Jewellery

Chaumet Journeys to China

300 extraordinary objects, one magnificent museum and an amazing story to tell. Chaumet transports us from modern-day China back to 18th-century Paris with its most extensive retrospective exhibition yet
Reading time 3 minutes

I have so much admiration for Chaumet. I am awed by how the Grand Salon, the Salon des Perles and the Salon des Diadèmes in the brand’s 12 Place Vendôme townhouse instantly take you back in time; I am awed by its founder Marie-Étienne Nitot’s importance in French history (did you know that he was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s official jeweller?); and, most of all, I am awed by how amazingly well Chaumet has documented its past with the help of 56,000 gouaché drawings, 30,000 photographs and 550 tiaras. 

So, when the maison announced a patrimonial exhibition – the second of its kind and the first outside Paris – which would gather more than 300 historical and contemporary precious objects from private collectors and top museums such as the Louvre, the Château de Fontainebleau and the Victoria & Albert, my interest was beyond piqued.

“There are only two places in the world that can host a great exhibition – the Louvre and the Forbidden City,” - Henri Loyette

Entitled Imperial Splendours and set within the magnificent Palace Museum in Beijing, the exhibition’s goal was to chart the evolution of Chaumet’s visual language and savoir-faire since its growing-up days in the 18th century. “If you look at the vocabulary of Chaumet, you will find birds, flowers, critters and even water as inspiration since the Maison’s beginning,” explains the show’s Scientific Director Henri Loyrette, who had been the main man at the prestigious Musée d'Orsay and Louvre for more than 20 years. “Despite their renewal at the height of various art movements like Art Deco, those motifs share the same basis – nature. We really wanted to express that here.

The creations displayed at the exhibition, which Loyrette and Chaumet Curator Béatrice de Plinval first talked about nearly five years ago, are simply extraordinary. Every object tells a story: Regalia such as Napoleon’s coronation sword depict the Maison’s close ties to powerful figures (it is the first time that the sword, which is famously adorned with the 141ct Regent diamond, has travelled out of France); trinkets born out of love, such as Empress Marie-Louise’s Acrostic trio which spell out secret messages with the initials of its precious stones, show a softer and more romantic side; an alley of tiaras recall how Empress Joséphine revived the trend of wearing one; and, most importantly, bird- and bee-inspired brooches show the house’s affinity with nature.

While Beijing might seem like an unusual location for the retrospective exhibition of a top Parisian jeweller, Loyrette says that it really isn’t. “Chaumet already had a connection to China. The Forbidden City, which is very symbolic of power in China, recalls the Maison’s ties to the First French Empire,” he points out. “This imperial legitimacy was a good reason to justify showing in the Palace Museum.”

Imperial Splendours – The Art of Jewellery since the 18th Century is open to the public till 2 Jul. For tickets and more information, visit www.chaumet.com.

Watch the Chaumet's Imperial Splendours Exhibition below. 

Imperial Splendours - The Exhibition

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