While Egypt and Maghreb have inspired Chaumet in the past, sub-Saharan Africa has remained almost unexplored territory for the Maison and the Parisian world of High Jewellery. Chaumet launched its new high-jewelry collection Trésors d’Afrique with a dazzling African-themed soirée at the Centre Georges Pompidouearlier this month.
Throughout the evening, a few treasures from Chaumet’s new high jewelry line were paraded statuesque models, a teaser for the complete collection that debuted on July 7 and 8 at The French Maison’s historic boutique located at 12 Place Vendôme, now open to public for the first time (by appointment).
Trésors d’Afrique is the third chapter of a precious jeweled saga tittled ‘Les Mondes de Chaumet’ that began with Promenades Impériales in Russia and continued with Chant du Printemps in Japan. This time, the French jeweler has paid tribute to the varied artistic and ornamental traditions of Africa through some 75 pieces of high jewelry that use mainly black onyx, red lacquers, and Grand Feu enameling techniques to add warmth to precious stones. The masterful works evoke the influence of sources as diverse as Maasai textiles and tribal ornamentation, not to mention the creations of the Maison Chaumet and the fertile imagination of its creative director, Claire Dévé-Rakoff.
As the jeweler of empresses and a maker of tiaras, Chaumet found much in common with the supremely sophisticated headdresses and diadems from Africa.
An encounter with the Kenyan artist Evans Mbugua, who lives and works in Paris, guided Chaumet towards the continent, an Africa of today, far removed from fantasy. The colors and vitality of his work were an important inspiration for the Maison, a process of creative reflection his vision informed and nourished, before his more direct personal creative participation evolved into the development of one of the themes of the collection.
With its sights trained on the world from the beginning, the Maison imbues its inspirations through cultural confluences. The Chaumet designers have consistently pushed the boundaries of their creativity, with a curiosity about the arts of the world at large, giving birth to a wealth of new ideas.
Thus, without ever imitating them, the Chaumet invents its own impression of distant civilizations, in the great tradition of Parisian High Jewellery. Precisely referenced, the Trésors d’Afrique collection is no less an act of pure creation. Or the appreciation, in 2018, by Chaumet, jeweller to empresses, of these cultures that celebrate and honor majestic femininity.
Trésors d’Afrique tells a five-part story of a multifaceted Africa. First of all, the Africa whose artistic expressions inspired Apollinaire, Picasso, Derain, Vlaminck and Braque, thus playing a major role in the greatest aesthetic and intellectual revolutions of the beginning of the last century, from Fauvism to Cubism and Surrealism. The Africa of sovereigns next, as the last continent on which an empress reigned, where the parure defines status.
Indeed, no land has elevated the art of adornment to such a degree of inventiveness and sophistication, where the jewel, an accessory of seduction or power, sublimating beauty and prestige, has a thousand forms and uses. Highly symbolic, it says everything about whoever wears it, its protective virtues giving it the role of a talisman. As the jeweller of emotions and the diadem,
Chaumet thus found much common ground between its narrative creations and African adornment, alternately a wedding jewel or symbol of elevation when it crowns the head, with gold and stones, or skillfully sculpted hair. Particularly refined is the Cascade Royale necklace, which sets black onyx against white and yellow gold in a piece that is positively dripping with nine marquise-cut diamonds and a 7.15 carat emerald from Colombia’s Muzo mines as a centerpiece. The striking collection of jeweled cuffs called Talismania bracelets, available in ebony, malachite, and chrysoprase, channel the serenity of the endless plains of the Serengeti, while also revisiting the ancestral woodcarving techniques of the Maison Chaumet.
I set off to tell funny, fictitious stories in drawings that were then transposed onto the jewelry pieces.
Mbugua brought his signature contemporary artistic touch to the splendidly amusing set of six Espiègleries brooches, adding a rare touch of humor to high jewelry. His enameled giraffe brooch raises its diamond-studded head above a suspended cloud of rock crystal. A yellow-gold monkey clutching bananas hitches a ride on the back of an enameled zebra with pink sapphire and onyx stripes. The most jaw-dropping piece yet is a brooch that transforms into earrings featuring yellow-gold ‘acrobatic’ ants loaded with spheres of sapphires and red spinels, precariously hanging from a lapis lazuli twig. Mbugua also designed the dials of six one-of-a-kind mechanical timepieces that use métiers d’art craftsmanship to reproduce, in miniature painting and hand engraving techniques, a new repertory of fauna that includes frogs, crocodiles, and serpents in lieu of Chaumet’s traditional bees and butterflies.
Trésors d’Afrique tells of an Africa that boasts an original nature, a nature that’s generous – offering us its treasures – and storied, inevitably fascinating for a Maison that has always explored naturalistic themes. A natural meeting, therefore, for a tribute to unexpected forms, a resolutely contemporary sense of daring, like the continent that gave it life.
Chaumet’s tribute to a multifaceted Africa not only highlights the rich influences that the Maison is able to translate into its designs, but is also an eye-opening window onto the unexplored possibilities of high jewelry.