jewellery collection that features different incarnations of the flask, the perfume itself and the fragrance notes that make it up. Star of the show is a necklace with a 55.55-carat emerald cut diamond (above) that represents the perfume bottle from which more diamond drops cascade onto the skin. This must be the ultimate jewellery collection for die-hard Chanel fans with seriously deep pockets.
Gucci, another luxury house that has expanded from clothing and handbags into jewellery presents its third high jewellery collection under the direction of Alessandro Michele. The quirky, eclectic house look is evident in the Hortus Deliciarum collection (main image) that combines opulence and whimsy with a kooky Gucci twist. This is a collection that is very much of the moment and showing how even the most unexpected names can enter the realms of high jewellery.
Though celebrating its 200th anniversary, Luis Vuitton is a newcomer to Place Vendôme and indeed to high jewellery. Its first high jewellery collection was just over a decade ago that was designed in conjunction with the independent jeweller Lorenz Bäumer. Since then Vuitton’s high jewellery has gained in confidence and now under the direction of Francesca Amfiteatrof – formerly at Tiffany & Co – is finding its very own mojo. The Bravery collection (above) made up of an impressive 90 jewels follows the theme of female empowerment in the form of precious adornment for warrior women. Shields, crosses and medieval talismans are woven in amongst the well-known Vuitton flower and star motifs, first seen on steamer trunks over 150 years ago, confirming the power of the LV brand and its faithful customer base.
On the ascendant is Bulgari that since its purchase by the LVMH group just a decade ago, has transformed from a successful family-run niche Roman jeweller into a global luxury powerhouse. The rocket fuel of LVMH funds combined with the group’s know how has meant that Bulgari is now on a par with even the most established French names in terms of the extravagance of its high jewellery as evidenced by the 2021 Magnifica collection (above) of a staggering 350 jewels . It would have been hard to imagine even five years ago that there would be a day when Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels didn’t present a July high jewellery collection but Bulgari did. Bulgari’s economic prowess means it not shy of purchasing the best and biggest gemstones even in uncertain times, showing a bullishness that puts others in its shadow.
Pomellato, part of the Kering Group, known for its chic, unfussy jewels has only just begun to move into the realms of high jewellery. Its second high jewellery collection La Gioia is very much true to the brand’s spirit in that is indeed easy to wear and oozes Milanese style. One half of the offerings focus on the not so humble chain, a staple of the house, that is elevated to new heights of preciousness thanks to opulent, candy-bright, generously proportioned gemstones and a healthy dose of diamonds. The other half is more intriguing. In the spirit of sustainability, the design team used components taken from vintage pieces of Pomellato archive jewels to create brand new ones (above). The idea was born from a conversation between Vincenzo Castaldo, Pomellato’s design director and the American artist Sheva Fruitman. I suspect we will see more of these kinds of collaborations and clever up-cycling as consumers look for authenticity and originality in more planet-friendly forms.
One of the few British houses to consistently produce high jewellery is David Morris (bottom) of Bond Street. Still privately owned, its success is down to creating über high-value jewels for a well cultivated clientele in the Middle East and beyond. The Dimensions collection showcases Jeremy Morris’ ability to cherry pick the best of the best gemstones and turn them into extravagantly indulgent jewels.
With the exception of Japan, beyond Europe, there are few high jewellery makers that consistently present sizeable collections. Tasaki, that is also the largest Akoya pearl farmer in the world, has made an art of bringing pearls into the C21st with audacious designs with a Japanese refinement. The Cove collection (above) remains elegant while pushing the boundaries and pearls do unexpected things like curl around the top of the ear. Mikimoto turns to its heritage with the sublime Japanese Sense of Beauty collection that marries classic Nippon sensitivity with the finest pearls and gemstones.
If 2021 has anything to tell us, it is to expect the unexpected and that even high jewellery can evolve and embrace new materials, new names and even champion recycling. Now there’s a sentence I didn’t think I would ever write.
David Morris’ Dimensions Venetian choker is a dazzling mix of 52 carats of velvet blue sapphires, diamonds and Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines reminiscent of the opulence of the Italian Renaissance. David Morris Jewellery Dimensions 2021.
The stunning Opalescence necklace transforms into a brooch or an ear cuff, a new twist on the classic Boucheron assymetrical necklace and its famous animal jewels. Boucheron Holographique High Jewellery Carte Blanche collection 2021
A spectacular 48-carat cabochon-cut tanzanite sits at the centre of the Princess chain necklace. It took over 300 hours to create in Pomellato’s Milan ateliers and is set with 2,379 white diamonds. La Gioia di Pomellato 2021.
The Japanese Sense of Beauty brooch recreates a classical and stylised landscape of trees and a waterfall using fresh water natural pearls, jadeite, zoisite, emeralds, sapphire and diamonds. Mikimoto Japanese Sense of Beauty 2021
Inspired by the frieze that winds its way up the Vendôme column, Torsade is full of spiralling movement as seen in the bracelet set with almost 8 carats of cushion-cut cornflower blue Ceylon sapphires and matching ring. Torsade de Chaumet 2021
A closer look at the Holographique necklace shows how the rock crystal changes in different lights and appears to have a magical life of its own. Boucheron Holographique High Jewellery Carte Blanche collection 2021
The Haiku necklace uses turquoise carved into a form resembling a Japanese coin that is also an off-centre closure with a jet t-bar combined with elements retrieved from the 1996 Moneta Giapponese collection and the 2008 Victoria collection. LA GIOIA di Pomellato 2021
This multi-tier Le Mythe necklace by Louis Vuitton features a 19.7-carat sapphire, an 8.64-carat emerald and over 26 carats of diamonds in this powerful combination of symbols and motifs that celebrates the house’s two hundred year anniversary. Louis Vuitton Bravery 2021
Never conventional, Tasaki the Japanese pearl producer and jeweller, finds new ways to adorn the body with pearls in ways you never before expected. Tasaki Atelier collection 2021
The second of Gucci’s high jewellery offerings is called Hortus Deliciarum and was designed by Alessandro Michele whose rich eclecticism marks Gucci’s style from handbags to high jewellery and modelled by Jodie Turner-Smith. Gucci Hortus Deliciarum 2021