Women's Jewellery

Audacious curvaceous

New shapely silhouettes and plunging necklines call for voluptuous statement jewels. The haute houses have responded with exquisite homages to womanly adornment, says Vivienne Becker.

September 22 2010
Vivienne Becker

This autumn, fashion accentuates the womanly silhouette. Think quintessentially feminine, voluptuousness with a 1950s soignée sophistication. Miuccia Prada revisits shapely classics of the 1950s and 1960s, energising the inimitable ladylike quality of her designs with covert sexuality. At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs has dreamt up exquisite confections of balconied or ruffled busts, neat waists and voluminous skirts, made modern by unexpected mixes of materials and textures. “It’s a very iconic silhouette of a woman,” explains Jacobs. “The collection is ‘proper’ and beautiful. It is classic and young at the same time.”

So fashion seems to have given us women what we want, and as part of that package, it’s given us clothes that cry out for jewels – for dramatic earrings and statement brooches – and also daringly bare décolletages that ache to be occupied by theatrical necklaces. Jewels are still, after all, ultimate badges of womanliness. Fortunately, fashion’s femininity has synchronised with a curvaceousness in fine jewellery, as revealed in the collections currently being unveiled at the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires (until September 22).

Maybe it’s to do with the fact that high jewellery now has its own official day in the couture calendar. At Chanel Fine Jewellery, the feather – a time-honoured jewellery motif and symbol of Coco’s beginnings as a milliner – becomes a vehicle for opulence, fusing Chanel’s fashion codes and her own passion for jewels. Mademoiselle created two divine all-feather coats, one black, one white, while the feather motif featured in her iconic 1932 collection of diamond jewellery, which, at the height of the economic crisis, went against the vogue for costume jewellery. The original diamond feather, first shown draped over the shoulder, and which Chanel wore in her hair, is reinterpreted as a long, superbly articulated brooch with a sinuous spine picked out in princess-cut diamonds and fringed with diamond wisps.

Launching at the Biennale, Les Plumes collection sprang from this design. Light and airy, it has more structure than a feather, says Benjamin Comar, director of fine jewellery, and its architectural element contrasts with a new freedom of form and line. A spectacular open-ended collar (€1.6m) proves his point, interlacing streams of diamonds and finishing at one end with two luxuriant feathers, their sense of movement created by a mix of diamond cuts and shapes, each set with a pear-shaped stone as its “eye”.

All the Chanel signatures are in Les Plumes: black and white in a suite of black diamond beads with white diamond ribbon bows tied with stylised feathers; the camellia, with feather petals – white overlapping flat, stylised plumes outlined in black diamonds and black gold; pearls in black or peach; ribbon bows; a brooch inspired by the aigrette (a feather-shaped hair ornament). Alluringly huge, yet light, stylised peacock-feather earrings curve to frame the face and are shaded in sunset-coloured sapphires, fronds tipped with diamonds.

Cartier’s majestic yet surprisingly playful high jewellery Biennale collection, Folies Douces-Douces Folies, is also bird-themed (price on request) and includes a bird of paradise and a Duchess of Windsor-homage flamingo – all exuberant and exotic, a reference to the brand’s historic menagerie. The creative freedom of this resolutely French collection of shapely movement, colour and light is seen in the art of stone carving and audacious exploration of intriguing materials such as petrified wood and white opal. Pierre Rainero, style, image and heritage director, calls it a “feast”, and explains the collection is an achievement in terms of “pure making. Everyone has pushed the limits of dedication to craftsmanship. For example, you can hardly see the difference between metals and stones.”

The Cartier necklaces bring a casual freshness to great splendour and seem made for the season’s décolletages. They range from a classical yet supremely ladylike maharaja-inspired draped diamond breastplate, studded with monumental rose diamonds and hung with a dream of a yellow diamond briolette (price on request), to a twisted torsade of emerald beads, set off-centre with a stylised bird sketched in diamonds, its body a black opal boulder, its tail feathers scudding across the emerald beads, while a tassel dangles from its beak.

Fluidity and sensuality thread through the collection: opal beads, twisted with emerald melon-cut beads, fastened with a triangular black opal fringed with intricate square diamond elements and briolettes; several more fringes set en pampilles (on knife wires), like drops of water, natural pearls and twists of seed pearls. Notable also is the asymmetry of cascading firework motifs, with the soft, muted play of flesh-toned morganites and pale orange sapphires or vibrant flame tints of noble Padparadscha sapphires. (All pieces are price on request.)

At Chaumet, delectable femininity finds expression in the all-diamond Joséphine collection, inspired by the Empress Joséphine, Chaumet’s first muse, and a woman of passion, style and power whose love of jewels teetered on obsession. She was also the first woman to wear a Chaumet tiara, so not only do three new tiaras (price on request) headline the collection, but the tiara, symbol of female power and status, and a house signature, was chosen as the starting point for the design of the collection. Here the brand’s signature sleek, architectural style is infused with the airiness that is the hallmark of today’s high jewellery.

