Gabrielle Chanel, the founder of the French maison, first visited Venice in 1920. Following the death of her beloved Arthur “Boy” Capel in a car accident, an affair which lasted for more than 10 years, Mademoiselle was stricken with grief for over six months and so her friends insisted on a group trip to Venice. In an attempt to distract Chanel from her sadness, they introduced her to all the very best things the city had to offer: museums and restaurants, its rich history and architecture, canals, gondoliers... and so the Italian city became one of her primary sources of inspiration for the rest of her career. It was in Venice that Gabrielle, who had always preferred black, discovered the extravagance and attraction of gold. She was also drawn to the main symbol and patron saint of the city, the Lion of St Mark, one of the key motifs in her collections.
Along with the 70 outstanding high jewellery artworks in Escale à Venise, conventionally divided into four thematic lines, Patrice Leguéreau recounts, with a modern twist, the story of the great Mademoiselle’s association with Venice, which took place more than a century ago. Remaining true to the various codes of the Maison, he harmoniously weaves camellias, lions, stars, pearls and chains into the designs. The city of bridges and canals, as it appears today, is celebrated in all its beauty through this magnificent jewellery. Approximately 10 of the pieces are decorated with large colourless and yellow diamonds of the highest quality, blue and yellow sapphires, as well as emeralds that have real investment potential in an exquisite Chanel setting.
The La Sérénissime line is dedicated to the city’s architectural heritage. Geometric shapes of gold, colourless diamonds, pink spinels and pearls are references to the façades of the palazzi, polychrome marble floors of the churches and the Byzantine mosaic of the city’s “golden basilica”. The Éblouissante transformable necklace, one of the collection’s most striking creations, is set with a 10.41 carat D-colour flawless Type IIa asscher-cut diamond. Two pendants on either side are decorated with similar Asscher cut diamonds, totalling 10.52 carats. These elements and the central suspension can be unfastened and removed as desired.
The four suites of Gran Canale jewellery, in which the focus is not on large stones but on interesting design ideas, complement each other perfectly. They include a variety of unpaired earrings, a ‘between the finger’ ring, tiered sautoirs and tassel earrings dedicated to the nautical and boat themes. Gondolas and mooring poles, lagoons and canals, guiding stars and cruises are shown in gold, lapis lazuli, pearls, spinels, colourless and yellow diamonds, and extoll the secrets of navigating Venice’s waterways in colourful detail.
The camellia, Mademoiselle’s favourite flower, echoes the hundreds of islands in the Venetian Lagoon and the boats scurrying between them in the Isole della Laguna line. The Camélia Byzantin necklace, with a red camellia in carnelian and fire opals, and a 10.07 carat yellow diamond pestle, is reminiscent of the medieval mosaics on the island of Torcello. Camélia Vénitien, meanwhile, translates the traditions of the Murano glassmakers into jewellery, combining rock crystal and yellow gold. And the camellia, carved from matte stone and braided with chain-cords, gleams in the centre of an elegant plastron necklace, recalling the frames of Venetian mirrors in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartments on Rue Cambon.
And the grandest of the lot, in my opinion, the Spirito di Venezia line, is entirely dedicated to the Lion. Using yellow and colourless diamonds, the maison depicts the creature in the Lion Emblématique set in heraldic form. These profiles of the ‘king of beasts’, filled with a sense of strength and power, are made with stones that have a significantly high carat weight. The largest of these - 15.55 carats in D-colour and flawless clarity - is cut in the shape of a pear and adorns the Lion Secret necklace. It is accompanied by a 5 carat round cut diamond set in the centre of the camellia between the lions. Add in several hundred more diamonds and you have the most expensive item in the entire collection.
Mademoiselle’s birthday, her zodiac sign (hint: she was a Leo) and a winged lion set against the starry sky on the façade of the Basilica of San Marco are all referenced in the Constellation Astrale line, which includes jewellery made of lapis lazuli and yellow sapphires. An interesting feature of these lies in the setting of the stones: it hides the gold that surrounds the perimeter of the shapes carved from lapis lazuli. As a result, all that we see on the front and back of the necklace, bracelet and ring is a charming blue, one that is characteristic of this mineral in its finest qualities, and the yellow of the sapphires - not a single hint of the setting.
As I mentioned above, the collection includes 70 works, but not all of them are ready to purchase. Chanel’s jewellers are still working on a luxurious set of earrings, a ring and a necklace with a 27.09 carat yellow sapphire, Souvenirs de Venise brooches, a Lion Céleste diamond set and a couple of other pieces. I am sure the results will be worth the wait!