The “cherusque” ruff that bordered Joséphine’s daringly deep square décolletages has inspired open, kite-shaped pendants on a waterfall necklace (£50,400), longer, fluid earrings (from £11,000) and a bandeau head ornament (price on request). Chaumet’s creative director, Lionel Giraud, explains, “The Joséphine jewels are more light and sensual than voluptuous. They are made to feel light, cool and comfortable on the skin.” The diamond and platinum concept was shaped by the change he senses in what women are looking for: “Something a bit more classic, with a big twist.”

Indeed, the twist becomes literal in jewellery this season as sumptuous coils, knots, swirls and drapes add three-dimensionality and movement. Adler focuses on lush necklaces that play with classic forms. Its Clef de Sol multistranded diamond necklace is draped asymmetrically and entwined with a stream of emeralds pinned to the diamonds, off-centre, with a sensational emerald-cut 29.51ct Colombian emerald, which comes with matching drop earrings. In the Rhapsody in Blue necklace, a serpentine diamond collar curls around a massive Sri Lankan sapphire, and the Peche Original repeats the classic diamond riviere strands, this time threaded through a plump diamond coil and hung with a colossal 69.25ct Colombian emerald. All prices are on application.

A similar lusciousness swirls around Van Cleef & Arpels’ narrative high jewellery collection launched at the Biennale in a theatrical setting by set designer Alfredo Arias. Les Voyages Extraordinaires, inspired by Jules Vernes’ epics, brings a playful dimension to the luxuriance of the natural world inhabited by Van Cleef & Arpels’ figurative characters. These include Olindias, an incarnation of the eternal feminine, a nereid composed of rose diamonds, with undulating tentacles like free-flowing tresses. The Stromboli scrolled collar of purple sapphires erupts with fiery yellow diamonds, and the Andromède necklace is alight with the uncoiling swirls of rubies and streaks of diamonds; the 40 perfectly matched marquise-cut rubies of superb colour, signs of connoisseurship, have taken years to collect. All prices are on request.

Also at the Biennale, Dior Fine Jewellery revisits the classic, quintessentially female rose motif, Dior’s favourite flower, in the Bois de Rose collection (price on request). Its romantic centrepiece necklace, one of 14 new pieces created for the Biennale, has softly layered, sensually curled, overblown petals, intricately sculpted, dusted with diamonds and embedded with rubies. If the Bois de Rose harks back to the 1950s and Dior’s vision of New Look femininity, then it was Harry Winston who spearheaded the rage for diamonds that swamped the 1950s and 1960s with a new fluidity. Harry Winston now brings its own brand of high-jewellery classicism both to the Biennale this year (highlighted by an intensely blue sapphire bead necklace with a curled feathery diamond motif enclosing a magnificent sugarloaf sapphire) and to its high-jewellery collections that tour the world.

The emphasis, as always, is on important stones and flowing, invisible settings that create an effect of diamonds floating on the skin. Again, the flavour of the 1950s is strong, with formal yet flexible draped collars and classic coloured gems, particularly emeralds and rubies. The magnificent Cascading Drop necklace (price on request) is made of diamonds and impeccably matched pigeon-blood Burmese rubies taken from the Winston archive, its cascading clusters hung with a fringe of luscious ruby drops.

The jewels of Tiffany & Co designer-jeweller Jean Schlumberger embody sophisticated 1950s style with their lashings of gold and riotous, rococo energy that reflects the fecundity of nature and the forceful femininity of women of style. This season, in tune with fashion’s 1950s theme and the emphasis on the bust, Tiffany has launched a capsule collection of sculptural gold pendant lockets (from £15,200), adapted from original Schlumberger designs for gold boxes, with all the rich roundness of the trinkets, their elaborate chased weave pattern studded with diamonds, a moonstone, emerald (£26,600) or cornflower-blue Montana sapphires, hung on long gold chains with woven gold and diamond ornaments.

Finally, Louis Vuitton, now with designer-jeweller Lorenz Baumer as artistic director for fine jewellery, joins the fray of finery at the Biennale for the first time, showing a predominantly diamond extension of its inaugural high jewellery L’Ame du Voyage collection (launched last year), which brings new meaning to “classic with a twist”. The boudoir-pale, essentially feminine, belle époque colour scheme ties into classic elements – such as diamond drapes, clusters, and the LV monogram – all punctuated with the spinning circles of L’Ame du Voyage which now morph into records, jumbled with guitars, plectrums and a safety pin in white and coloured diamonds (€1.2m).

Baumer explains, “I love things that are feminine and sexy, and I always try to incorporate a voluptuous touch into my designs. I think that women today want something softer, more comfortable, but with real personality. This collection is more about emotions and feelings, but there’s a sense of rebellion in that elements, like found objects, are thrown into one necklace. I wanted to capture the spirit of the 1960s. Then there is a rebellion against rebellion, which is very Louis Vuitton, with the classicism of soft-coloured diamonds, the new LV cut and the fleur monogram.” It’s more music to our ears.